The American election season has started to hot up with the announcement of a running mate by Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee for President. Since the announcement there has been a sharpened tone to the public debate drawing a lot of attention to the man who will be Vice-President if Romney were to get elected to the American Presidency. In an interesting column, writing for the Washington Post on August 16, Charles Krauthammer had this to say on the perception that is being created of Romney’s choice of running mate:
“ it seems, (he) is determined to dispossess grandmother, then toss her over a cliff. If the charge is not successfully countered, good-bye Florida”
This narrative of painting someone as a polarising figure with macabre metaphors has a parallel in Indian politics as well. We are fed stories on alleged interviews and quick denials in what has now become a routine affair on why the BJP must not make a polarising choice lest it risk the next general election.
The BJP in India and the GOP in the United States had sort of similar political predicaments during 2008-2009. Both of them were floundering on future direction after debilitating defeats in respective general elections. Both also found themselves torn apart between an extreme fringe that was uncompromising on cultural issues and a centrist establishment that was neither true to principle nor to cause. While the GOP had a turning point of sorts in 2010 with the Tea Party insurrection, the BJP in India lost its defining moments in 2011 to the ideologically sterile anti-corruption campaigns. Both parties then went on to face a pivotal question about their future leadership.
On this pivotal question one cannot but help observe that Mitt Romney, who is described as “mild and moderate” by Krauthammer, has gone far beyond in shaping the future of his party than LK Advani did to his.
To understand the significance of the polarising choice that Mitt Romney dared to make we must return to Krauthammer’s column in the Washington Post where he describes Paul Ryan as the “intellectual leader” and the de facto “parliamentary leader” before making these remarks:
“Ryan’s importance is enhanced by his identity as a movement conservative. Reagan was the first movement leader in modern times to achieve the presidency. Like him, Ryan represents a new kind of conservatism for his time.
Reagan rejected the moderate accommodationism represented by Gerald Ford, the sitting President Reagan nearly overthrew in 1976.
Ryan represents a new constitutional conservatism of limited Government and individual opportunity that carried Republicans to victory in 2010, not just as a rejection of Obama’s big-government hyper-liberalism but also as a significant departure from the philosophically undisciplined, idiosyncratically free-spending ‘compassionate conservatism’ of Obama’s Republican predecessor.”
For long LK Advani was both the ‘intellectual leader’ of the movement and the de facto ‘parliamentary leader’ of the BJP. But his version of the ideology that served the BJP well in the 1990s has since become an anachronism. It is tragic that rather than fulfill his role in clearly identifying the next ‘intellectual leader’ for the movement and solidifying his role as the ‘de facto parliamentary leader’ we are witness to farce being played out of Patna.
A narrative is being crafted by some sections of the media in Delhi on the basis of a questionable opinion poll. Within that narrative, replete with wishful thinking, a picture is being painted of victory being near at hand. Further it is being argued that the BJP must not risk that victory that is already in hand by making a so called “polarising choice”.
This narrative is not just flawed and removed from reality but will likely prove to be fatal to the BJP’s electoral prospects.
There is no other way but to put it bluntly – the BJP has a list of pretenders and not contenders for the post of Prime Minister, to which by the way there exists no vacancy at the moment. How seriously can we take the BJP’s claim to be the alternative to the UPA if it can even entertain the idea of a Rajnath Singh or a Murali Manohar Joshi as a possible Prime Minister?
To even remotely suggest that someone outside the party who has been making too clever by half political moves for months will have a say in deciding that ‘Leader’ is a sign of the deep disconnect between the BJP’s leaders in Delhi and the mood of the party’s rank and file.
With no election to the Lok Sabha on the horizon the BJP neither needs the ignominy of another Prime Minister in waiting nor the pre-poll ideological incoherence of opportunistic allies who grow at its expense.
What the BJP needs right now is a movement ‘intellectual leader’ who is also seen as the ‘de facto Parliamentary leader’ who charts a clear path for the BJP to grow organically and earn the people’s mandate by offering a clear alternative to the UPA with the twin messages of limited role for Government in economic activity and equal opportunities.
If that choice of an ‘intellectual leader’ and ‘de facto Parliamentary leader’ is polarising to some, so be it.
(The writer is a commentator on Indian politics and public policy. Opinions expressed in this article are his persons views.)