SAFFRON BLUES AND LOTUS ON THE WALL
by Political Correspondent
Its blues time for saffron. Nemesis has finally caught up with the BJP; the most surprising and significant aspect of the Assembly elections results in the three states of Madhya Pradesh, Delhi and Rajasthan is the time that the electorate haS taken to make up their minds about the performance of the Atal Behari Vajpayee Government at the Centre. There can be no denying the fact the results have been a referendum which should, if legitimacy is to be followed, singe the Centre and leave it with no moral authority to rule this nation which has, time and again, shown the world that it can reject as judiciously as it reserves the right to choose. India has exposed the BJP in only eight months. That, in effect, is a major validation of our democratic process.
The Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, has reacted in a fashion typical of a man who knows that he has been defeated. However, if this loss had been confined to the fortunes of a single individual, then the matter would have been outside the scope of political and public discussions; the fact is that he must understand and give in to the public mandate of rejection. The BJP may cry hoarse that three states do not constitute a nation. By sheer arithmetic, this could well prove the clincher, but the fact is that a nation is governed by cold statistics; it is the signals which emanate from a popular mood which is the bottom line. Mr Vajpayee and his cohorts must realise that his days are over. It is time for others now.
It would be worthwhile to have a look at the results themselves. In 1993, the BJP bagged 49 of the 70 constituencies of the Delhi Assembly; this time, the seat of power has returned only 15 of them. In Rajasthan, of the 200 seats, the BJP has been able to keep 33 of the 97 they had and in Madhya Pradesh, on which was pinned the partys
hopes, the lotus has remained in just 120 of the previous 192 Assembly segments.
The party, which anyway was no force to reckon with in the other state which went to the polls, Mizoram, has remained where it was: again, just for those who are interested in arithmetic and its laws, the BJP has suffered the mother of all defeats by scoring a big zero there. The tragedy of the BJP cannot be guaged by numbers now; throughout the entire belt of North India-and which surely will cast its long shadow throughout the nation soon- the lotus will either be seen in stagnant ponds or serve as a new, unheard of symbol for wallflowers.
The Congress, which seems to have bettered its wildest expectations, is apparently a little nervous after its brush with the euphoria which stems from being gladly surprised. The party is set to form the governments in the two states of Delhi and Rajasthan and its chief minister, Mr Digvijay Singh, is getting ready to be sworn in again in Bhopal, capital of Madhya Pradesh. It will be soon that Ms Sonia Gandhi will realise the responsibilities and ramifications of a victory which is as significant as it is prophetic for the nation. All this time, she has studiously kept away from any talk of trying to dislodge the Vajpayee government and form her own with a little help from her friends; but now that she is expected to play a pivotal role in the shaping of the nations destiny with a mandate which surpasses its mere symbolic value, Mrs Gandhi will have to do some serious thinking and act according to the dictates of the mandate which the people of the three states have given her.
The CPI(M) general secretary, Mr Harkishen Singh Surjeet, has rightly spoken in the language that sanity is used to: he has asked Mr Vajpayee to step down in the interests of the nation, keeping the Assembly verdicts in mind. The West Bengal chief minister, Mr Jyoti Basu, has also echoed him and said that the elections were a referendum on the performance of the Vajpayee government and that the nation was ready for an ``alternate government, disgusted as it was with the ``neo-fascist steps and measures that this government was taking or contemplating.
The reasons for Mr Vajpayees state of affairs does not need much analysis; for a man who came to power on the plank of delivering goods, he did so, but at an enormous price to the nation. India, in all seriousness and not taking anything away from the metaphor, had to actually pay through its nose to keep Mr Vajpayee in power for as short a period as eight months. The BJP lotus, even on walls, will smell of onions for a long time to come.
Another factor has been the increasing squabbles within the party. The outgoing chief minister of Delhi, Ms Sushma Swaraj, was the first one to give vent to her feelings in a post-results reaction when she squarely blamed the infighting within the top party leadership while the two chief protagonists of Hindutva in this country, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee and Mr Lal Krishna Advani, were seen to be openly crossing swords at a pre-election rally. The frustration of the Prime Minister became evident when he said at that same rally, without naming Mr Advani though, that he was not being allowed to work with a free hand. While Mr Advani looked the other way, the electorate in Delhi obviously did not. And has now sent a definite signal to the nation at large.
However, Mr Vajpayee is not one to be fazed. He has said that he is "surprised by the results; naturally, a drowning man does not see reason, we all know that he even clutches at straws. Since he is unyielding, the onus now shifts automatically on his whose allies on largesse he is surviving. His main ally who has been giving him sleepless nights for day one, Ms Jayalalitha, chief minister of Tamil Nadu, has reacted typically: "May be, he will now blame me for the results! Ms Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamul Congress, sensing the mood earlier on, has said that she will stand by Mr Vajpayee while others like the Samata Partys George Fernandes and the Biju Janata Dals Navin Patnaik, while admitting that their respective parties have suffered in their influence and party bases because of their association with the BJP, have, for the time being, not said or done anything which could rock the boat at the Centre.
But that is all a matter of the moment. Allies in politics are meant to be friends only as long as it suits their politics; as soon as the 17 friends of Mr Vajpayee understand that they are backing the wrong horse, the proverbial game involving a pack of cards will come into play. The nation will, till then, have to wait for the next deal.
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