Abiding images of UP polls
Elections often leave behind abiding images such as those captured after the Congress’s stunning defeat in polls after the Emergency. Carried on the front page of a prominent English daily of the time, a photograph that said it all was of a dustbin stuffed with Congress posters with Indira’s face peering out. A sweeper’s broom rested on the side against a wall full of poll-time graffiti.
The message it so tellingly conveyed was that of the party that ruled India uninterrupted since Independence being swept aside and consigned to a trashcan. The longevity of its impact is evident from my recollection of it three-and-a-half decades after the Congress’ rout by the Janata Party.
What then would be the lasting image of Election-2012 in Uttar Pradesh? Rahul’s oft-sported, oft-shaved stubble, Priyanka’s campaign with her children in tow, shrouded elephants and statues carved in stone or Mulayam son Akhilesh Yadav in a red topi addressing crowds from atop a bus?
To my mind, an image that told a lot more was that of BJP workers carting Uma Bharti on a chair to a public meeting. Why? Apart from telling the saffron party hasn’t moved with times since the 1992 Babri episode, the photograph showed the party’s Gen-X was already over the hill, what with Sushma Swaraj being a sporadic campaigner owing to ill health and Nitin Gadkari— who couldn’t bear the summer heat and had fainted at a public rally after taking over as party chief— struggling still to lose weight.
A small eater that he is, LK Advani looks, and perhaps is, fitter than most of his junior colleagues. But his mass appeal has dwindled since the heady days of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. The only BJP leader in robust health and an enviable electoral record, albeit mostly in his home state, is Gujarat’s Narendra Modi. Even his detractors rate him highly as an administrator.
But Modi’s image crisis since the 2002 Gujarat pogrom is likely to haunt him for the rest of his political life, regardless of what Courts think of his role in the post-Godhra violence. For want of even a hint of an apology or admission of dereliction of duty, his sadbhavana mission, perceived as an attempt at cultivating an inclusive image, is unlikely to cut ice with “secular” groupings the BJP will need to sew up a formidable anti-Congress front.
The BJP cannot therefore delay talent-scouting or assigning bigger roles to youthful faces that are credible and inclusive by saffron standards. Arun Jaitely perhaps can replicate Atal Bihari Vajpayee on the strength of his political acceptability, legal acumen, parliamentary skills and organizational prowess. What diminishes his curriculum vitae is that he hasn’t ever won a Lok Sabha seat.
In that limited sense, he’s comparable as much with the Congress’ man for all seasons, Pranab Mukherjee who first got elected to the Lower House in 2004 despite the long innings he has had in politics.
In the line after the Jaitley-Swaraj duo, one does see some promising faces such as Shivraj Singh Chauhan, Raman Singh, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Shahnawaz Hussain, Gopinath Munde, Anurag Thakur, Nirmala Sitharaman, Prakash Javadekar, Smriti Irani, Navjot Sidhu and Kirti Azad to name a few.
The question remains however whether they have it in them to dominate the national stage? Can any one among them contest against Sonia Gandhi the way Sushma did? Can they become the party’s one man army in Parliament the way Jaitley does as Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha?
It’ll be unfair to pass early verdict. But the BJP appears to be in dire need of fresh blood to match the emergence of Rahul, Akhilesh and Jayant Chaudhary on the UP scene. Doubts on that score were laid to rest by Uma Bharti herself, who called herself as Rahul’s bua (paternal aunt) while flagging Sonia’s foreign origin on being painted by her son as an intruder from Madhya Pradesh in UP.