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BJP's 7-year itch and the missing Mahajan factor

After a gap of seven years, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will have its national executive meeting in Mumbai. There’s a stark difference between the two editions, but it can be summed up with just one fact: the previous meet was hosted by the state unit under the leadership of party stalwart late Pramod Mahajan.

One leader can make a massive difference in our democratic setup. Sample these names: Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, MG Ramachandran, Jyoti Basu. And there are many more.

It’s perhaps not inappropriate to analyse BJP’s performance on the eve of its national executive meeting. The party’s higher-ups appear content with sensational exposures of major scams putting the ruling Congress on the defensive at the centre. But BJP can hardly claim credit for any notable performance as principal opposition party. Instead, it has been selectively using disclosures from CAG reports and subsequent probes by CBI as ammunition to target the government.

The party’s performance at the state level is again a worrisome factor. Though it is a principal opposition party in both the state assembly and state council, it has failed to appear as a force to reckon with. And going by the present situation in state politics, it’s ruling partners Congress and NCP, who are working intensely to expose each other.

The bitterness nursed by Congress and NCP may lead to a breakup, say leaders in private. But, BJP has certainly lost a golden opportunity to put the state government on the mat. Even the ongoing drought-like situation in more than 15 districts of Maharashtra has not been used by the party to attack the ruling combine.

BJP’s state unit chief Sudhir Mungantiwar recently met governor K Sankaranarayanan and demanded a special session of the state legislature to discuss the water scarcity situation. Surprisingly, the party could have raised the issue in a more compelling way during the budget session of the state legislature that concluded last month.

At present, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the party has no leader at the state level, who can take on the Democratic Front government. Mungantiwar, despite being in office for more than a year now, has failed to make his mark despite being known for his intellectual nature and oratorical skills. He is more on fields than in the state legislature, but that too has helped the party little and its district units are in a shambles. The party’s organisational presence in areas such as Thane, Navi Mumbai, Sindhudurg, Kolhapur, Latur, Nanded, Parbhani, Satara etc is almost nil, except for a few legislators who got elected mostly due to weak candidates put up by Congress and NCP due to infighting.

Though BJP could manage to improve its performance in local and civic body polls, its presence as a hyperactive party on issues pertaining to middle-class is in danger. The fact became evident when the party lost many of its seats in urban centres where earlier Congress and NCP had no presence.

The party, it is being said now, will be led by old guard Gopinath Munde in the coming elections to the state assembly. But, apart from his growing age and the health factor, Munde is also concentrating more on his old bastion Beed, where his brother Pandit Anna and nephew Dhananjay have joined NCP, which has five MLAs and two MLCs from the district. All the important seats of power are with Sharad Pawar’s party and Munde has lot of work to do to regain lost ground. For that, he may not contest the next Lok Sabha elections and instead opt for Parli assembly seat, represented currently by his daughter Pankaja Munde Palwe.

Party chief Nitin Gadkari, working on strengthening the national unit of BJP, cannot devote much time for Maharashtra. He has good presence in Vidarbha, which elected the most number of MLAs for BJP in 2009.

In Mumbai too the party is passing through a critical situation, though it’s in power with Shiv Sena at BMC. Its Mumbai unit is in disarray and party men doubt whether it will be able to increase its presence in the assembly and ensure at least one seat in Lok Sabha. The question is, can the party come up with a miracle man?

— The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY

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