When Atal Behari Vajpayee was sworn in as the Prime Minister in 1999 for the third consecutive time ( after the 1996 thirteen day fiasco and the 1998 romance with the AIADMK ), little did the Indian electorate realize that the saffron party had peaked. The Opposition parties particularly the Congress was in utter disarray and the Treasury benches were filled with mighty regional satraps and the powerful BJP . Vajpayee was able to insulate the party from the clutches of the RSS. To his credit, Atalji paid occasional visits to the RSS headquarters in Nagpur to ease the friction between the party and the RSS godfathers. However, those were mere proxy meetings and Atalji rarely heeded to their advice. A decade later, so much water seems to have flowed in the holy Ganges. The Grand Old Party , which was on life support ventilator since the Narasimha Rao ,has returned to the state of the natural party of governance. The BJP is in shambles and virtually left without a genuine leader.
BJP minus Vajpayee is a big zero and it took several years for the BJP to figure this out. Do you think that Vajpayee was the only factor that gave the BJP the edge in several general elections? I do not think so. In a party filled with members who have strong affinity to the RSS, it was difficult for a man of the stature of Vajpayee to play second fiddle to the Sangh. Though the retirement of Vajpayee was a major blow to the BJP, the main factor responsible for its decline was the loss of its identity.
In the early 1980s , the BJP posed itself as the " party with a difference". " You have tried others, now try the BJP" - ran the major campaign poster. Throughout that decade,the party rose steadily but surely. Of course the Mandir-Mandal issue skyrocketed the fortunes of the party. While this was the main catalyst that propelled the party into power, the key factor was the will of the people itself. Having experienced the monotony of the Congress babus and also having experienced some shaky coalitions in the form of Janata Dal , the people were eager to try something different. The mighty Indian electorate succumbed to the temptation of the BJP's slogan and promise .
The six years of BJP rule proved that this party was alas ,not a different one. Except for a change of faces,the party looked no different than the Congress. Scandals and corruption were rampant, coalition politics was a harakiri and regional satraps had their say. There was a clear lack of cohesion in the ruling administration with the Deputy PM's office functioning as a seperate power centre. Even Vajpayee looked jaded throughout much of his term, thanks to his failing health and arguably it was Brajesh Mishra ( the NSA) who called the shots. The relative calm in India was punctuated by the Gujarat riots and Vajpayee failed to impose his will against Modi & Co.From 2002, the power centre was slowly shifting towards Advani and the RSS. The India Shining campaign of 2004 was cut short by the resurgenceof the Grand Old Party .
The Bharatiya Janata Party had ample opportunities during the six years of its rule to establish itself as the " natural party of governance". Instead , it floundered these life lines by proving to be just another side of the same " coin". The Indian electorate, bereft of hope, had badly needed change. They were willing to try the BJP, the regional parties ranging from BSP to NCP and even the so called Janata Dal. But these parties failed to live upto the expectations. When BJP was renegated as the principal opposition party in the 2004 General Elections, one would have thought that things would change in 5 years. Instead, Manmohan Singh fought the anti incumbency and brought the party back to power in 2009.
Now, the Indian electorate see another beacon in the horizon- that of youth, of growth, of development and a better governance. The recent successes of the Congress in many state elections in India have clearly proved the emergence of Rahul Gandhi to the forefront. For this very reason, the BJP will slide further. By the next elections, I doubt whether they can even hold on to their place as India's principal opposition party. They have nothing to offer and worse still no leaders worthy of stature. In fighting is the order of the day and even the nascent Yeduriyappa government Of Karnataka has been rocked by rebellion. India might have just entered another long period of dominance by the Congress and we can only hope that things would be different now. Whether the demise of a meaningful opposition will be good for the country, only time can tell.