There has been a lot of discussion going on for the last 12 hours or more in the pro-Hindutva web sites in India and abroad about the stunning failure of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to do well in the just-concluded elections to the Lok Sabha, the lower House of the Indian Parliament, and the dramatic success of the Congress (I). The pro-Hindutva elements, which regularly visit these web sites and make their postings, are in an astonishing state of shock. There is more introspection already going on in these web sites than in New Delhi and State capitals and there is more loud-thinking than in the endless debates in our TV channels. It is more interesting and educative to read these postings in the web sites than to listen to the blah, blah, blah of the spokesmen of different parties and the so-called analysts who have congregated in New Delhi.
2. As one goes through these web sites, one is struck by the admiration of many pro-Hindutva elements over the way the Congress (I) has managed to give a youthful image to the party and over the quality of the intellect and powers of articulation of the youth brigade of the Congress (I). There is a grudging admiration even for Rahul Gandhi. Some admit that he has made an impact on the nation as a whole. Others insist that his impact is confined to Uttar Pradesh.
3. Many have compared the youthful image of the Congress (I) to the tired and aging image of the Hindutva leaders. Where are the young people in the BJP, the posters have been asking. The majority are agreed that L.K.Advani was a bad choice to lead the election campaign. They allege that instead of surrounding himself with youthful faces and intellects, he surrounded himself with old pensioners from different government services and the armed forces who were unable to read the mind of the Indian youth.
4. A perusal of many of these postings shows that the angry pro-Hindutva elements do not look upon younger BJP leaders such as Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Shourie etc as repesenting the newly rising Indian youth. They dismiss them as middle-aged backroom manipulators and not genuine representatives of young India.
5. Many of the postings say that Advani made the election campaign a personality-based one and not an issue-based one, which was a serious mistake. Interestingly and significantly, many admit that the just-concluded election has shown that Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat, has no national stature. The fact that he has been able to galvanise the Gujaratis in Gujarat and outside does not mean that he will be able to galvanise the rest of India. They feel that one of the biggest problems of the BJP is that it has not been able to produce a leader of national stature after Atal Behari Vajpayee, the former Prime Minister. It has produced a number of good regional leaders, but they are not in a position to expand their appeal beyond their region and beyond their respective communities.
6. I am reproducing below some examples of the kind of comments I picked up from my browsing:
"I think BJP should dismantle, and regroup under a new name, new leadership, with a bit more conviction (I mean the mental kind, not legal) and spine. Bottom line: The BJP does not impress Hindus any more, and it manages to frighten non-Hindus. Not a combination to win India."
"How do old people like Advani answer to the aspirations of the youth and also how can they 'connect' to a grandfatherly figure when a much older figure like me sees him as an anachronism. Are you going to inspire the youth so that they will vote for Advani in 2014? I see it in simple terms: Manmohan Singh kept Advani engaged while the Congress youth brigade engaged the voters. This is a classic military tactic though I don't believe the Congress worked it out as a strategy. But that was the effect and people should learn from it and plan for the future. What worked in the 80s will not work with the voters today many of whom were not born then or were small children. The electorate is not static. Are you going to take them back to the 80s? Also, the BJP is being ill-served by some of its 'intellectuals', who talk smoothly on TV and score debating points, but have no clue about the electorate. This is soothsaying, not problem solving. A defeat of this magnitude is due to a fundamental shift, not minor issues like whether Modi or Vajpayee would have made a better speaker. I already see futile talk that BJP made a tactical error by bringing in Narendra Modi as speaker and so forth. This is like a drowning man clutching at straws. This shows that the BJP doesn't know what hit them-- the youth brigade. Where is a BJP youth brigade that can engage Rahul, Sachin Pilot, Jyotirmayi Scindia and so forth? Why did the BJP fail to cultivate them even with its vast cadre? It has five years to focus on this issue. Bringing up a cadre of young leaders should be the first priority of BJP-RSS. It should allow them some freedom and not put them in an ideological straitjacket. That will nip talent in the bud. My concern is more for future generations than the fortunes of any political party. Where are the future leaders? I hope people are listening. I will bring this up with some people I know and also mention it in a couple of presentations."
" The BJP has to be a party for all communities if it has to be a truly national party. A party that has India's interests as its priority and delivers on development will have no problems getting the support of a large section of Christians and Muslims. All that the BJP has to do is remove the institutional bias against Hindus that exists in govt circles. That's all Hindus ask of them."
"I am not a Hindu though I have Hindu heritage. I was looking forward to INC's defeat mostly because I vehemently am opposed to the idea of dynasty. India is a republic not a monarchy. I am seriously disappointed by the disastrous performace of BJP. You are in the trenches against an enemy more powerful and more organized moving against you and as you are running low on ammunition, you don't want traitors in your rank. You also don't want ultra patriots among you who might do serious damage to your battle plan. It is almost like giving the enemy your ammo stock even while you are running low yourself. Varun Gandhi played that spoiler. He may have made a tactical error in judgement but the moment the national and international media caught of that it brought about strategic implication. Sadly, the BJP's reaction was hew and haw without clear and concise action/reaction. Remember how GWB disowned Trent Lott? That is what leadership is. Does not matter how charismatic a person is and how popular he/she might be but the moment he/she steps out of line.....he/she however capable must be gone. In 1991 the Deputy Commander of all US forces arrayed against Iraq made a statement to the press about how the war would be waged. Norman Swarzkoff fired him even though he was said to be a brilliant war planner because he went to the press without approval. Despite being friendly with the Bush family he was fired nevertheless. BJP officials did not show leadership when it was needed. India has the world's largest twenty something population. Many of these are urbanized or dream of being urbanized. Many move to urban areas in search for that extra rupee. Many of these even in the country are fascinated by Bollywood and its regional cousins. Admit it. Materialism, westernization and its associated fashions/influence is ever expanding. In light of these developments, it would have been prudent for BJP to endear itself among this demographic. Beating up couples on their Valentine dates or trashing pubs/nightclubs will alienate these folks. The Hindu forces should be geared to fight Talibanization and not become like the Taliban. Believe it or not, of all the good things you do one small infraction is all that is needed for the media to show you like a demon. The zealots played into the hands of the media like fools. For a youngster in Madras who has heard of BJP and other Hindu right movements, he would know little of what great work these movements are doing in Gujarat or Haryana. But he would hear from the media when a couple on a Valentine date get beaten up. That would be his impression of the Hindutva movement. Like the the old saying....a drop of ink is enough to spoil a bucket of milk. Also, in light of this twenty something demographics, where are the young blood faces in the BJP? This is the largest twentysomething population in the world and largest voting block in the country. Eighty-something year old Mr. Advani, no disrespect to him and his huge contribution to the country, but there is a disconnect and I don't think he instils much confidence among the young crowd. All these time Rahul Gandhi and his sister went around charming whoever that could be charmed. Lets admit it. We humans are visual animals. It is nature and no matter how indoctrinated we are otherwise this will forever be dominant. In 2009, the India voter wants to see someone like him/her. Regardless of MMS, Rahul was the featured face of the INC in this election. Then the allienation and division among Hindus. Given that Hindus are intrinsically secular, stealth must have been the operative word. You cannot charge around like a bull. People however worried about their Hindu religion will be seriously repulsed. You should win the heart and mind of people via stealth instead of repulsing them. Does the BJP stand for all Hindus or some Hindus only? If a man does not do his husbandly duties, his wife will not sit and wait around. She is bound to seek the arms of another willing man. And there are no shortage of men who will not think twice of doing the deed when a vulnerable or willing housewife arrives on the scene. This is the same with the controversy surrounding conversion. Why do people convert to another religion? Can we all agree that the reason they convert is because the new religion offered them hope and other related benefits that the original religion did not offer? You can cry till your lungs burst about the activities of the evangelists but as long as you have a vulnerable population that you hardly care except that they convert to another religion....the ants will keep moving to where the sugar is. Its the law of nature that you cannot change. Until Hindus themselves take the initiative to empower and help the downtrodden and vulnerable among them....these same vulnerable and downtrodden will be played for their votebanks by the cunning foxes.For a party that desires to change the nation, the party must first instil change in the party. Does not matter how INC does business or XYZ party does business....its about time the BJP does business differently and stand out as a force of positivity. Have a national referendum to select a party candidate just like the US primary. This will galvanize the rank and file and allow everyone a chance to vote their leader and give every party member a voice. Be the agent of change instead of giving lip service to it.On the whole all these news about goondas beating up people, color tv or sack of rice or money in exchange for vote stinks bigtime. What happened to the spiritual Indian? Does this prove that Hindu influence is depleting? No wonder HIndutva lost its appeal?Lastly, you cannot fight corruption by being less corrupt. You are either incorruptible or corruptible. BJP needs to stand as an incorruptible party that is for good governance."
A caveat: Not all these people who post in these web sites are necessarily Hindutva cadres or sympathisers. There are some who feel more comfortable with the strategic thinking of the BJP on national issues than with that of the Congress I(I), but they cannot be characterised as pro-Hindutva.
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)