Vantage point

Thursday, May 11, 2006

BJP, Enough with the Night Watchmen

We all know what a night-watchman means in cricketing terms. For those who don't follow the game, a night-watchman is somewhat of a low-cost sacrificial lamb sent in at a precarious position. If he falls, as he is expected to, the damage isn't much. If he sticks around a bit and scores some runs, it is an added bonus. The main purpose driving this concept is the wish to protect a top order batsman, who might fall cheaply.

The BJP has been using night-watchmen to combat Sonia Gandhi in elections. In fact, reading the names of BJP candidates who fight parliamentary elections against Sonia is an excellent indicator of whose stock is descending within the BJP. Many years back, they made Sushma Swaraj contest from Bellary, of all places. Despite her valiant efforts, she was no political equivalent of Jason Gillespie(the only night-watchman to score a double century). Sonia thumped her and Swaraj has since been on the fringes of the powers that be within the BJP. She s not getting the role she deserves.

In this by-election, the BJP forced an extremely reluctant Vinay Katiyar to contest. He was a pathetic failure, and the only moment of any note in his campaign came when he cried himself hoarse about dance-girls being used to entertain a crowd before Sonia's rally in Raibareilly. If the electorate was made up of a million men named R.R.Patil, then Katiyaar would have romped home. As it happens, he lost his deposit and was whipped by over 400,000 votes.

The BJP has probably played the biggest role in Sonia being built up as a massive monolith of a politician. She keeps suckering them and they keep getting suckered, flogging too many dead-horses. "foreigner....pulling the puppet strings....dynastic politic..." the BJP folks whine and whine. In the process they create an aura of invincibility around her. They have made her a martyr.

SOnia Gandhi interestingly enough, gulped down the deposits of her opponents in a place where the Congress was unable to win a single seat in the Assembly elections.

The BJP keeps getting whipped and yet they don't learn. They need to think up another strategy to regain the "psychological advantage" that Sonia has wrested away from them. And just flogging horses who are not just dead, but even fossilized, isn't going to help. The people do not care about the videshi factor. Let it go, and find something more credible.

In charting their future course of action, the BJP should again learn from a cricketing analogy. Towards the fag end of 2003, India was locked in an absorbing test series with Steve Waugh's Australia. India had taken the lead by winning the Adelaide test, and the Aussies had come roaring back in Melbourne, getting a huge first innings lead over India, ably assisted by Bucknor and Parthiv Patel. In the second innings, as the end of the day drew closer, India lost it's second wicket in the second innings - an in-form Virender Sehwag. Customarily Tendulkar batted at 2-down, but out walked the Indian captain Sourav Ganguly, much to everyone's surprise. Sachin had been going through a rough patch, and might have been at risk this late in the day. Ganguly, in one of the most amazingly defiant, and yet the most forgotten instances of courageus captaincy, walked out to bat himself. He didn't send in a night-watchman, and he didn't send in Tendulkar. He walked out himself.

Along with Dravid, he batted till the end of the day's play, and scored a respectable 73. India lost the match, but Ganguly's gesture in Melbourne, as much as his scintillating hundred in Brisbane, inspired India. They were back in the driver's seat, and dominated the Sydney test, again denied a win by the Bucknor-Patel combine. But that series saw the Indian team grown like like never before.

BJP needs to do something similar. Ideally they should have done it in these by-elections, since the risk would have been lower. They need to make sure a giant faces up to Sonia. Give young Rahul something to really think about. Vajpayee, Advani, Kalyan Singh or maybe even Rajnath Singh himself should contest the Lok Sabha elections against Sonia. Engage her in a real battle, and make her worry more about winning her own seat than winning the overall elections.

That will truly demonstrate to the BJP cadre and to the world that Sonia Gandhi is beatable....and beatable by BJP. It is a high-risk game, but a necessary one.