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Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 August, 2004, 12:14 GMT 13:14 UK
BJP struggles to find direction

By Abhishek Prabhat
BBC correspondent in Delhi

At first, it was disbelief. It soon turned into a shock.

BJP leaders LK Advani (left) and Atal Behari Vajpayee (right)
Critics say the party leadership is tired and lacks ideas
A hundred days on, India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party is still struggling to digest its loss in the general elections.

Defeat has never been as hard on the BJP which has spent most of its history in opposition.

As the party tries come to grips with the reality, a fatigued leadership, ideological contradictions and absence of a well-defined strategy stare it in the face.

Confusion

Critics say the party has lost direction, lacks ideas and is struggling with internal contradictions.

In June the party agreed to re-adopt the ideology of Hindutva (Hinduness) often used to promote Hindu nationalism.

But two months later, a closed-door gathering of the leaders dumped Hindutva for the more friendly slogan of development.

"There's tension within the BJP on what their broad political strategy should be at the national level," commentator and senior editor of The Telegraph newspaper Bharat Bhushan told BBC News Online.

Chandan Mitra
There are problems in every party. The BJP does not exist in a void
Chandan Mitra
Editor, The Pioneer

He says the party is trying out various approaches, one of which is to keep silent on Hindutva at the national level while trying to consolidate its appeal to traditional Hindu voters at the local level.

But BJP vice president and spokesman Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi rejects this argument.

"There is no confusion at all," he says.

"A Hindu temple at Ayodhya, a common civil code or the annulment of Article 370 [which gives special status to Indian-administered Kashmir] were crucial issues for the party in the past and will remain so in future."

These are issues which have been viewed with apprehension by India's Muslim minority.

Member of parliament and editor of The Pioneer newspaper, Chandan Mitra, agrees that the BJP is facing problems.

"There are problems in every party. The BJP does not exist in a void," he says.

"But to say that there is no clarity of vision or a leadership crisis - such talk is written by glib journalists who have very little idea of how the BJP functions."

'Vicious cycle'

Since its birth in 1980, the BJP has always been in opposition at the federal level, except for the six years in power under the former prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee.

It has always been recognised as a party that has played a very effective and constructive role as the main opposition in parliament.

Muktar Abbas Naqvi
The happenings of the past few weeks have left a dent on our image
BJP spokesman Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi

But this time, many believe its politics have been much more negative.

The party boycotted the annual budget vote and has forced frequent disruptions of the house.

It is even against some of its own policies, leading some to accuse it of doing anything to be seen to be opposing the government.

The party admits that its tactics in parliament have not gone down well.

"I accept that we did not live up to our own expectation," says Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi. "The happenings of the past few weeks have left a dent on our image."

But Mr Naqvi blames the government for provoking the opposition. Chandan Mitra agrees.

"The government kept on doing things which acted as a red rag to the opposition."

Bharat Bhushan says this does not absolve the BJP from its dismal showing as an opposition.

"The BJP has taken the country into a cycle of vicious reactive politics," he says.

Heartland crisis

The BJP is also in a shambles in Uttar Pradesh, a state which sends more MPs - 80 - to parliament than any other.

BJP party worker
A section of the party wants to go back to its hardline roots

It is the heartland of the Hindi-speaking belt and until a few years ago was considered the BJP's core constituency.

But the party has been consistently sliding in the state.

In the last elections, only nine of its candidates won.

"If the BJP does not recover in UP, its larger national ambition will be difficult to achieve," Mr Mitra says.

Many believe that elections in western Maharashtra state - due in October - could decide the BJP's future course.

Party insiders admit the outcome will be crucial.

As one leader summed it up: "Maharashtra will decide if we'll kiss the hardline agenda or kiss it goodbye for ever."


India votes 2004: Full in-depth coverage here

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