A Karnataka warning

When the news came from Karnataka last week that the Bharatiya Janata Party had suffered a humiliating defeat I was delighted. Not because I have mysteriously been reborn as a devotee of the Gandhi family and not because I suddenly see hope in the Congress. But because I believe that the BJP has been so lousy an opposition party that it deserves a jolt or two or three. For a party that has spent long, bleak years sitting in the opposition benches in Parliament, you would think it would have learned to behave like a responsible opposition party. This has not happened.

Look only at its performance in the past 10 years to see that I speak the truth. When it lost the general election in 2004, the defeat was unexpected, so senior leaders of the party can be forgiven for spending those first months consulting astrologers and tarot card readers. But surely, by the end of that first year, the need for new political ideas and a new strategy should have become obvious. When this did not happen, it resulted in another defeat in 2009 and it was after this that the real decline appears to have begun.

It was as if the BJP forgot that Parliament's role in a democracy is to make laws and that the Opposition's role is to participate in the making of these laws by way of debate. So, the BJP's main role in Parliament in recent years has been to make sure that it does not function. Even when they have allowed a session to actually go ahead, all that the BJP's senior leaders have done is score clever points as children do in school debating competitions.

The result is that we do not know where the party stands on any of the laws and policies that the Sonia-Manmohan government has been responsible for. The leitmotif of this government has been reckless spending on massive welfare schemes of which the food security Bill is only the latest. Does the BJP approve of these schemes? Does it have an alternative idea of how poverty can be alleviated? Does it believe that giving desperately poor people the legal right to homes, education and food is the way forward? Does it believe that it has been wrong for the National Advisory Council to play such a big role in policy making? Does it think of the Aadhaar scheme as worthwhile or a complete waste of money? Does it believe that it is because of bad policies that a booming economy has been reduced to dangerously slow growth rates? If so, which policies does it hold responsible? We do not know the answers to these questions and we should.

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