There was a period in the late 1980s and early to mid 1990s when the BJP become a catchment zone for attracting talent. It is of course unfortunate that after the 2009 defeat the phrase “lateral entrant” acquired infamy when a mood of anti-intellectualism gripped the BJP.
However that wave from the 80s-90s saw a diversity of politico-intellectuals make their way to the BJP like Arun Shourie among others. The 2009 Lok Sabha election marked the reversal of that earlier process with veterans finding themselves in the wilderness while young blood looked elsewhere.
It is too early to say if today’s events in Assam mark the reversal of that talent drain. However it is interesting to see the sort of reportage in the media that has not been associated with the BJP in over a decade:
Sarbananda Sonowal, one of the brightest young leaders of Asom Gana Parishad and former president of All Assam Students’ Union, is on his way out of the state’s largest opposition party to join BJP
It is anybody’s guess at this time on the degree to which Sarbananda Sonowal will impact BJP’s fortunes in Assam making it a claimant for power in that state. It however is clear that there is a certain swagger and momentum that is building up with reports of an exodus from AGP to follow.
The talent drain from AGP to BJP also coincides with the curious reversal of another trend down in Andhra of a fragmented polity with the merger of Chiranjeevi’s PRP with the Congress. While this leaves Andhra with one less regional party there is the looming spectre of another one emerging in its wake. But a YSR Congress in Andhra much like the NCP in Maharashtra would still be a shadow of the Congress representing the same demographic interests. The YSR Congress which represents a transient schism within the broader Congress monolith must not distract us from marking the start of a larger trend of diminishing political returns for a regional party narrowly focused on a regional identity.
It is still early days to say anything definitive about this trend as the twin Dravidian parties remain well entrenched in Tamil Nadu and Naveen Patnaik’s BJD sees no immediate existential threat. On the other hand the JD-S in Karnataka, the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, the TDP and TRS in Andhra, the Akalis in Punjab, the Samajwadi Party in UP have all faced existential challenges of one kind or another in recent years.
In this context it is interesting to hear Sarbananda Sonawal speak of “Constructive Regionalism” as a new model where a regional agenda that draws on a regional identity finds a home within a larger national formation founded on a national identity.
In the wake of Naveen Patnaik’s divorce with the BJP and in the light of the BJP’s blow hot, blow cold relationship with Nitish Kumar it had been argued by this blog that the long term path roadmap for the BJP was to go it alone in states while localizing its agenda with a regional or sub-regional flavor.
The answer to the question
How “Constructive Regionalism” goes from being a mere catchphrase to a practical political paradigm in action that can be replicated in other states by the BJP ?
will tell us much on the distance the BJP still needs to cover to break new ground along the eastern seaboard, going all the way down south.