There were sharp differences within the party on whether it should stake claim to form the government at the Centre. A section within the BJP felt the President should be approached only when the ‘party with a difference’ was sure of the numbers on the floor of the House.
At an informal interaction at Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s residence on the declaration of results, the division within the party was apparent. Former RSS ideologue and the-then general secretary in-charge of organisation KN Govindacharya was present too. So were Jaswant Singh, Ananth Kumar and Pramod Mahajan. Singh was entrusted with the task to seek support for the first BJP-led government at the Centre with Vajpayee as Prime Minister.
Even as the talks went on, the news reached managers still in confabulation that Atal Bihari Vajpayee had sought time from President Shankar Dayal Sharma to stake claim. The rest is history.
The government which lasted 13 days fell on the floor of the House. But those 13 days, and the live telecast of the Lok Sabha debate on the motion of trust was a huge public relations exercise that helped the BJP reach millions of households across the country.
Years later, a leader who was part of the confabulations reminisced on what if BJP had taken a high moral ground and sought to stake claim only after having the numbers on its side.
Both Vajpayee and Advani in 1996 were clear and categorical in their approach as the BJP was at the cusp of entering a new phase in national politics: that in politics and life, time waits for none. One has to seize the moment. And latch on to the opportunity with both hands.
The Congress ahead of the last Lok Sabha polls saw political merit and logic in a Gully Boy rap. ‘Apna Time Ayega’ became the election anthem.
By doing that, the party accepted that it was not confident of coming to power at least this time around. One keeps hearing in the Congress circles that Rahul Gandhi is not yet fifty and the MP from Wayanad has time on his side.
Some of Rahul’s trusted colleagues had more trust in the Bard of Avon who wrote there is a “tide in the affairs of men which when taken at floods leads on to fortune”.
Rahul, however, draws inspiration from Leo Tolstoy. That is what he told Jyotiraditya Scindia when Kamal Nath became the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh.
After a good 12 months of uneasy peace, Scindia declared war and toppled the Congress government.
Patience is a virtue in politics. To make a fair investment, however, it is equally important to have a disinterested understanding of when the stocks have hit the lower circuit.
All the successful politicians never wasted a moment in seizing the moment. Sharad Pawar with all of 38 MLAs broke away from the Congress to become Maharashtra chief minister. This he did after helping Vasantdada Patil survive a trust motion in the state assembly.
Both Lalu Prasad and Mulayam Singh Yadav had to fight a pitched battle with Prime Minister VP Singh to claim leadership of the backward classes and chief ministership in their respective states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
VP Singh wanted Ajit Singh to be CM of UP. Mulayam left no stone unturned to claim what he thought was rightfully his.
So did Lalu when Janata Dal won the assembly polls inn 1990. VP Singh backed Ram Sunder Das. Ajit Singh was again sent to ensure a smooth transition. The governor prevaricated after Lalu won support in a triangular fight in the Janata Dal Bihar legislature party- the other two contenders being Das and Chandra Shekhar-backed Raghunath Jha. The latter was more of a proxy to wean away Brahmin MLAs to give a fillip to Lalu’s prospects.
Ajit Singh’s father Charan Singh broke away from the Congress led by CB Gupta in UP to become the first non-Congress CM in the state with support from socialists and the Jana Sangh. He had support from less than 10 per cent of Congress legislators. His government did not last a full term, but he emerged as the undisputed leader of the land-owning peasantry in the entire northern India: from Patiala to Patna.
Years later, he brought down Morarji Desai’s government to become the PM with Indira Gandhi’s support. The government again did not last long.
In Bihar 2020, there are many contenders who are treating these elections as a semi-final to 2024. When a new era would arrive, and the state politics would enter a new phase after 30 years of the Mandal-Kamandal epoch. When the state politics would have moved out of the shadows of Lalu and Nitish; Sushil Modi and Ram Vilas Paswan.
Five years in politics is a long time. A lot can change in the next five years. A new Lalu and Nitish Kumar may emerge to challenge the established players. Those who have the appetite for a contest, challenge established players. Those who are hungry for power will not wait for the right moment to strike.
They who have nothing to lose and everything to gain will fight for a share in power.
As one leader seeking to make his presence felt in Bihar this time around says: "I can’t afford to wait for another 60 months. My people support me because they want to see me on the winning side. Why I lost would only be an academic discussion."
Politics doesn’t leave a vacuum. That is human nature.