Where does the BJP go from here?

Over the next week or so, you are sure to be bombarded with a barrage of op-eds and articles trying to explain the Bihar election. Most of these will be excercises in projecting the author’s own biases on the Bihar electorate.

You will no doubt be told that Bihar voted against ‘regressive politics’ – by voting along caste lines. Or that Modi was punished for not acting against the corrupt – which is why a party of led by a convicted criminal is the single largest party. Or that the BJP should have fought on the so-called ‘development plank’ (they did in the first two phases, and sank without a trace. The seats BJP won are mostly from the later phases, where polarization had set in).

Or that BJP should not have made beef an issue (they did not; beef became an issue due to a murder committed by people who had no relation to the BJP in a state not ruled by the BJP).

You will probably also be told that villagers in Bihar were influenced by ‘intellectuals’ from Lutyen’s Delhi returning their awards.

The Modi government can either pay attention to such banal sophistry by its enemies and dig itself into a deeper hole, or try to understand what is happening and course-correct.

The first and foremost thing to understand about Indian elections is – they are all about the mobilization of social coalitions. The Mahagathbandhan’s victory was a victory of sheer arithmetic. The BJP had a broad social coalition ranged against it. Against that, what did it offer? Modi. And that was it’s first and most cardinal mistake- a repeat of the same mistake it made in Delhi. the Prime Minister cannot and will not win you state elections.

BJP’s sweep of the Hindi heartland in the 2014 Lok Sabha election was powered by the assembling of a rainbow coalition of Hindus- the United Spectrum of Hindu Votes. This coalition united for the explicit purpose of making Narendra Modi the Prime Minister Of India.

A logical corollary of this is that the United Spectrum Of Hindu Vote cannot be encashed for state elections – unless there is an equally powerful cause to rally for. Against Kejriwal, and then Lalu and Nitish, BJP offered Modi. But what is this supposed to mean? What does it entail in reality? These men were fighting the election to rule their respective states.

Modi, however, would not be CM of Bihar or Delhi even if BJP won these states. Yet BJP’s entire campaign in these states focused on pitting Modi against these local opponents, rather than on what BJP had to offer these states if elected.

Yes, the BJP did fight and win three elections like this- Haryana, Jharkhand and Maharashtra. They went into these elections without a CM face, and won them on the back of the Prime Minister’s popularity. However, these elections were fought in the immediate aftermath of the Lok Sabha polls, and the BJP benefited from the spillover effects of that. More importantly, the Congress-ruled state governments in these states were facing anti-incumbency.

Back-to-back defeats in Delhi and Bihar have shown that this will not work anymore. In Delhi, AAP offered the voters ‘Paanch Saal Kejriwal’. In Bihar, the Mahagathbandhan offered the voters Nitish Kumar’s track record, as well as the promise of tangible largesse and preferential treatment to various electorally important caste groups, such as Yadavs, etc. In addition to this, the AAP and the Mahagathbandhan both had the near-total consolidation of the minority vote behind them, for reasons which not need to be explained.

Against this, the BJP offered Modi. But Modi was not going to be CM of Bihar or Delhi even if the BJP won, and in the case of Bihar, voters did not even know who the CM would be. AAP and the Mahagathbandhan on the other hand, based their campaigns entirely on local issues.

Voting for preferential treatment to one’s caste is an entirely rational decision. It is better to acknowledge this as an electoral factor and adapt to it rather than cursing voters for acting in their perceived self-interest. What did BJP have to offer to voters to counter that? And do not answer ‘development’. That is a vague, undefined word that means all things to all people, and Nitish promised ‘development’ too. Nor is telling people to vote for Modi enough.

What happened in Bihar offers lessons for UP as well. If you want to assemble the United Spectrum of Hindu vote again, you have to offer that social coalition something to rally around – and an acceptable face to rally behind. The recent panchayat poll results make the writing on the wall in UP clear: the SP government is on it’s way out. And unless the BJP grooms and promotes a local leader in UP, strengthens it’s organization on the ground and pulls up its socks, Mayawati will ride anti-incumbency to the CM’s chair in Lucknow again, BJP’s 71/80 in the Lok Sabha election notwithstanding. If the BJP tries to fight UP on the basis of Modi’s charisma, it will receive another thrashing. Because it is the UP BJP unit who will govern UP if the BJP wins, and not Modi. And thus it is the UP BJP unit which voters will vote for or against in 2017- a ramshackle entity without a leader or a proper organization. If the BJP does not anoint a leader in UP and begin making preparations now, a repeat of Delhi and Bihar beckons.

This is intended to be Part 1 of a 3-part series on the direction the BJP should take, time willing. I intend Part 2 to be on economic policy and Part 3 to be on cultural issues.

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8 thoughts on “Where does the BJP go from here?

  1. Some observations:
    1. BJP should groom state leaders. And do that diligently. If the leader needs to be from the RSS, so be it. But should be made active in advance. For starters, the leader you intend to make as CM of UP must be given reins of the State Unit NOW.
    2. During LS 2014, the United Spectrum of Hindu Votes(which Praveen Patil so colourfully coined) came together to battle the 2002 propaganda that media had so meticulously fed the populace. Dont think NaMo would be seen as a victim this time around, rather he’d be seen as a non-performer – one who couldn’t take the propaganda bull by its horns.
    3. You say that the Intolerance debate would have no impact on the Bihar electorate. Intuitively true. Statistically not so much. Church attacks and intolerance makes for a 2/2 score for the IOI brigade(read Delhi and Bihar).
    4. Its never too late to seize the narrative. For fuck’s sake keep a Communications Director(Press Advisor) at PMO who could at-least check the adverse spin.
    5. Have a robust feedback mechanism.

    All this is wishful thinking. Hoping that both you and I don’t end up being modern-day Cassandras.

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  2. Probably regional/national heavy weights(w/ their vote base) ganging up on BJP is what led to this debacle. Don’t think UP would ever witness SP & BSP getting in an alliance though. But, you never know, funny things happen in politics.

    +1 on the article

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  3. Very insightful article! Ont hing has emerged over the years! People in the villages and far flung outposts of all states are not complete fools however you look at it! They can hand you power and take it away.
    Secondly, it is very important to take note of behind-the scene machinations of Prashant Kishore! DO NOT IGNORE HIM! It will not surprise me at all if he now moves to UP! On this, point 4 of Sid above is extremely important.
    Jai Hind

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  4. As of now, the 18 month run of NaMo Govt is very much clean but performance = mediocre & apart from present BJP/NDA ruled states, BJP has no plausible way of winning anymore extra till after 2019. Infact, Punjab is a gone case and Gujarat is increasingly looking difficult.
    1) So NaMo instead of state elections & Foreign policy, should concentrate on domestic economy. Get the economy running through executive actions & finance bills.
    2) Ask his ministers to take care of their respective depts.
    3) Bombard the Indian media and public with ur own narrative. Hype up all the good things that u do & its consequent positive results. Initiate/Nurture a strong and massive RW ecosystem on a war footing.
    4) drop non performing ministers and spokesperson.
    5) Give Amit Shah some time to recover now and let him do his job in the shadow. Let BJP have a new President till 2018. Out of sight is out of mind, one could do miracles when there isn’t much glare of the enemy, For example UP 2014 – 75 MP.
    6) Please come up with a massive populist social scheme which gives out doles from poor, lower class, lower middle and middle class. This might not be financially sound, but losing elections is not politically sound either.
    7) Pamper all constituencies that voted for u in 2014, monetary benefits are the easiest way to build traction. once again might be economically bad, so be it, as said before, loosing elections is bad too.

    implement the above and watch how things fall in place! 2019 victory will be possible then, otherwise u will be a 1 term PM. In 2nd term u can pretty much all ur political capital to do what is politically incorrect and bitter but necessary & u can use it as ur last term!

    Like

  5. As of now, the 18 month run of NaMo Govt is very much clean but performance = mediocre & apart from present BJP/NDA ruled states, BJP has no plausible way of winning anymore extra till after 2019. Infact, Punjab is a gone case and Gujarat is increasingly looking difficult.
    1) So NaMo instead of state elections & Foreign policy, should concentrate on domestic economy. Get the economy running through executive actions & finance bills.
    2) Ask his ministers to take care of their respective depts.
    3) Bombard the Indian media and public with ur own narrative. Hype up all the good things that u do & its consequent positive results. Initiate/Nurture a strong and massive RW ecosystem on a war footing.
    4) drop non performing ministers and spokesperson.
    5) Give Amit Shah some time to recover now and let him do his job in the shadow. Let BJP have a new President till 2018. Out of sight is out of mind, one could do miracles when there isn’t much glare of the enemy, For example UP 2014 – 75 MP.
    6) Please come up with a massive populist social scheme which gives out doles to poor, lower class, lower middle and middle class. This might not be financially sound, but losing elections is not politically sound either.
    7) Pamper all constituencies that voted for u in 2014, monetary benefits are the easiest way to build traction. once again might be economically bad, so be it, as said before, loosing elections is bad too.

    implement the above and watch how things fall in place! 2019 victory will be possible then, otherwise u will be a 1 term PM. In 2nd term u can pretty much put all ur political capital to do what is politically incorrect and bitter but necessary & u can use it as ur last term!

    Like

  6. Agree on how BJP should accept caste for what it is & work accordingly. Biggest shortcoming has been this from day 1. as i read in Balagangadhara’s heathen in his blindness, caste IS religion for most of hindus’ history. Trying to erase or badmouth will yield very little results, if any. Local leaders who are groomed shd be willing to perform in the State (ie subsume personal ambitions for a greater cause) for a longer period of time instead of attempting to move to centre. Will await part 2 & 3 !

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