I got into a nice comfortable position, had the windows open, NDTV for the “secular” viewpoint and a BJP sympathizing live chat session, to watch the results live, and as with much expected and awaited India cricket matches of the mid- 90’s, got disappointed really soon. If I could have voted in this election, I surely would have voted BJP/NDA, as I would have had in 2004. So, it is a second consequitive defeat for me. And as every armchair strategist should do, I have been pondering the future of the BJP for the past few days, and why they lost. Here are some thoughts, most of it shaped from reading a lot of blogs for the last 40-50 days. It is hard to find those links again, and I am not making any attempt to find them. There may be factual inaccuracies, and I am willing to correct them, remove them, if pointed out (or if I find out)
- Target Audience: I took some time to read the party manifesto’s this time. And, I noticed the BJP’s internet advertising. Personally, I believe that in this elections, the only party that had a manifesto that addressed national issues and provided plans for our development, if elected, it was the BJP manifesto. They showcased their vision, through the IT, Infrastructure vision statements etc, and had an statement of intent in their manifesto. Congress on the other hand, was totally diplomatic, and except for the sops, made no real claims in theirs. Samajwadi Party, came up with a cropper, and a vision of taking the country back to the 1800’s. On a policy to policy, a vision for the country basis, the BJP should have won hands-down. But, unfortunately, good manifesto’s do not add up to much in our country. The manifestos and the vision statements, have been targetted at the upwardly mobile, educate middle class Indians and NRI’s (but the only urban area that the BJP manajed to sweep was Bangalore, so it does not seem that their vision documents got enough penetration). In my opinion, the average upwardly mobile educated Indian is not going to go out and vote. The central or state government is not too much of a concern for him, and his fortunes are tied more cloesly to the global economy. They may be more intersted in Obama or McCain, as the US policies are much more likely to directly affect their wallets. The Indian election is won in the poor households, the semi-urban and the rural votes. And, these people are not going to care about the “national ” issues. Security, IT-vision, Infrastructure vision etc are not what they are bothered upon. Whilst, it is important that a political outfit which aims to govern have a vision, the elections must be fought and won on a more personal and tangilble issues. The Congress got this correct, with their populist moves, the NREGA (which accoridng to some reports that I have read, if implemented strategically, can mean improved infrastructure in the Indian hinterland with better roads, electricity, irrigation etc, but currently, it is about giving *some* job to the rual youth), the farm loan waiver (which according to me, is a near sighted, stop-gap solution for a long term problem). On these issues, I could not find the BJP being able to go out and connect to the voters. Their policies, could have ended up in a better future for rural Indians, but there was no short-term carrot that was dangled in front of their eyes (apart from the Rs 3 Rice, to counter Congress’es claim to distribute cheap rice).
- Wrong Leader: Personally, I have never really liked L.K.Advani. He was one of my most disliked political person, even when the NDA was in power and most of my political views were being formed. His image lacks the certain charm and a calmness, that both Vajpayee and MMS seem to posses. Talking to a few friends, after the elections, I get the impression that it is just not me who thinks like that. This, probably could be a reason on the BJP’s non-performance in urban centers, with people wanting to vote NDA, but not L.K.Advani. Personally, had the elections been a couple of years ago, or even before 26/11, I would have gone the Congress, just beacuse MMS seemed to be a better ambassador of the country than LKA. LKA surely, built the BJP and nurtured it, but he is too much of a hardliner to excite the non-committed voters. He is also not a natural mas leader like the Rahul baba and Priyanka to sweep votes based on his personality and charm. The congress has a lot to thank to the Gandhi name, and the (apparantly) in-born mass leadership that they Rahul and Priyanka are able to provide. The BJP themselves have admitted that they missed Vajpayees’s moderate appeal to just about everyone and his mass-leadership abilities.
- Media Bias: This election, much unlike the previous ones, has ALSO been fought on the 24 hour news channels, and most of them, to a disgusting degree, have painted the BJP as a communal hatred spewing party, and the UPA and the Congress as the only option to lead India into a secular future. The media, to a large extent has been succesful in marginalizing the BJP. Gujrat-02, even after 7 years, is the hottest topic of discussion, the Kandhar issue was highlighted much more as the BJP failing national security than 26/11. The sikh-riots and their dissents have probably never been discussed on national TV. Varun Gandhi’s statements were discussed more on TV than the BJP manifesto and promises, while similar statements of hate by some muslim congress leader, came to notice because of the website linking it. Karunanidhi’s claims that “Ram” does not exist, does not stir up the media’s secular credentials, but a single BJP comment on hindutva or minorities is dissceted again and again on national TV. Rajdeep Sardesai of CNN-IBN could as well rename his channel as the official Congress news channel. There was a time when I used to get my daily dose of News from NDTV, but after Bharka’s histrionics of 26/11 and the subsequent developments (including the Cheytanya Kunte issue) and their coverage of this years election, I am sticking to blogs and twitter for my daily news supply. As has been pointed in many forums, it is time that the BJP gets itself a media house, much like Fox for the republicans here, and introduce some balance into the one-sided reporting that we are seeing these-days.
- Fair Elections? I am sure this is a case of shifting blame somewhere else, the grapes are sour kind of argument. But somethings are hard to overlook. Mainly the TN elections. TN swings one way to the other almost every election, and ADMK should have been on the recieving end this time. Add to it, the SL voter issue, because of which, many people thought that the DMK and Congress are going to suffer. Despite the DMDK theory of splitting the anti-incumbency votes, the DMK performance surprises me. There have been accounts of money for vote kind of things being perpetuated by the DMK in Madurai, and accounts of EVM’s blinking on the DMK even if other party buttons were pressed. To add more to the suspision was PC’s victory after recount. It is not manual counting to induce errors, the computer does it all, and I am surprised that the results changed. But, these cannot be the reason for resounding Congress victories elsewhere, and the BJP can do better by not providing fire to these conspiracy theories.
The next few years are very important, not just for the BJP, but also for democracy in India. BJP has to get its house in order as soon as possible, and, instead of pointing fingers at each-other for the election debacle, should introspect and find out as to why they have mis-read the pulse of the country in two elections consequtively. They are at 116 or 118 seats now, down from nearly 190 in 1999, and it is high time they consolidate, or we will get back to the Congress hay-days of the 1960’s and 70’s when they won more than 2/3rds of the seats in the LS.
It is all the more important that the BJP not throw the towel and consolidate the few states that they have a major presence in. This will make them a fringe player in National politics. The opposition is as much a part of the democratic process, as the governing party. They provide the choice that is essential, and among the hundreds of other parties in India right now, the BJP provides the best alternate choice.
In my opinion, first and foremost, the BJP has to redefine its stance on Hindutva. Personally, the hard, extremist stance that they had in the past, is not going to work, and they will lose out on many hindu votes if they stick to that. I always try to give the American example when it comes to secularism. America is a secular country, but most of the country is devoted christians. That is the kind of secularism, I want to see in India, and I want BJP to potray. Congress and the so-called secualr parties, are pseudo-secular, and when the prime-minister can make statements like this, it hardly induces confidence in me. I strongly believe that the Congress has different definitions of secularism for the minorities and hindu’s and that has to change. It is a dicy situation for the BJP, but this is where they have to find inspiration from somewhere and define their political ideology (which definitely has to change from Ram mandir and hindu chauvanism), that does not alienate the minorities and yet give confidence to the hindu majority in the country that BJP is going to be better for them. It is hard, but if the BJP have to remain relavant, they have to address this issue.
Secondly, as many forums have pointed out, it is essential for the BJP to grow. With absolutely no presence in TN, AP and WB, they lose almost 100 seats to the Congress (atleast, this year they have gained easily on the anti-left votes). The growth has to be organic, and by dedicated work of the foot-soldiers. High level alliances can only get you this far. Increasing their presence has got to be a major focus.
Finally, they need to be a responsible opposition, and not the type of opposition they were in the 2004-09 LS. Opposing for opposition sake is really bad, and I had a bad taste for the BJP brand of opposition almost all the time the 2004-09 UPA gorvenrment was there. There was mindless opposition to every minor issue, and the worst thing was siding with the Left during the nuclear standoff without reason or rhyme. A strong opposition can play a decisive role in good governance and nation building, and the quicker the BJP becomes one in the present LS, the better it is for them.
The BJP is almost down in the dumps, and as with KKR in the IPL, the only way for them is up. I cannot resist using the cricket analogy again. As I said, Friday evening, it almost felt like supporting the Indian team during the disastrous Aussie tour of ’99 or the ’99 world cup or many of the other “away” assignments of the Indian cricket team. Domestic, home series performances (much like NDA sweeping state elections), promise a lot, my expecations used to rise a lot. But, it came tubling down within lunch on the first day of big away test matches. The Indian selector, team and think-tank have realized that stop gap solutions like sending Nayan Mongia as an opener or making square turning dust-bowls in Chennai and Bangalore is not the solution, and the present team, has won lots of succeses. They got a leader in Saurav Ganguly in 2001, to beging the process of turn-around. The question is, who is going to be BJP’s Saurav Ganguly, and I have a feeling that the death of Pramod Mahajan is going to haunt them for a longer time now, as they look for a new face for the new bhajpa.