[* A line from a Communist song from the Spanish Civil War]
Apologies for not writing yesterday. I was busy pontificating on TV and finishing my columns which have appeared in today's Times of India and Pioneer. Then I was out late at night commiserating with some friends in the BJP. My only bit of good news was the spectacular third-term victory of Naveen Patnaik in Orissa. I telephoned him and congratulated him for rewriting the rules of electoral politics.
Anyway, to come back to Election 2009, let me present some blunt home truths:
- This was a positive vote for the Congress, including Sonia and Rahul.
- The contribution of Manmohan Singh to the victory was significant. In hindsight, he was the unquestioned winner of the "weak" versus "strong" debate.
- It was Manmohan's perceived decency that mattered to the electorate.
- The under-30 youth vote went overwhelmingly in favour of the Congress. The Congress reinvented itself as a party where youth matters; the BJP was seen as hidebound.
- The media helped project Congress as wholesome; the BJP was seen as ugly. Varun Gandhi may have won Pilibhit but he lost the BJP lakhs of votes nationally.
- The middle class vote deserted the BJP and gave Congress the extra cutting edge--just see the margins of victory in Delhi.
- The loan waiver and NREGA helped blunt possible anti-incumbency.
- People voted by and large on national lines. This was not an aggregate of state elections. There was a national swing in favour of the Congress.
- In UP, we are seeing the restoration of the Congress coalition which was broken in 1991. Both BJP and BSP are likely to be casualties.
What are the specific lessons for the BJP?
- The party must recognise that this was a political failure and not merely a defeat caused by management shortcomings.
- The so-called "Hindu" appeal may work in specific areas (Pilibhit, Mangalore, Azamgarh, Kandhamal, et al) but it is perceived as divisive elsewhere.
- The ugly face of Hindu extremism puts off the middle ground.
- There is no such thing as a Hindu consciousness that exists today. The nationalist middle ground has shifted to the Congress.
- The BJP leadership is seen as completely unresponsive to youth aspirations and modernity.
- There is a tendency of the BJP to preach to the committed and not reach outwards.
- In caste terms, we are witnessing a definite drift of the upper castes to the Congress.
- The OBCs are now the bedrock of the BJP but this has not been formally acknowledged.
- The RSS-isation of the BJP organisation post-2005 has created serious distortions.
- The integrity quotient of the BJP is now at par with that of the Congress. This is a problem that the moral guardians of the party have wilfully turned a blind eye to.
What should the BJP do immediately?
- Recognise the magnitude of defeat and not live in denial (as happened in 2004).
- There has to be some visible demonstration of the fact that the party has responded to the message. Advani was right to step down and the Parliamentary Board was wrong to reject it. There is still a very important role for Advani but his position is that of a mentor.
- There has to be a revamp of most state parties. Young, dynamic MLAs and MPs must be given organisational responsibilities.
- The RSS-non-RSS divide in the party must be bridged. Those who never attended shakhas can't be treated as second-class members.
- The BJP must focus on the policy debates in the coming two years. Interventions in Parliament must be given due importance. The Leaders of Opposition in both Houses must be chosen accordingly.
- The party needs to project a modern, cosmopolitan face as national president to woo back the middle classes. What is needed is a picture of wholesome sobriety. The sooner this is done the better.
- A culture of frankness and debate has to return to the party. The miscalculations resulting from telling the leadership what it wanted to hear were colossal.
- Modi has to add the OBC tag to his appeal. His pronouncements must become more measured. He has to work on his national acceptability.
- Stringent norms of fund collection should be set. The private war chests have caused havoc to the functioning of the party.
Of course, there are many more issues that have to be thrashed out. But these are just some initial reactions to a silent wave for the Congress that few of us predicted.
Already I have seen some diagnosis of the debacle on the web. I can only gather that the temptation to fall back on old certitudes has proved irresistible to a few. Which is why I cited the lines from the Spanish Civil War song in the heading.