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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Elections leave BJP in a fix

By Swapan Dasgupta

Just as Communists are fond of invoking the "final crisis" of capitalism, the BJP is perennially hopeful of the lotus blooming in Kerala—at least for the past 30 years. But just as capitalism invariably survives to fight another day, Kerala has a nasty habit of confronting the BJP at the door with a Hose Full sign, but yet tempting it to try its luck the next show. This is what happened last Friday when the BJP registered its predictable zero tally but was runners-up in three constituencies.

It would have been worthwhile had the BJP decided to concentrate its resources and energy on the few places where it has a meaningful local presence and can at least retain its security deposit. Injected with an overdose of exaggerated self-importance, the BJP chose to contest nearly all the seats in Kerala, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu. As affirmed by the party leadership, the logic of this massive presence was to demonstrate the quantum of its popular vote. From a purely academic perspective it may be useful to quantify the BJP support base but does it constitute a political plank? After all, the appeal to vote for the BJP because it is conducting a Census of its supporters is hardly the most riveting political intervention—even if it was backed by 'star' campaigners descending on thinly-attended meetings from helicopters.

Naturally, the silly appeal to vote for the BJP to strengthen its national standing didn't secure a single MLA in any of the three states. The party came second in one constituency in West Bengal; it wasn't even so lucky in Tamil Nadu. In both West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, the tally of lost deposits was much greater than the winning tally of Mamata Banerjee and Jayalalitha. Never mind the pretensions to being a national party, the BJP was mocked as a 'notional' party. In an election that saw the ouster of the Left Front after 34 years and a rejection of cronyism in Tamil Nadu, the BJP cast itself as the joker in the pack.

Ironically, there were two MPs from West Bengal and four from Tamil Nadu who were elected to the Lok Sabha on BJP tickets in 1999. True, they were the beneficiaries of an alliance with the Trinamool Congress and DMK respectively. What is significant is that the BJP couldn't leverage its alliance with regional parties to establish a viable presence in the state. The moment those alliances ended, the BJP reverted to a position of utter irrelevance.

The implication is ominous. Unlike the four general elections between 1991 and 1999 when the BJP could supplement its traditional areas of strength with a viable presence in the rest of India, the party has stopped growing beyond its core. In 1996, 1998 and 1999, the BJP could offer a significant value addition to all those regional players that joined its coalition. In 2011, except in Assam, it revealed that it has very little to offer the regional parties in their home turf.

This is not to suggest that the BJP is a declining force. The party remains strong and buoyant in its strongholds—as the victories in the by-polls in Karnataka and Chhattisgarh indicated—but the expansion into the south and east which seemed imminent in the Nineties has been reversed. What this means is that the BJP's ability to extract a larger understanding with regional parties is now exclusively dependent on what role a Jayalalitha, a Mamata and a Jagan Reddy imagines for themselves at the Centre.

The Congress can still chip in at the state level with a small contribution to woo a Dravidian party or a Trinamool Congress; the BJP has no cards to play outside its home turf and, on the contrary, is viewed as too much of a risk for regional parties to want to hobnob with it.

With the Left losing out in both West Bengal and Kerala, its ability to be a magnet for a non-BJP, anti-Congress alliance has also diminished. However, for many of the regional players, joining the NDA is not a realistic option because association with the BJP doesn't give them any incremental votes to compensate for minority desertions. At the same time, the regional parties are too keenly aware that there is a perceptible anti-Congress mood, particularly in southern India, that will be dissipated if no possible alternative is seen to be emerging at the Centre.

There is an emerging paradox. The BJP and the regional parties need each other if they are to contemplate an alternative coalition at the Centre. But as a national party with national aspirations, the BJP needs the regional parties more. In 1998, the mutual interdependence was regulated by the BJP. Today, the regional players wouldn't mind tasting the Delhi cake but not if it threatens their own domestic situation.

The implication is clear: the leader of any revitalised NDA will have to be chosen by a cluster of non-Congress regional parties. The BJP has to choose between a non-dominant status and a further spell in the opposition. If the BJP ranks are bereft of a leader who is acceptable to all of India and who isn't a repellent, the choice will naturally devolve on Nitish Kumar.

Sunday Pioneer, May 15, 2011

14 comments:

srinath said...

i agree with u on this last sentence of yours...

"If the BJP ranks are bereft of a leader who is acceptable to all of India and who isn't a repellent, the choice will naturally devolve on Nitish Kumar."

but... being a sincere BJP supporter i wonder why should BJP give up the PM post to JDU a smaller ally (i mean smaller than the BJP itself) in the NDA...

given that modi n jaya share a very good rapport do u think it will b difficult for BJP to strike a deal with ADMK?? of course ADMK will b demanding...

satyam said...

sir the sad story emerging for the bjp is that it's not even the first choice of hindus when hindus decide to consolidate their votes behind one party.. in kerala they chose the atheists and in assam the PSEUDO-secularists.... that i guess sums up the problem of the bjp...
i know u consolidate for a party that has a better chance of winning bt i cant believe there werent candidates atleast in assam that were sure bets to win frm the bjp.....PSEUDO-hindutva may not work after all

Arun said...

The last sentence makes perfect sense to me. The BJP stands no chance of coming back to power at the center if it projects its own PM candidate - its tally may even fall further. And we all know that there is no strong candidate in the party currently for the PM's post.

The whole equation changes if Nitish Kumar is given that place. Allies will have no problem with a Centrist leader like him.

The RSS should look to its Swadeshi segment to prop up small political parties in states where BJP failed. This strategy will succeed where its lone political party did not.

Agnostic Monk said...

Sad that the very capable Sushma Swaraj is not a national leader acceptable to all of India.

Agnostic Monk said...

Sad that the very capable Sushma Swaraj is not accepted as a national leader.

Anonymous said...

First of all I must congratulate Dada for writing a piece that he must have found very difficult to write emotionally. Projection of Nitish seems like a fait accompli now, its pros and cons must be frankly discussed. This will be good for the party and NDA in 2014. 1)Bring incremental votes. 2) Attract allies. 3)Signal to allies that long-term collaboration with NDA pays. 4) Help NDA forge a genuinely distinct identity. 5) Cut off the congress from the oxygen that is power in 2014 and Rahul baba will be really facing heat first time and we'll see what stuff he is made of. On the negative side however Nitish is just 60 what is the guarantee that he'll not do a Mayawati on BJP at the national level. This may seem cynical, but this is politics Moreover will Modi agree? Without his full support I guess BJP will do badly.

Vaibhav said...

Swapanda, I disagree with you....if BJP can win enough seats there will be enough people to support it....all rests on UP...if it can get 30-35 seats from there then tables will turn....why do you think Nitish Kumar as PM will be acceptable to the BJP cadre....BJP will be reduced to a naught in case that is done

Anonymous said...

I think the turning point for BJP will be the day Modi is implicated in Gujarat riot cases through false witness accounts.

Dinkar S. Kamani said...

I stop to listen whenever I happen to see you on any of the news channels. I think you have the two most important virtues that most journalists lack these days - modesty and substance. I like you Mr. Dasgupta :)

Dinkar S. Kamani said...

I stop to listen whenever I happen to see you on any of the news channels. I think you have the two most important virtues that most journalists lack these days - modesty and substance. I like you Mr. Dasgupta :)

Anonymous said...

Good article.

If BJP wants to return to power, it has to:

a) Be critical when it is only necessary and stop being hypocritical (B.S.Yedyurappa's case is a good example of BJP's hypocrisy

b) Oppose the policies and question the atrocities of the government only when it's going to hurt the national interest For ex: What was wrong with the nuclear deal? The BJP would have signed on the dotted line had they been in power

c) Understand that electorate is watching their rationality

d) Have smart and sharp people handling the media


And finally,

e) Stop cheap politics and behave like a responsible national party

lln said...

I am also a well-wisher of bjp and was wondering why it happend.You have put it very well.Defeat is not bad as long as we learn something . good luck to bjp's think - tank.

Jon said...

The recently concluded localelections in Kerala gave BJP a glimmer of hope ...but in Kerala they couldnt withstand the assemble elections which happened a few months later. The reason being BJP is still stuck on playing the communal card and doesnt have an agenda or ideology for the masses. Moreover they dont have a single powerful leader or doesnt even bother to manufacture one. For a right wing party individual stardom is a necessity

Anonymous said...

I think BJP needs to expand its membership aggressively in the states where it has no presence such as Kerala by inviting thinking persons to join, project itself as a modern, development oriented party interested in progress of the country. Have more local leaders who will build the organisation. In Kerala as well as TN, BJP is not heard of at all. Congress is there in TN but in a shambles and discredited as such. Few days before the assembly election the effigy of state Congress chief was burnt in Chennai. In WB, BJP election meetings attracted fairly large crowds of 6-7000 people who were interested in hearing what they had to say. In Assam it was a 3-way contest, the votes of AGP and BJP would easily exceed that of the winner Congress. BJP is a cadre based party and democratic in that it allows talent to rise up in the organisation unlike Congress, DMK, AIADMK, SS, YSR Congress, etc that have become family/single leader led. BJP need to think clearly, innovate , work hard and fast if they have to have a chance in 2014.