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Friday, February 21, 2014

A nuts and bolts race

By Swapan Dasgupta

Opinion polls in India, quite understandably, have a very mixed record. Part of the unevenness stems from the cost factor: it is hideously expensive to conduct an opinion poll with a truly randomised and yet socially representative sample. Secondly, the conversion of votes into seats in a country that witnesses straight fights, three-cornered and four-cornered contests and the emergence of new parties is a nightmare exercise. When pollsters get their seat projections broadly right, it is due as much to skill as to luck.

Given the uncertainties of poll projections it is hardly surprising that the opinion polls on TV channels and publications are increasingly being treated as exercises in political entertainment. The possible losers believe the findings are motivated and the parties that should be smiling are uncertain as to whether the projections are real and correspond to anecdotal evidence or mere hype.

In the past few weeks, the opinion polls are beginning to suggest that the BJP-led National Democratic Front has broken the 200 seat barrier and is hovering around the 220-225 seat mark. The polls appear to be indicating that the anointment of Narendra Modi as the NDA’s prime ministerial candidate has paid off handsomely and that the BJP’s own tally will exceed its previous best of 181 seats in 1999. The quantum of the BJP’s surge may well be debated but there is no doubt about two trends: the rise of the BJP and the corresponding shrinkage of the Congress.

For the BJP the trends are very encouraging. But they also indicate that the party still has a lot of ground to cover before it can be certain that Modi will definitely move into the house of Race Course Road that will be vacated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in May this year.  The party has no doubt been able to consolidate itself in states such as Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Gujarat where it controls the state government. In addition, it has also managed to make considerable headway in states such as Bihar, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand where it is the principal opposition party. However, it still needs to cover a lot of ground in Uttar Pradesh , Assam and Maharashtra. Plus there is the threat from the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi and the National Capital Region, and the regional party challenge in Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and states such as West Bengal and Tamil Nadu where it must hunt for incremental support. Modi may be the frontrunner in an increasingly presidentialised race but he is by no means home and dry.

From the BJP’s point of view there are many things going for the BJP campaign. For the first time since the campaign of 1999, the committed party workers are enthused, even sensing a possible victory after nearly a decade in opposition at the Centre. In addition, the RSS which has a large body of committed volunteers at its disposal has thrown in its full weight behind the campaign—perhaps for the first time since the Ayodhya-centric campaign of 1991. More to the point, Modi has been able to attract a large number of otherwise unattached voters—mainly the youth—into the campaign. The huge attendance at Modi rallies all over the country, including in places like Imphal, Chennai and Kolkata where the BJP has very little footfall, suggests that these efforts are beginning to yield returns.

Ironically, what is pulling the BJP down and preventing the raw enthusiasm of Modi’s supporters from deriving full mileage is the BJP organisation itself. It is worth remembering that despite many victories (and defeats) in the state Assembly elections, the organisational apparatus of the BJP has been quite creaky since about 2000. In particular, the period after 2004 witnessed a prolonged crisis in the party over leadership and organisational dominance. Despite the appearance of seeming purposefulness the first tenure of Rajnath Singh and the three-year term of Nitin Gadkari were wasted years for the party. The party singularly failed in injecting new blood and new talent into the party and persisted with many functionaries who had either lost the will to be energetic or whose public image was less than wholesome. The last occasion when the BJP injected new blood into the party was during the Ayodhya agitation of 1990-93. Since then, the odd individual apart, there has been no real new blood in the party.

This organisational stagnation has resulted in the party often operating as rival factions, a phenomenon that has prevented it from being nimble-footed in its approach to changing situations.

Delhi is probably the most glaring example of this institutionalised paralysis. Recall the inordinate delay in announcing Harsh Vardhan as the chief ministerial candidate and the slowness in finding a replacement to the incumbent state president Vijay Goel. This incompetence has led to the BJP yielding political space to the AAP.  

Likewise, whereas the groundswell surge in UP in favour of BJP has been noticeable, it is significant that the party organisation remains divided into antagonistic factions. The tired and often discredited faces of yesteryear have suddenly smelt a last opportunity to become relevant once again, little realising that their very presence on the stage at Modi’s rallies puts off people. A similar situation prevails in Maharashtra where corruption is an additional complication.

Curiously, Modi who otherwise has an undeserved reputation for micro-managing has not devoted any personal attention to fixing the organisation. He has focussed almost entirely on his public rallies and in promoting groups that are supplementing the campaign from outside the formal party structure. But this approach may falter if the BJP list of candidates is dominated by individuals whose public image is at variance with the energetic change that Modi is promising.


The final phase of any election campaign is very important. It can determine whether the initial momentum can be translated into a winning margin through sheer momentum. A failure to do so results in slippage as traditional voting patterns are reasserted. For his own sake, Modi cannot afford to be detached from the nuts and bolts of a battle to make him Prime Minister. 

16 comments:

soumen said...

nice in depth analysis.

soumen said...

nice analysis

Romesh Nadir said...

Well articulated d groud level status of BJP its weak points, & impediments which need to be overcome & d challenges from d new party AAP, besides d ruling Congress & media.

Pankaj Sharma said...

brilliant analysis..

Anil Pillai said...

I agree, this election is very much BJP's to lose. The "on the ground" activity and choice of candidates if not in synch with the larger messaging, they will lose the plot. Therein lies the challenge.

Anonymous said...

This dubious art of living founder SSSRavishankar has always enjoyed cosy proximity with Narendra Modi.

Much earlier he claimed to help Vasundhara Raje during some riots by Gujjar farmers. SSRavishankar's presence is alarming. It is an open secret he postures to be friend of all foe of none. It took some plucky Americans to expose this charlatan.

His French hagiographer once said SSSRavishankar would come out with fatwas/edicts that would have to be compulsorily followed by all hindus.

Who is going to crack down on these indian charlatans , their non taxable NGO status. SSSRavishankar art of living cult is under the monopoly of his family. He has also been frenziedly lobbying for a Nobel Peace Prize for himself. He is anything but a renunciate.

It took an AMERICA to crack down on Nithyananda. Rajiv Malhotra of Infinity Foundation shamelessly defended this Nithyananda. Manufacturing a needless phobia that every other country is conspiring to "break India". This is sweet music to narcissistic jingoistic indians.

The other day we saw how churlish & immature Indian establishment is when it tried to defend Devyani Khobragade.

Saurav said...

BJP is a spent force. Even after manufacturing Riots, and after pushing its supposedly best PM candidate ever it can only manage 200 odd seats speaks volumes about its credibility.

An election defeat in 2014 or even a reversal in numbers will cause a massive psychological blow to the party after which it might cease to exist.

Even if it manages to win the elections and comes to power people are not going to give it any more chances after already giving them a chance once -1999-2004 in which the party failed to deliver.

Anonymous said...

Are you on high? wake up and smell the coffee.

Anonymous said...

In your dreams! In fact they are the only party that has a somewhat committed cadre that hangs around even when they are out of power.

Anonymous said...

@Saurav - either you lived in a cave during the BJP rule or you are a troll. Just a couple of statistics off the top of my head, more than 50% of highways added to nation in the last 34 years were during the 99-04 BJP rule. The employment and GDP growth numbers were the highest during the BJP rule. On the other hand what did the congress do? scam after scam, dole after dole and the nation is screwed in ways beyond recognition. This has been their track record for a long time and yet people have been voting them in for around 60 years. I hope, for the sake of the country, yours was a myopic, uniformed, biased rant and is the minority opinion.

Viv said...

My take Swapan Babu. Dont know if you would publish, as you do not take easily on counter points!

1. Modi is the chief campaigner,not the organizer. Modi is the declared PM nominee, not the Presidential nominee or President of BJP.

He is doing his work as the PM nominee and as the chief campaigner.

2. Any individual, who has worked in a matrix organization - leaving aside the independent workers - knows that organizations are complex. Push and pull will be there.

Modi is another individual in BJP, though recently being quite powerful. But he can not push his way through in a party pulled by different forces in different directions. A case in point A370: Sushma, Arun had different views than Modi and also differences with each other.

3. I agree with your observation on candidates being a challenge to Modi's PM aspiration, if the record is bad. That indeed will hurt Modi.
But what can he do? His role is limited.

4. Little change will be there, if any, on candidate selection for General Election. BJP will pull in people, whom public loathe due to corruption or other charges. But India mostly votes on wave. In India, elections are won on emotions. This may not be completely true in urban or semi-urban areas, but in rural areas image/wave still go. That is what all parties still count on.

Going forward it will be interesting to see how BJP changes, if Modi becomes the PM. There are a lot of pseudo elements who have harmed the party more than helping it. Nevertheless, in contemporary India it is still a relatively better party as per as Governance, relative lack of corruption etc...

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately BJP is not like congress where one family says and rest follows. Also, a drastic change is not garanteed to bring victory, hence NaMO is tolerating Sushma, AnanthK, Advani and his bandwagaons.
As such, Advani and co won the battle first when they successfully delayed the NaMo PM canidacy announcement by nearly 4 months and gave him less time to execute his plans.
Still, we need to try hard and get the numbers first....rest of the differences later.

-Shreesha

Anonymous said...

Great stuff. Modi is the man who will take India forward - no doubt about this. But people of India are still unsure and get caught up in
unnecessary squabbles. AAP is great but BJP has been raising corruption all along. Dr Swamy though outspoken at times is the one who put RAJA in jail. AAP talks a lot, make too much noices, promised people things that they know can't deliver, Ayotosh uses tweets to put pressure on people. The tactics AAP used is not good. Modi is asking for 60 months. Why shouldnt the Indians give him 60 months to prove himself.

Anonymous said...

" Curiously, Modi who otherwise has an undeserved reputation for micro-managing has not devoted any personal attention to fixing the organisation. He has focussed almost entirely on his public rallies and in promoting groups that are supplementing the campaign from outside the formal party structure. But this approach may falter if the BJP list of candidates is dominated by individuals whose public image is at variance with the energetic change that Modi is promising".

Absolutely right.

This is where I feel Narendra Modi should ally with .J.Jayalalithaa.
What has been repeatedly emphasized by Cho.Ramaswamy.

The presence of Advani , art of living SSSRavishankars & Ramdev Babas ( who was deservedly tossed aside by P.Chidambaram with his remark ""சாயம் வெளுத்து விட்டது")
hovering around Narendra Modi do not augur well.

Now Ashok Singhal I read is asking hindus to breed & produce more children. Leave lessons on Spirituality Proper to competent Aacharyas.

Most hindus are NOT in quest of GOD. It is identity crisis among swollen headed hindu NRIs on apprehending rest of the people around are far superior (thus puncturing their hubris)that makes them hurriedly take to memorizing Thirukkural collecting trophies , attending dance classes , carnatic music class etc. Most of them fail in basic VALUES like honesty & integrity.

Anonymous said...

Reposting my comments that I had written in Tavleen Singh's column
(Indian Express Pepper Spray Lok Sabha) as they have not appeared.

Not just Lok Sabha. This unhealthy tendency is widely prevalent among us Indians. In any discussion , the objective is not to gather wisdom. But everyone pitches in as all want to hear their own voices. How many times have we read self congratulatory reports on "how well advani debated...what oratory what hindi of Vajpayee.......so & so lambasted away.....". Of what use ?

I have seen this in many Sathsangs. Even before the Learned Pouranika starts His Pravachans on say Srimad Bhagavatham , Bhagavad Geetha , the audience would nod very knowingly .Some of them soon fall asleep too.....but maintaining that nod. Quite a feat.
But these Sathsangs do not impact them any way. They keep remarking "this time Swamiji spoke better than last time....you missed the one on Bhanudasar......so unfortunate...his talks on Hanuman Chalisa AAA...what English....spoke in English left & right.....I want to grind urad dal in your grinder & you please make vadas also ...I have promised him I would bring vadais.....".

Seriously , I am not making up these. They pluck flowers surreptitiously from villas belonging to Arabs , making bouquets / garlands & presenting them to Swamijis who lecture them "do not tell lies..do not cheat......character is so important......".

At home , in families too no EFFECTIVE communication takes place.
Forget it , us Indians are not great as we are fond of insisting. India can never become an America , a Germany , a Japan , a China. UK.

Only recently I came to know the reason. Authentic one . Ironically this wisdom was earlier articulated succinctly by Sir.Winston Churchill that you have quoted once ( I too relish that quote )

When Indian Constitution was adopted formally some wise person cautioned Congress party of Nehru etc that democracy is not meant for immature people which is what Indians are. He said if all are given voting rights India would speed towards total chaos in sixty years. It would take further sixty years for India to stand up well provided the mess is cleared up .

When Nehru dismissed his fears as needless pessimism , he pointed out it was not his opinion but that of OUR OWN Dharma Sasthrams.

Anonymous said...

What Swapanda told is right,prophetic and true.Narendra Modi is used as ashwamedha horse by the team lead by RNS to be sacrificed later.If Modi will not look into organisation ticket distribution of LS he is doomed betrayed by the gangsters in BJP>