BJP should grow as national party, not super regional party

By: Manoj K Agarwal
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Despite of the clear edge over most other parties in the country on the issue of governance, increase in BJP's geographical spread has been rather limited in last 1 and ½ decades. Only notable addition during this period has been Karnataka and up to a smaller extent Goa.

BJP flag in India map

There are large swaths of the country which do not have any presence of BJP. Realistically speaking, BJP is in fight in less than 300 Loksabha seats in the country. The current by-elections in Andhra Pradesh are an eye opener in this regard. The people of Andhra are totally dismayed with both Congress and TDP. Their alienation is so strong from these two parties that the beneficiary of this detachment has been a party whose basic foundation lies in greed and corruption. Jaganmohan Reddy, who floated YSR Congress because he was denied post of CM on the death of his father, is in jail due to massive corruption that he indulged in during his father's regime. Even though there has been many instances of blatant misuse of CBI of late but it appears, based on the media reports, that prima facie the case against Jagan has some merit (from few lacs, his personal wealth grew to several hundred crores in a span of 5 years during the tenure of his father as CM). That even in such cases, arrest by CBI generated a sympathy wave in Jagan's favor is a commentary on the credibility of CBI and central government at large. I think the message should not be lost on the central government that political misuse of central agencies becomes counter productive beyond a point in electoral politics. However, this issue is not our focus here.

The question that emerges due to such massive electoral success of Jagan is that there no politically credible alternative that could have filled the vacuum created by Congress/TDP? Have our democratic standards fallen to the level that Jagan and his ilk are getting the sanction of electoral politics? Jagan's victory, and the scale of it, does raise some serious question for Indian democracy. The point is that seemingly more credible alternatives like BJP, due to good governance by many of its chief ministers, could not muster even a respectable vote share let alone winning seats in this election.

Well, this is not the first time we are seeing this phenomena in AP. In 2009 elections, Chiranjeevi's PRP polled almost 16% of the votes and it was just a few months old then. Where as BJP, which once won one of the 2 seats in 1984 elections from Andhra Pradesh, could get less than 6% of the total votes.

Well, we have a redoubtable Krishna Reddy as state BJP chief, who seems a nice break from the stereo type of a politician and no doubt he is putting a sincere and honest efforts. Yes, those efforts have resulted in a moral boosting win for BJP in Mehboobnagar assembly by-elections but it seems these victories will remain far too few and will be seen more as an aberration than a real emergence of BJP as an alternative. Later, Krishna Reddy, in one of his tweets, alleged that money and liquor was used heavily to influence voters to outdo BJP on the only seat where it was in fight (well, in the end BJP just managed to get only 6% of the votes show that victory was never theirs in any case). But BJP should not be surprised. More such defeats await them where an immoral under hand alliance will emerge to defeat it. For instance, with Mehboobnagar win, the political opponents of BJP were alert in this round of elections and they did whatever it took to deny emergence of BJP as a force in AP or in Telangana. BJP aided them in their efforts by adopting the toe hold strategy. Their entire focus was on one seat in Telangana region. So the opposition knew exactly where to hit.

We have seen it in many places. The same story gets repeated in Kerala. There are two or three pockets in the state (like Kasaragod) in Kerala, where BJP manages to give a fight but it is always denied that elusive win. Later, we hear that UDF and LDF, the principal rivals in Kerala politics otherwise, combined their forces to deny BJP victory.

So what's the way out? To my mind, to break new grounds, one needs to adopt a carpet bombing strategy unlike the present strategy to gain a small toe hold and then use that place as a launch pad. To my mind, toe hold strategy has many shortcomings such as a) it restricts the vision of state leadership. When the focus is to win a seat or two the larger picture is lost more often. The need to have a political blue print which shows a new vision is lost as that is not deemed necessary. The overall outcome is, the emergence of a new leadership is restricted; and b) as we have seen more often, the political opponents strike back so fiercely that it becomes almost impossible to continue holding that toe hold in any case.

The strategy should be to spread into a region big enough for opposition to combine forces. Yes, it would necessitate the need of a leadership, the need for a sustained effort, and the need for grass root level workers but above all it would need a vision for the entire state or for entire region. And for that we need a leader who could connect with the people of the state. Mamata Banerjee showed how to gain politically with sustained efforts. Her strategy was never just focus on a small number of seats in some urban areas. She never gave an impression that she is out there to first win 5 or 10 seats in the assembly. She always presented herself as an alternative to Left. This necessitated her to have a comprehensive strategy to defeat Left. Closure home, BSY is an example within BJP. Yes, tactical moves are needed to maximize the electoral gains but to emerge as a political alternative you need a vision encompassing the whole state/region.

Another example of failure of this strategy by BJP is Uttar Pradesh. The idea there was to increase the number of seats to a respectable level. To effect this strategy, Kushwaha was brought in as he was thought to be good enough to swing 5/10 seats in his strongholds. Similarly, it was assumed that Uma Bharti would be able to swing few seats in Bundelkhand region. These examples highlight that how the short term strategy more often results in short sighted decisions which ultimately boomerang. Reflecting on the reasons for loss, Arun Jaitley later admitted that people never saw BJP as a real alternative.

Therefore, and it needs to be emphasized, BJP can ONLY spread by encouraging strong regional leadership, woven into a nationalist fiber but yet representing local aspiration. BJP needs to break away from Delhi high command culture. This culture, which has now emerged within the party, has completely lost BJP its momentum which we saw in 90s.

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