Congress pays for misrule, BJP needs a leader to capitalise

Published: Monday, Mar 12,2012, 00:46 IST
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The latest round of assembly polls has decimated the Congress Party throughout the country. Except in Manipur, where the party managed to return to power, in all other states, the ruling Congress party at the Centre was trounced comprehensively. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has gained Goa and managed to register a good performance in Uttarakhand and Punjab but failed to improve its fortunes in Uttar Pradesh.

While on the whole, the BJP has much to feel contended about, the failure in Uttar Pradesh which sends 80 MPs to Parliament calls for soul searching. It is important to analyse the factors that caused this defeat in UP and learn lessons for future. Here is one such attempt.

Lack of leadership in UP : In my assessment, the fundamental reason for the below-par performance of the BJP and the disastrous performance of the Congress in Uttar Pradesh is lack of clarity on who would lead these parties in the event they came to power. At a time when people are making voting choices increasingly on the basis of a promise of good governance, they are not willing to trust political parties as much as leaders with proven credentials. The concept of collective leadership does not seem appealing to the voters. The BJP would have been better off choosing one of its strong leaders as a chief ministerial candidate and strongly backing that candidate.

The BJP could have possibly bucked this trend of leaders emerging as more important factors than parties had it staved itself off ills like corruption and nepotism plaguing the politics today. Anna Hazare movement against all political parties has made entire political class look suspect in the eyes of the electorate. Undoubtedly, the BJP still maintains a much higher bar of personal integrity but the Congress-friendly English media has been unleashing a vicious campaign against the BJP to tarnish its image and square it up with the Congress.

That leadership is important in elections is borne out by the fact that the BJP and allies did exceedingly well in states where they projected a chief ministerial candidate. In the lone state of Uttar Pradesh where the BJP relied on the concept of “collective leadership,” it failed to enhance its performance. In my assessment, had the BJP projected a leader of good standing, it could have doubled its tally.

Inspirational Leadership : The Uttar Pradesh’s humbling experience has some portends for the party’s bid for power at the Centre in the next parliamentary elections. So far, the party has maintained that it has five or six prime ministerial candidates and was even toying with the idea of promoting collective leadership. Going by the UP experience, it will simply not work.

The BJP will have to pick its best leader with a mass appeal, proven track record in governance and development and back him up fully to achieve the best possible results. If the party fails to do so quickly, the next election may irreversibly veer towards a regional formation heading the government at the Centre. A number of regional satraps like Mamata Banerjee, Naveen Patnaik, Chandrababu Naidu and even Nitish Kumar are working towards a Regional Front-led government at the Centre.

Yearning for Gujarat-like Governance : Besides projecting inspirational leadership in the next parliamentary polls, the BJP should focus on enhancing its appeal as a party of good governance and appeal to the masses particularly the youth who are sick of old style caste and community politics. Even as the Congress gets mired in Muslim appeasement politics, BJP should focus on its governance successes in different states. The most prominent among them is Gujarat where its Chief Minister Narendra Modi has won many elections on the strength of his government’s performance and is likely to score a resounding victory when the state goes to polls later this year.

# The states send a final warning message to BJP
# Uttar Pradesh voter Packs off (white) Elephants

Narendra Modi’s development record and corruption-free governance model have caught the imagination of the whole country and the world. Even his Congress rivals and critics acknowledge his unparalleled governance successes in Gujarat on several fronts: agriculture, industry, infrastructure and utilities like power and water supply.

The whole nation and all sections of the populace are yearning for Gujarat-like governance in the country. This is what was reflected in the India Today’s Mood of the Nation poll which found that nearly one-fourth (24 per cent) of voters across the country rooted for Narendra Modi as the country’s next Prime Minister while only 18 per cent supported Rahul Gandhi for the top job. The poll indicates that the declining fortunes of Rahul Gandhi are a nationwide phenomenon and not confined to Uttar Pradesh where he had just received a resounding drubbing. In what the media sees as a Rahul Gandhi vs. Narendra Modi battle in 2014 parliamentary polls, Narendra Modi has already trounced Rahul in public perceptions. Critics who say that Narendra Modi won’t work outside Gujarat are simply terrified by the potential impact of Narendra Modi at the national level.

Obsession with Muslim vote harms BJP : There are some misconceptions that some analysts keep pontificating over in the media to obfuscate and confound the BJP’s thinking and electoral strategies. The biggest myth circulated by them is that the party must do everything to divide the Muslim vote as this will result in windfall gains for the BJP. This premise, aggressively circulated in Uttar Pradesh, has been proved to be utterly fallacious.

This “divide Muslim vote strategy” has made the party obsessive about the need to neutralise the Muslim vote and has diverted the party’s focus from emerging as a party committed to good governance, development and non-appeasement. Limited successes in winning a couple of minority dominant seats can hardly be seen to vindicate this flawed strategy.

Even as this Muslim vote strategy failed to pay off the BJP electorally, it had the unintended consequence of facilitating election of as many as 68 Muslim MLAs to the Uttar Pradesh assembly.

The flawed thinking about the Muslim vote is due to a mistaken belief (or propagated belief) that tactical voting by Muslims was mainly responsible for the defeat of the BJP in parliamentary elections in 2004 and 2009. This analysis is bereft of any evidence. The reality is that the Muslims have never voted for the BJP in any election ever and the success of the BJP in the 1996, 1998 and 1999 parliamentary elections was achieved despite vehement opposition from the Muslims from all over the country.

Rather than (dis)crediting Muslims for its defeat in 2004 and 2009 polls, the BJP should realize that the defeat was a result of losing the support of the ideologically committed and its inability to meet the aspirations of some electoral groups. The non-existent Muslim factor is over-simplification of the mandates lost in 2004 and 2009.

Using the same alibi, many BJP critics and pseudo intellectuals raise the bogie of minority votes to ground Narendra Modi in Gujarat. In politics, every party operates in an ideological framework and that is what people identify it with.  Every action and decision must be in consonance with that persona lest it should suffer dilution and cause ideological confusion. The BJP is known for its policy of non-appeasement of Muslims and this core value cannot be compromised.

As the Congress fortunes begin to crash, the BJP has to move in fast and present effective leadership to capitalize on public sentiment. As mid-term elections appear likely, the party must get down to taking important decisions for the mega parliamentary battle.

By GVL Narasimha Rao
(The author is a noted Psephologist and political analyst.) Organiser

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