From assembly to the 2019 general election


In the most recent state assembly elections, the BJP lost. But given the centralised governance architecture of the BJP, so did Narendra Modi. The jury is out on the extent to which election losers heed advice directed gratuitously at them by opinion writers. But Mr Modi is credited to be a voracious internet fiend so it is likely that some of this will get through.

Much of the advice directed at him is actually disguised “crowing” about the proxy “defeat” of a man, not so long ago, considered invincible including, somewhat implausibly, inside the Electronic Voting Machines. But below the glee at the BJP’s loss are gems of learning which could usefully be internalised.

Most advice centres on the need to decentralise political power within the party and junk the “President Xi” model, Mr Modi favours. Making the political discourse “civil” is something all parties need to rediscover. Lalu Prasad Yadav’s folksy vernacularization of the political discourse, in the 1990s, has now been carried to extremes, replete with unsavoury and entirely avoidable memes.

Divisive tactics is lazy thinking – it rankles & the limits of its appeal have already been breached

Foregrounding development as a positive election theme whilst effectively junking the aggressively, divisive fall-back-fail-safe strategy, which a section of the sangh parivar lazily lapse into, is a painful but necessary change.

Namo mukt assembly elections strategy a risky gamble

BJP election strategy

Not to campaign in the assembly elections was a big gamble. As the most popular politician in the country today BrandNamo is what voters get drawn to. Possibly, the decision to disengage from extensive campaigning was intended to assess the cost to the BJP of an absent Modi. If so, this has played off rather too well. It will now panic BJP renegades and the RSS into sheathing their knives and falling in obediently behind him. This is a valuable gain, albeit only internally, within the sangh parivar. It will give Prime Minister Modi the operational space required to manage the shrill demand for a Ram Mandir ordinance with forbearance and caution.

Take advantage of the winner’s curse

Much is being made about the advantages of winning an assembly election for getting onto the escalator of future gains in the 2019 general elections. However, too little thought has been directed at the problem of the winners curse for the Congress. Most significant of these is the choice of the Chief Minister. This has the potential to open up old wounds which may have been papered over in the heat of the battle at the assembly level.

Congress leaders

Mr Rahul Gandhi will probably choose older leaders rather than the young aspirants. The latter are potential rivals for the top job. Spiking a rivals chances, is an art, Indian rulers have perfected since the Great Mughals.

Also, the Congress’s victories come on the back of promises – goodies like loan waivers and other freebies, which have to be implemented. Farm distress is structural. Resolving the problem requires rebalancing capital allocation in favour of rural infrastructure and liberalisation of the domestic and export trade and market development. No quick fixes are in sight for this crusty political economy problem except rapid industrialisation – which the global slow-down and our dodgy public sector dominated financial sector limit harshly.

Remember the dream of Rs 15 lakh becoming available for everyone from the anticipated sequestering of illegal overseas wealth accumulated by rich Indians. It came to haunt the BJP. Winning confers the obligation to put your money where your mouth took you during election time. Failure to do so erodes credibility quickly, particularly if the loser keeps incessantly pointing out – as the BJP are sure to – that no supportive allocations have been made in state level budgets – to be tabled before May 2019 – for the promised goodies to be delivered.

Don’t fix what isn’t broken

Asking the BJP to decentralise is like asking a hare to become a tortoise. Parties cannot change their institutional culture overnight. The organisational ethos of the BJP borrowed from the RSS, revolves around perfect obedience up its defined hierarchical structure. This is not to say that participative democracy is entirely absent. But the level of democracy permitted is closer to China’s conditional and constrained democracy rather than the Swiss style direct democracy. It is useful to remember, that barring the communist parties, all Indian political parties are, at heart, non-transparent about their internal governance and many – not just the congress – have dynastic succession as the informal norm.

If the BJP was to dramatically alter its management structure, the outcome is as uncertain as were the unforeseen consequences of the “Arab Spring”. The unique selling point of the BJP remains its disciplined cadres. Tinkering with this to emulate the much loved Atalji’s collaborative style could be disastrous. Having said that, cadre discipline must in turn extend to trusting its leadership on the sequencing and timing of politically sensitive milestones like establishing the Ram Mandir; working towards a “soft” Hindu Rashtra or legislating a uniform civil code. More certainty on these contentious core concepts would help. But they must be sequenced in a politically sagacious manner.

Play spoiler big time

Consider that the BJPs weighted average vote share in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan during the assembly elections was 39 per cent versus 41 per cent for the Congress, despite the near rout of the BJP in Chhattisgarh. The BJPs election strategy may well focus on splintering the relevant opposition in each of the major states.

Playing spoiler means grounding the high morality of democracy to its roots in arithmetic. Not quite the stuff one boasts about. But elections have been won in worst ways.

Also available at TOI blogs December 12, 2018

2 thoughts on “From assembly to the 2019 general election

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s