State Election Lessons: When will the BJP Learn?

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Shrinking footprint of BJP over the last two years. (Photo: VarthaBharati)
Shrinking footprint of BJP over the last two years. (Photo: VarthaBharati)

One more election loss for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Jharkhand after Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and barely scraping through in Haryana.

It seems that losing elections at the states has become a habit that the BJP is not being able to reverse. State leaders keep satisfying themselves by saying that they are the “largest party” in the state. Justifying performance with an increased or similar vote share is relevant only if you are the victor, otherwise it seems like “sour grapes”.

BJP state leaders must remember the old adage that “no one remembers who came second”.

Nothing is more brutal or painful than coming second in politics.

It will do well for the BJP leadership at the state level, while going through their chintan baithaks” to analyse the reasons for consistently not making it past the winning post in the last several elections despite a resounding victory in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

Let us look at some of the reasons the BJP has been losing the plot in so many state elections.

Lok Sabha Elections are different from State Assembly Elections

The message that is coming through loud and clear after the various state elections is that the Indian voter has now become far more discerning than the politicians thought they were. The voters are now willing to recognise that they want a leader who addresses national issues at the Centre. However, they want a different leader who addresses their local issues, who can help resolve their daily challenges. State chief ministers cannot keep talking about national security issues, Pakistan, India’s international reputation or India’s large foreign exchange reserves.

The chief ministers have to perform. Too much reliance is being placed on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Home Minister Amit Shah. Yes, they are leaders of the BJP, and their presence definitely boosts the party’s prospects, but their charisma can do very little with the voters if the state leadership is not performing. This is evident from several sitting chief ministers of the BJP losing the elections.

At the end of the day we are back to who addresses the basic needs of the people which are simply – Roti, Kapda aur Makaan. It is a pity that these 3 basic requirements have still not been met across the entire country after 72 years post-independence. This commitment is to be delivered to the people no matter what it costs, irrespective of which party that maybe in power in a state.

Is Corruption Back in the States?

Voters have trusted Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his famous comment “na khaunga na khane dunga”. The voters trust him and know that he is absolutely clean. This is why they have reposed their trust with an unprecedented second term with a larger mandate.

While BJP government at the centre is seen to be cleanest in the country after a very long time, the same story is clearly not being heard in the several states where the BJP has lost power in the last few elections. There are talks of corruption at states and the general comment is that the BJP government in the state is no different from earlier Congress or regional governments led by other parties.

If corruption is back, then the election results should not be a surprise.

Anti-Incumbency

Anti-incumbency is always one of the reasons why parties lose elections. But when the loss is wiping out the significant games that the party has seen at the national level then the reason for this loss goes beyond anti-incumbency.

It would be interesting to analyse the performance of all the sitting MLAs who have lost the elections. Have all these local leaders delivered on the promises they made to their constituencies in the previous elections? Have they remained in touch with their voters? Or did they, like most politicians, starting pontificating and blaming from their ivory towers once they were elected?

Only when their elected representatives are not performing will any voter take the decision to vote for someone else. This is the harsh reality and must be accepted by all.

Opposition Coming Together

Opposition parties are coming together and though their ideologies are completely different, most of them are willing to bury the hatchet, forget their diverse ideologies and come together on a single platform of defeating the BJP at all costs. They have realised that a united opposition could create the wedge they have been looking for to prise open the ranks of the BJP.

To all these parties, delivering on the promises made in the diverse manifestos of these parties is not relevant at this stage. These parties know that their differences will certainly become an issue in the next few years. However, they would have achieved their short-term objective of slowing the BJP juggernaut.

What will this do to the governance in states that are now being run by coalition governments is yet to be seen. But that is another subject altogether.

Infighting in the BJP

Infighting in the BJP is clearly increasing.

It is a pity that state leaders, instead of working together are busy destroying their opponents. If this is happening at the top, then it is certainly percolating down the ranks.

Are these differences cropping up because the BJP has, indiscriminately admitted various opposition leaders who simply wanted to “jump ship” and join the rising star of the BJP? It would be interesting to see what happens when most of these leaders who had crossed over now look for opportunities to go back. Once they are back in their original party, they will become a thorn in the side of the BJP.

Or is it because, like the Congress and other opposition parties, BJP leaders have also become prima donnas? Are these BJP leaders also forgetting that they too are mere mortals who can be defeated if they don’t perform?

Clearly, the voter is turning away from the BJP not because they have changed loyalties to other parties who they had rejected in the past. They are doing this because they are disappointed with the BJP leadership at the state. Unless this changes, the saffron colour from the map of India will keep reducing.

Can the BJP reinvent itself in the states, as it has done at the centre, fast enough for the forthcoming elections in Delhi, Bihar and West Bengal?

Will the voter see BJP as the party with a difference, with very different standards of ethics or will they see the party as just another party that can be tossed aside if they are not performing.

Only time will tell.

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