Not all is lost for the BJP. The politics of development alone may not be enough for the party that needs to strengthen its core leadership base
The Congress-led UPA lost the 2014 Lok Sabha election miserably due to people’s anger and disillusionment over a series of scams. While the Congress could not appease the voters with massive social sector spending, the BJP-led NDA cashed in on this situation and rode to power with a thumping majority. The BJP neutralised the influence of caste. Wings of regional parties like the Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal and Nationalist Congress Party were clipped as they were tossed against the power of oratorical nationalism and, hence, lost a huge votebase. The BJP created a wave with a powerful rhetoric. It raised hopes and people looked at Narendra Modi as a harbinger of change.
The BJP and the Sangh Parivar got the golden opportunity to build strong Indians and spread the core Hindu philosophies of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam and Sarve Sukhinah Bhavantu. But the party could not sustain its popularity although slogans such as Har Har Modi Ghar Ghar Modi became a shrill cry. One year after assuming power at the Centre, the party lost the New Delhi Assembly election miserably in February 2015 — its number declined from 31 to three in just a few months. Then came the Bihar election rout where it could not form a Government of its own, despite Nitish Kumar’s lacklustre performance. In Karnataka election, too, the saffron party won 104 Assembly seats but fell short of the halfway mark. It lost by a margin of less than 3,000 votes in at least 10 constituencies. In Gujarat, it just managed to retain power. Though it clinched victory by bagging 99 Assembly seats, it lost 16 of its traditional constituencies. Results to the three heartland States of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh were the worst it could have taken. The party’s chintan baithak, too, could not trace the root cause of its decline.
In fact, one of the flaws for the party was that it did not appreciate constructive criticism from its well-wishers, within and outside the party. It failed to take intellectual inputs from experienced leaders like LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi. Ultimately, senior leaders stopped giving any valuable advice to the party. Navjyot Singh Sidhu’s exit was a huge loss for the party which even failed to manage Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha, who could have been effective brand ambassadors in the intellectual space. The Sangh Parivar’s core issues — Ram Mandir, Article 370 and Common Civil Code — could not mature and reach a logical conclusion. It is also a fact that though the RSS will support the BJP in the 2019 election, its workers do not have the same enthusiasm as they had in the 2014 general election.
All kinds of reform and development programmes yield results only when a nation has enough bravehearts. In order to groom a honest and fearless breed, the BJP should have planned meticulously. Instead, it resorted to tokenism. Patriotism is a virtue that comes through different programmes and activities conducted in a dedicated manner. Sloganeering and singing patriotic songs cannot plant patriotism in young minds. Policy measures like demonetisation and Goods and Services Tax only made matters worse. The RSS demanded for a Ram Mandir through the Ordinance route and the plot reached its climax for the BJP.
Only now has the BJP woken up for course correction. Its recent decision to provide 10 per cent reservation in jobs and educational institutions to the economically weaker section in the general category will make reservation policy inclusive. Equally, the BJP wisely shelved the idea of a cashless economy and digital currency, keeping in mind socio-economic conditions, educational standards and diverse small economic activities based on local culture and traditional skill sets. A cashless economy works only when the nation takes the responsibility of educating its citizens. When people voted the NDA to power, they didn’t want to compare them with the UPA so much as they wanted to better their lives. They just wanted performance at the ground level and a solution to their day-to-day problems. The BJP should hunt for genuine thought leaders who can guide and contribute towards an integrated development of the country — a dream the BJP leaders once nurtured. There should be ground-level engagement and a system of inputs and feedback. Though it is known to rely on an effective cadre base, the leadership must send a clear message to its candidates that party tickets will be distributed on the basis of performance. Finally, rather than resorting to populism, the BJP should hard-nosedly push a solution-based model of governance.
(The writer is a freelance commentator)