West Bengal, Assam or UP: 5 steps for BJP to win a state election now
Come what may, the party, and particularly PM Modi, should stay firmly rooted to developmental and governance issues.
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Buoyed by the spectacular victory of Mahagathbandhan in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav wishes to repeat the successful experiment in Uttar Pradesh (UP) which goes to polls in 2017. He said on November 15, "A Grand Alliance is possible in the state". While friends-turned-foes RJD's Lalu Prasad and Bihar chief minister Nishit Kumar tamed their ego to forge an alliance along with the Congress to take on the BJP, a similar "forgive-and-forget" attitude is eluding UP as BSP supremo Mayawati has pricked Akhilesh's trial balloon and outright rejected the idea. Whether or not they forge a grand alliance along with the Congress, this is how the BJP should conduct itself in elections to not only the largest Assembly in the country but also in other states:
1. Less of Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed 31 election rallies in the recently-concluded Bihar elections but won only 53 of the 243 seats, coming way behind the RJD (80 seats) and JD(U) (71 seats). Perhaps, he would be the first PM to engage oneself in Assembly elections to this extent. With the benefit of hindsight, it can only be concluded that the PM over-exposed himself. If the BJP could not get decent number of seats despite such deep involvement of the PM, the writing on the wall is clear - whether the BJP wins or loses, Modi should devote less time on state elections and focus more on national issues. The PM would certainly have got the credit had the BJP won due to his over-involvement. Conversely, the blame for the defeat also lies at his doorstep. Modi gave an opportunity to all and sundry to allege that the mandate was against him. For instance, Reuters headline, on the day Bihar results were announced, said: "PM Modi suffers defeat in Bihar election" while Lalu proclaimed that "Bihar mandate is against Modi".
Modi's lesser involvement would have saved him this criticism.
2. CM candidate
The BJP committed a blunder by choosing not to declare a chief ministerial candidate for the Bihar elections. The move went against the BJP as the Mahagathbandhan had projected incumbent chief minister Nitish Kumar for the post. The BJP went by its past experiences in not naming any CM candidate. The results for the BJP were unprecedented in Haryana, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Jammu where it had fought on Modi's charisma close on heels of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. But it lost by projecting Kiran Bedi in the Delhi Assembly elections. In the months since the Delhi elections, Modi wave has considerably waned. The BJP has better chances to win state elections by projecting chief ministerial candidates if the main opponent has a formidable one. Pitting Modi against a local CM candidate only diminishes the PM's stature. It is time the BJP nurtured and allowed local leadership to grow and flourish.
3. Anchored to development and governance issues
Come what may, the BJP, and particularly Modi, should keep firmly rooted to developmental and governance issues, which is his forte, during campaigning. Riding high on the Gujarat model, Modi had exploited his image of "developmental man" during the last general elections and the subsequent four Assembly polls. However, he launched personal and frontal attacks on Arvind Kejriwal in Delhi and Nitish and Lalu in Bihar, which boomeranged on the BJP. The polarising issues like beef ban, cow slaughter and Dadri lynching during the Bihar elections totally derailed the narrative, harming the BJP. The results would have been entirely different had the BJP not fallen in this trap of deflecting from developmental issues.
4. No polarisation
To consolidate Hindu votes, the BJP would be once again tempted to use polarising issues, particularly in states like UP, Assam and West Bengal where Muslim votes play a decisive role in the victory of Samajwadi Party, Congress and Trinamool Congress respectively. Defeat or victory, the BJP should stay away from raking up or fanning communal issues. Rising above narrow and regressive vote planks, it should give developmental and governance agendas a chance. It will not only garner the votes of the Hindus but also the Muslims. While the Hindus will want development to take precedence over all other issues, the Muslims will repose trust in the BJP.
5. More involvement of local leaders
Bihar saw the camping of BJP's central leaders, including party chief Amit Shah and several Union ministers from the state and outside, at the cost of the local ones. This had two repercussions. One, it gave the impression among the voters that the BJP was feeling insecure and unsure of its victory, and, hence, had deployed an army of central leaders in the state. Two, the local leaders felt slighted. They got the impression that the central leadership did not have confidence in them. A demoralised local team can never win elections for any national party. The BJP will have to correct its strategy here.