Poll lesson for BJP: advantage, but not hegemony

Hindustan Times | By, New Delhi
Oct 19, 2014 07:51 PM IST

Sunday morning brought cheer to the BJP party office in Chandigarh--where the party turned the tables in Haryana politics by leapfrogging to achieve a majority in the state. It brought hope, laced with disappointment, in Mumbai.

Sunday morning brought cheer to the BJP party office in Chandigarh--where the party turned the tables in Haryana politics by leapfrogging to achieve a decisive majority in the state. It brought hope, laced with disappointment, in Mumbai--where the BJP is comfortably the single largest party, but will need support to form the government. It also brought visible celebrations to the party’s central office at New Delhi’s Ashoka Road, but with the realisation among national leaders that the mixed verdict would throw up newer questions about the party’s future strategy.

The BJP replicated key elements of the campaign strategy that had yielded such rich dividends in the Lok Sabha polls.

These included an appetite for political risk, where they broke a 25-year-old alliance with Shiv Sena and went alone in Haryana. It included showcasing the Narendra Modi brand through relentless and energetic rallies, meticulous organization by Amit Shah, wheeling out cabinet ministers to take charge of cluster of constituencies, a media blitzkrieg, reconfiguring the entrenched caste calculus of a particular state’s polity and carving out new social alliances.

The strategy yielded success, but the Lok Sabha results have set the bar so high that anything less than outright majority now looks like a setback.

In Haryana, no one--not even rivals--can take away credit from BJP’s impressive victory. Congress, after a decade in power, had become synonymous with corruption and crony capitalism favoring select companies. It did not help that Congress was wrecked with internal rifts. Anti incumbency was rampant, and the question was who would benefit from it. Regional parties, including the Indian National Lok Dal led by Om Prakash Chautala, were relatively discredited. Chautala himself was locked in, and used bail time to campaign. For its part, the BJP had built up an impressive party machinery and decided to turn the old caste equations on its head by mobilizing the non-Jat social groups in the state. Irrespective of who becomes CM, the party has redefined Haryana politics for now. BJP has clearly replaced the Bhajan Lal clan represented now by HJC’s Kuldeep Bishnoi as the leading non Jat formation of the state.

In Maharashtra, there were certain structural conditions common to Haryana. Anti incumbency was rampant; the Congress-NCP coalition in power was seen as closely associated with corruption; and there were strong regional formations.

To understand the scale of BJP’s victory, remember that it was the junior partner in the alliance with SS for decades. It did not have strong political presence in over 150 constituencies out of 288. The tables have turned. In less than a month of rigorous campaigning, it has emerged as the single largest party – outsmarting Congress, the Maratha strongman Sharad Pawar, and SS. Raj Thackeray’s MNS lies decimated.

But this success is only partial. The BJP’s go alone strategy seems to have hit its limits here, for it will need to eat humble pie and return to its ally Shiv Sena to seek support to form the government. This is a setback, for one of Modi’s key campaign cries was how only a majority government – not a coalition – could lead to development. The party won fewer seats than what Lok Sabha trends had suggested for the assembly. Maharashtra defied an increasing trend in recent polls in India – of voters providing a decisive verdict. There will be no single party hegemony, and the politics of give and take and coalitions will continue to govern the Mumbai ethos.

It is also a testament to how drastically Indian politics has changed in the past six months that what was unthinkable a year ago – an outright win for BJP in Haryana and a decisive edge in Maharashtra – now looks like a mixed success.


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    Prashant Jha is the Washington DC-based US correspondent of Hindustan Times. He is also the editor of HT Premium. Jha has earlier served as editor-views and national political editor/bureau chief of the paper. He is the author of How the BJP Wins: Inside India's Greatest Election Machine and Battles of the New Republic: A Contemporary History of Nepal.

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