Make or Break for the BJP
Since the election results for the five-states have come out most of us (with the possible exception of Yogendra Yadav) have been busy wiping the egg off of our faces, given the fact that almost nobody was able to predict the outcomes correctly. What most “pro-BJP” commentators have since started doing (this one included) is thinking about what the BJP should be doing in the future.
This post of mine adds to the cacophony, but it only shows that many of us seem to care for the BJP, much more than what the BJP ostensibly seems to care for itself!
The possible reasons for the fact that except for Goa the BJP has got no good news in this election has been analysed enough and I am not proposing to add to that. Here is what I think are the lessons that BJP should draw and implement few far-reaching changes.
I. Pre-declared leaders are a “Must”!
- Election after election, the one clear message that is coming out is that voters like to know who they are voting for, and prefer to vote for a pre-declared leader (our elections are becoming increasingly “Presidential” in nature).
- Clearly identified leaders win elections (Manohar Parrikar, Ibobi Singh, Mulayam/Akhilesh Singh duo, Prakash/Sukhbir Singh Badal duo, etc.)
- Unidentifiable concept of “collective leadership” doesn’t work (Congress and BJP in UP, “collective opposition” in Manipur, Congress in Goa, etc.)
II. Support your leader fully and declare leadership well in advance!
- It’s clear that Khanduri, Uma and Amrinder Singh were declared as leaders too late in the game for voters to believe that the Party supported them fully. Apparently, Khanduri had informed the BJP Central leadership that Nishank was sabotaging his election (unconfirmed), but nothing was done, and the results are in front of all to see. Nishank should be suspended from the BJP, if this is true, and they want a future in Uttarakhand.
- It is pretty obvious that the BJP central leadership is playing games with Modi and does not support him fully, but have given him a free hand in Gujarat. The difference in percentage of seats won in Assembly and LS elections in Gujarat makes it clear that the voters understand this.
- The BJP has lost the ability to trust and support its leaders fully, given the vicious media campaign mounted against it and leaves them to their own devices. Yeddy and Modi are obvious examples, but so is Manohar Parrikar (they abandoned him when there were unsubstantiated corruption charges levelled against him on some FTII event). The BJP needs to trust and defend its leaders better. They still don’t know how to handle Yeddy and are likely to lose Karnataka this way.
III. Leadership claims can only come based on support from the People
- For too long has the BJP allowed itself to be led by “root-less” wonders claiming some god-given right to lead the party on the basis of performance in Parliamentary debates and the daily media circus (also known as “debates”). While giving a lucid and eloquent speech is important, it does not by itself bestow leadership qualities. Leadership and thereby claims in the Prime Ministerial sweepstakes, has to come based on support from the people (by winning in elections) and administrative acumen (running a state, even if a small state). IN my view, the CM of Goa has greater ability to lead India, than a Rajya Sabha worthy.
- The highest decision making body of the BJP therefore must consist primarily of the CMs & Dy CMs of the states in which it rules, Leaders of Opposition from the Assemblies where it doesn’t rule, the LOP from LS and RS, and the Party President. No RS types should be allowed to stake claim over party or national leadership, except through demonstrated support from the people and administrative acumen.
- This creates obvious issues for a set of people in the BJP who are currently derisively called the D-4 (the Delhi 4). If Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj hold Prime Ministerial ambitions, I’m sorry but their claims have to pass the two standards mentioned above. Which means not only does Arun Jaitley have to fight elections, but both of them need to demonstrate administrative acumen (the mess in DDCA doesn’t give confidence on AJ). Let Arunji and Sushmaji make the BJP win in Delhi and Haryana respectively, become CM’s, show growth and development, and then stake their claim to PM’ship. If they can’t, then they are not fit to be considered.
- Since Ananth Kumar and Venkaiah Naidu are clearly well past their “sell-by” dates, I am not commenting on them. They should cool their heels in the RS. Despite all my respect for Advaniji, since the people rejected his Prime Ministerial bid in 2009, he should follow his “original instinct” and retire from active politics. Gadkari has a long way to go, first become an MP and then demonstrate leadership in Maharashtra. I’m sorry but one Mumbai-Pune Expressway project in itself does not make you fit to be PM.
IV. Managing dissidence is becoming extremely important
- Seat distribution is becoming a key issue where wrong selections can create a plethora of party-hoppers who think they can win that seat. BJP has historically managed this process better that the other parties, but it is not enough. Times have changed and something radical needs to be done.
- The best judges of who is best suited to represent the party in that constituency are “local-level” leaders who have fought elections for the party in the past in that constituency.
- Using simple mobile-phone based voting technology, create collegiums of local leaders who have been party candidates in the past for any level of election in that constituency (Corporation/Panchayat, Assembly or LS) and let them vote from amongst all the aspirants for that seat. Have a final run-off between the top two, so that the selected candidate has more than 50% of the votes to represent the party. The candidate thus selected will have the support of the entire party in the local-level and everyone will work collectively towards victory. There will be no dissidence!
V. Managing the negative fallout of the media is becoming crucial
- It’s no secret that large parts of primarily the “English Language Media” are overtly sympathetic towards the Congress and virulently against the BJP. The latest example being the virtual blanking out of Yeddy’s acquittal on corruption charges, when they were primarily responsible for creating the hyperbolic atmosphere which led to his ouster based on a flawed Lokayukta report (hope Team Anna is observing the potential for political manipulation.
- If one can’t change the media, one has to start following the Narendra Modi example of ignoring the mainstream media (MSM) and going directly to the people using social media. He has almost created a template for what a BJP leader should be doing to by-pass the MSM and making them redundant to ones political career. No other BJP CM seems to have picked this up adequately, despite the excellent job that some of them seem to be doing in their states. This has to be mandated by the party centrally.
- Having said that, the need for the creation of a balanced right-wing media (both electronic and print) cannot be denied. There is no reason why say something like Pioneer cannot be converted into a “national media” house, with a hugely expanded national footprint and maybe acquiring a loss-making TV news channel like NewsX. The templates provided by LSTV and RSTV are also very interesting and a state assembly channel in each of the BJP/NDA ruled states can be explored.
VI. Provide a stamp of commonality in each BJP/NDA ruled state
- From various reports and surveys it is becoming pretty obvious to the country that a BJP/NDA ruled state is on average doing better than Non-NDA states (Congress or otherwise) on most parameters. However, each BJP state is not doing as well as all the other states.
- Every state has got its own areas of strength and achievements and special schemes. So while MP has its “Ladli Lakshmi” scheme, Gujarat has e-Governance (besides many other areas), Chhattisgarh has PDS reforms and HP has power reforms. The BJP/NDA head must precipitate a quarterly meeting of CMs of all NDA-ruled states and get them to share their experiences and insights, which should be replicated across all states.
- A tentative attempt was made in this but it has not got institutionalized. The “force-multiplier effect of an initiative like this is not being understood by the NDA.
VII. Grow the NDA alliance
- It has become obvious that the current size of the NDA is too limited (only Shiv Sena and Akali Dal are long term stable allies, and RPI being the only new recent entrant). Most analysts think that the JD (U) will sooner or later do a BJD on the BJP (although I am not too convinced about this), and continues to rattle the BJP all the time. The alliance with HVP and AJSU/JMM needs to be cemented further (by giving more visibility and importance to their leaders).
- Without additional allies, the BJP can kiss its 2014 dreams goodbye. However, the situation doesn’t look all that bad for it, but needs some sustained effort. The ADMK and MNS are almost sure-fire future allies (but will come only if Modi is the PM candidate). The AGP and Sangma are potential allies that need to be cultivated from now only. If the BJP could just focus on the NE states, it can actually strike roots there (why have they not made a big thing about winning their first seat in Manipur?).
- Someone like Advani needs to be put full-time in-charge of re-building the NDA coalition and he might be surprisingly successful, provided he mentally accepts that his time to be gunning for the PM’s seat is over.
VIII. Declare the PM Candidate now!
- If there is one lesson that the BJP needs to learn is to pull together under a declared leader and put a process in place for selecting that leader. Many analysts believe (this one included) that the next LS elections will happen this year, rather than in 2014. The recent statements by TMC and the disastrous results in the recently concluded elections for Congress only reconfirm this suspicion. There is even a possibility that UPA2 could fail in getting the budget passed and could fall as early as March/April (although unlikely). The BJP doesn’t have much time to get its act together.
- The nearly 200-member national executive of the BJP should be a good enough collegium to elect its prime Ministerial candidate. Allow anyone who thinks that they are capable to become the PM candidate to throw their hat into the ring (I can think of Modi, Jaitley, Swaraj, Yashwant Sinha and why not even the “fragile-ego’ed” Rajnath Singh).
- Let them submit their Vision for the country and let the national executive vote for who they think should be the BJP’s PM candidate. Since it affects them also, please allow a few select senior party office bearers of NDA allies to also vote. Conduct a run-off between the winner and runner-up, and then you would have a PM candidate endorsed collectively. Anyone who doesn’t accept this decision (Nitish Kumar included) should be thrown out of the BJP/NDA (whatever the cost). While I think that Modi will win such an election hands-down, it could even be close between say Sushma Swaraj and Modi (who knows).
- Once a PM candidate has been selected, give that person full freedom to plan and run the campaign as that person deems fit. The entire party leadership should align behind that person. This will not only give this person the moral authority to lead, but also effectively crush any dissidence, as the decision would have been taken democratically.