Venkatesh K
How can BJP ride on a NaMo wave?
This article originally appeared in centreright.in. CRI content has now been subsumed in swarajyamag.com. The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors of swarajyamag.com

In the aftermath of Gujarat assembly polls, I had written a small article analyzing the results. That was my first and perhaps will be my last attempt at psephological number crunching. But the key conclusion was very interesting. I had argued that Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) had retained Gujarat due to a massive mobilization of 1st time voters, mainly the urban youth.

I don’t know whether similar conditions exist across the various states of Bharat. But the reception that Modi gets in his speeches across the country (Kerala, Hyderabad, Delhi, Pune etc) do suggest a strong possibility. Based on strictly anecdotal evidence, we can say that

  1. There is broad based support for Modi across the Hindi belt.
  2. Educated classes and urban youth across the nation seem to have an inclination for Modi.

How do the odds stack up?

But, does this support translate into seats for BJP based on its current strategy? Apparently the party is concentrating on approximately 290 seats that it has won at least once before. While this looks good on paper, a similar count for Congress would be nearly 500 seats. Moreover, past history is not very relevant after the latest round of delimitation.

Simultaneously, BJP is trying to woo possible allies such as Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) to cobble up the numbers. But, this strategy is not working since these parties would prefer to do business with BJP only in a post-poll scenario. In summary, BJP is handicapped by 2 factors

  1. The geographical spread of the party is too limited.
  2. The neutral parties would not be ready for a pre-poll alliance because they fear losing the Muslim vote.

The new Mantra- Expand or Perish

The party can overcome these shortcomings only by a bold leap of faith. I am suggesting that BJP has to try to drastically improve its geographical spread as well as vote share across the country. In practical terms, the party has to put up serious candidates even in those constituencies where it has had a marginal presence in the past. In principle, BJP needs to fight every Lok Sabha seat excluding those where it already has a pre-poll alliance partner.

 Assuming that a NaMo wave is indeed going to manifest, this strategy will result in dual benefits. The party might discover its hidden strength in constituencies where it was not a serious contestant earlier. This leads to an expansion of the geographical foot print. There might also be cases where BJP might just get a marginal fraction of vote that is not good enough to give it a serious chance at winning. However, other players will be forced to look at the party for a pre-poll alliance if the fraction is good enough to make or break their own fortunes.

Hung Parliament in 2014

 While we might want to wish it away, there exists a realistic possibility that 2014 polls might end up being a semi-final of sorts paving the way for a real final battle in 2015/16. In such a case, expansion strategy would once again work for BJP provided it has put up a creditable showing and emerged as the single-largest party.

In “new” seats where BJP has managed a creditable performance and still fallen short of a win, the voters can be expected to decisively shift their vote in a subsequent election to BJP – a vote for stability. Also, allies will find it far easier to strike deals with the party if BJP can demonstrate a significant “transferable” vote in their own bastions.

Time for Boldness

The BJP has to make decisive and bold moves if it has to seize this moment and capitalize on the strong anti-Congress and pro-NaMo sentiment across the nation. It has to start looking for possible candidates for a BJP ticket in every “new” constituency NOW. This might also be the time to bring in fresh blood laterally with unconventional choices and also import leaders with a strong local base from other parties.