June 27, 2020
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It Just Turned A Long March

Several roadblocks interrupt Modi’s free run to the top post

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It Just Turned A Long March
Tribhuvan Tiwari
It Just Turned A Long March

When Narendra Modi delivered his vision speech at Ramlila ground in New Delhi last week, the 90-minute address to the BJP National Council Meet was followed by a brief one by L.K. Advani. The BJP veteran praised Modi’s speech, but warned the party not to become overconfident, as it was before the 2004 Lok Sabha election. Many in the Modi camp see the election as a cakewalk for their leader, but seniors within the party and the RSS see roadblocks aplenty. Serious issues rem­ain, and if left unaddressed, Modi will have to remain PM-in-waiting for another five years. A look at a few of these concerns.

One-man show: Campaign Modi is not an exercise planned, managed or being executed by the party. Many senior leaders, in fact, have no idea what it ent­ails; they are just the faces on the stage or on posters. There are ghostly echoes of 2004, when it was left to one man—Pramod Mahajan—to manage the party’s campaign. However well-planned, high-tech, creative or deftly managed such effort may be, the lack of inclusiveness and disconnect can only be unhealthy for the team and the organisation.

Candidate selection: This is the biggest challenge for the BJP, without which it is unable to project a clear figure for 2014. “I think the biggest challenge is to select the right candidate,” says senior political analyst Ram Bahadur Rai. “However, I am firm about the BJP getting a clear majority.” Though the party has launched the 272+ campaign and decided to contest elections from more than 380 seats, finalising names is a headache. Leaders who may not have the winnability but whose names cannot be avoided will have to be included. Simultaneously, candidates who have bad records in urban and semi-urban areas might have to be dro­pped, because they might become an issue locally, and despite a presumed Modi wave, post negative results.

“I think the biggest challenge is to select the right candidate. However, I am firm about the BJP getting a clear majority.”
Ram Bahadur Rai, Senior political analyst

The AAP Factor: There is less chance of aap notching a good two-digit tally, but it is sure to play spoiler. The BJP is banking hugely on vote shifts from the Congress and other regional ‘bad performers’, and winning largely on the anti-incumbency vote. But if aap rea­ches these disappointed voters first, the BJP would have lost a few numbers. BJP strategists admit aap is a potential threat, unless it collapses under the weight of its own contradictions and miscalculations. aap is definitely a worry, which is why the BJP has been calling them the B-team of the Congress, even though aap has targeted Congress more than BJP.

Young India: The majority of the voters this time are youth. And though Modi’s charisma was unparalleled initially,  thi­ngs changed post the Delhi assembly election results in 2013. aap’s youth volunteer base is increasing rapidly by the day, the party attracts more youth at its events than any protests, rallies or events organised by the BJP youth wing or even Modi.

More online, less offline: The BJP campaign is still focused on media and new media. And even with elections knocking on the door now, the party is yet to chalk out a concrete plan for offline campaigns. NaMo rallies can’t be enough to ensure votes; a door-to-door campaign is imperative, and the party is yet to start these in the country. RSS has now come to the rescue, with Ram Madhav saying, “One of the main focus will be to reach out to the people from door to door and ensure maximum turnout on polling day, especially in cities.” But RSS too is struggling, with the number of shakhas and swayamsevaks coming down year after year.

Organisational issues: This remains the biggest headache for the party, something Amit Shah has not been able to resolve even in Uttar Pradesh, in which state the party has invested its biggest hope. It’s the same story in Uttarakhand, Bihar, Jharkhand, Rajasthan and Orissa. Division and cat-fights dog the units in Maharashtra and the southern states too. It’s certainly not easy to satisfy everyone, but no efforts are being made to minimise differences either. Many states have not even held routine meetings of the state councils and district units. There are reports that panchayat and ward level representatives have been selected at the district headquarters by merely selecting names from the electoral list rather than actually hitting the ground and reaching out to the villages and mohallas.

The Minority Mandate: This election is primarily for or against Modi; it will be the basis of voting in most of the seats. There are more than 100 seats where Muslim voters will play an important role in electing the public representative and they have a significant presence in more than 200 parliamentary seats. Even if they don’t bail the Congress out, most won’t vote for Modi, never mind the kite-flying with Salman or his inviting maulanas home; the shadow of 2002 hasn’t faded at all. P. Chidambaram didn’t miss the chance to recall that Modi never gave tickets to Muslims. Christians don’t invest much hope in him either. Meanwhile, Congress has played a trump card with granting minority status to the Jains, a mostly business community and hitherto BJP voters.

Criminals and the Corrupt: People like Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, Sushil Singh and many other such ‘musclemen’ with controversial backgrounds are going to contest on BJP tickets in Uttar Pradesh. The same is true of states like Rajasthan, MP, Bihar and in the south. There are enough tainted candidates in Gujarat, including Amit Shah. In Karnataka, Yeddiyurappa is back in the party, which will make it difficult for the party to answer difficult questions from other political parties. aap will definitely not miss a chance to project these corrupt names as a counter to NaMo’s plank of good governance.

The Aspirants Within: Though they look like they have fallen in line, the aspirants within the BJP have not given up on their dream of occupying the top post. There is every possibility that the top leaders of the party will limit the party’s seats to 175. This would create a situation where the BJP would have to form government with an ‘acceptable’ face as PM. There are at least half a dozen such names which could derail Modi at the last minute. Secondly, in BJP-led states, the CMs would focus on fielding and helping those who are loyal to them instead of names coming out of Modi’s control room. For example, the BJP for now has 13 members in the Lok Sabha from Madhya Pradesh. Shivraj Singh Chouhan might not be interested in hel­ping Modi get more seats from the state.

Alliances and Regional Parties: As of now, Modi remains the face of the party at the national level. But as BJP president Rajnath Singh said in an interview to Outlook, “There are possibilities of pre- and post-poll alliances and many parties are talking to us.” A top leader from the party has said that Chandrababu Naidu is likely to join the SNDA soon. NaMo, driven by his own individualistic, ambitious persona, is not a ‘workable’ name in coalition politics, even if he can get good numbers for the party in the election. His image and past offer less scope to attract allies; he will be a liability rather than an asset for a larger NDA. This has happened in the past as well when Advani, who fronted the rise of the BJP through the early ’90s, was replaced by Atal Behari Vajpayee to form the NDA.

And this is not a complete list. At a time when the Congress is being projected as a party preparing for 2019 and aap’s anarchy is appealing to the voter, Modi still has a lot to do and work out.

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