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Yes, their victories have been comprehensive

I am aware of the sin of hasty generalization, but it is not unreasonable to assert that the recent string of BJP victories is more than a mere flash in the pan. It used to be that the choice in India was between the Congress and a bunch of pretenders; now the BJP are the ones to beat.

There are some caveats: for one, the BJP does not truly have a pan-Indian presence. There are states, like Kerala, where the BJP practically does not exist. They are seen as an upper-caste North Indian party with a Hindi-Hindutva agenda that turns off a lot of people. Yet, they are winning.

The media regularly maligns the BJP, denigrating them as “fascist, communalist” lunatics. The BJP is damned if they do, damned if they don’t: their every move is criticized with extreme prejudice by professional whiners and Marxists.

They claim the BJP is taking India into some Dark Age; we are told that the BJP only has a single platform, Ayodhya, a euphemism for Hindu “fundamentalism.” The media claimed that Narendra Modi’s win in Gujarat was an example of alleged catering to extreme Hindu views. It is also true that it was L.K. Advani’s chariot tour that got the BJP on the path to a winning coalition at the center.

But the recent state elections were a surprise to this school of thought. It is clear that religion was not an issue in Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, and Rajasthan. On the contrary, development, supposedly the Congress’s strong suit, was the issue. And yet the BJP won, and it won in a landslide. Why?

Political analysts have cited many “explanations.” Good candidate selection. Focus groups. Getting the vote out. Cadre-based grassroots work. Party stars barnstorming the state. Now isn’t all this just normal campaign activity? What’s so amazing about all this?

I went through a detailed study of the results by the Center for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi. They didn’t have any simple answers either, but here is the gist: in M.P., development was the issue. In Chattisgarh, the tribals swung towards the BJP. In Rajasthan, the BJP got good candidates and just managed the campaign better.

In other words, the BJP is winning because it has figured out what people want, and it has smarter managers. That seems like a recipe that will keep them in power for long, while the Nehru dynasty mantra no longer cuts it for the Congress. India’s grand old party, the Congress, is irrelevant, and there’s a new kid in town. The BJP can win on religion, and it can win on development issues: this is hard to compete against.

Rajeev Srinivasan wrote this opinion from Bangalore.


No, there could be many a slip between cup and lip

Pride, it is said, goes before a fall.

For the three decades following independence, the Congress-valas deluded themselves into believing that they were the natural party of governance. No effort was spared in convincing the average Indian that the Nehrus were India’s hereditary proprietors and influential Congress-valas their hereditary courtiers.

Till the 1977 election.

Forget being the governing party, the Congress was reduced to becoming a headless chicken with the defeat of Indira Gandhi.

Since history unfortunately repeats itself, the BJP would do well not to fool itself about its becoming the natural governing party. While the party has made gigantic strides since its 1984 decimation, and has captured power thrice in national elections, its domination is anything but dynastic.

While the parameters of a natural governing party remain undefined, it would be reasonable to think that such rights are premised on back-to-back simple majorities, if not a two-thirds majority. Despite massive surges in “popular support” (read “euphoric crowds dancing for television cameras”) after the nuclear bomb explosions of 1998 and the resounding success of the Kargil war, the BJP found it difficult to capture 200 seats.

Let the BJP obtain a simple majority (i.e. 271 seats) before proclamations about its dynastic rights are issued.

The myth about the BJP’s “ancestral rights” is based largely on its recent successes in three states. This argument overlooks (if not contradicts) the anti-incumbency wave that propelled the BJP into power.

A combination of scandals, infighting, and inept leadership resulted in the Congress (I) being trounced in three different states. Given that the BJP has never freed itself of the same clouds, the national elections may well push the BJP onto the opposition benches.

Fortifying the above is the BJP’s inexplicable policy of eschewing a “jingoistic, extreme right wing path” (to paraphrase secular pundits), alienating its traditional supporters while not picking up new supporters (e.g. the so-called secular groups or the backward classes). Should the trend continue, the next elections could well prove to be a swan song.

And then we have the vagaries of nature. The 1998 assembly elections proved that even the humble onion could bring down governments should its price skyrocket. Given that the crop season could precede the next election, there could well exist many an unpredictable slip between the cup of electoral success and the BJP’s lip.

The BJP should therefore set aside any illusions of being the natural governing party. The next elections could well prove to be a “do or die” scenario for the party; it should therefore prepare itself accordingly.

Toronto-based S.Gopikrishna writes on topics of pertinence to India and Indians.