In Bengal, TN and Kerala, BJP Needs To Take A Leaf Out Of Kanshi Ram’s Book
What is Kanshi Ram strategy?
Create your core vote block in the first election without any illusions about winning; consolidate the block in the next election so as to defeat one of the dominant players through tactical voting; in the third election, combine the voter block with tactical alignments to become the pole player.
This is the strategy that brought the BSP to power in Uttar Pradesh, first in a messy alignment with the BJP, and then by appealing to the BJP’s underlying voter case, the upper castes, especially Brahmins.
No matter how the BJP fares in the ongoing five state assembly elections, it will have to reassess its growth strategy.
The ongoing assembly polls in Assam,
West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry are important for Narendra Modi,
but the results will not materially impact the BJP’s fortunes at the centre. Reason:
the BJP has not been a strong political force in any of them, despite some big
gains made in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
But this will not prevent the media
from declaring the BJP a loser if it fails to do well in Assam and Kerala. And
doing “well” translates to getting more than 50-plus seats (with allies) in
Assam (even if it does not ultimately form a government), gaining vote share (above
15 percent with its ally) and opening its account in Kerala, and winning some two
to five seats in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. Pondicherry is off the national radar,
and so does not matter.
It is clear that the party is not
repeating its mistakes in Delhi and Bihar. It tried to win those states purely
on Narendra Modi’s aura - and failed. This time it is investing in building
Sarbananda Sonowal as its chief ministerial candidate in Assam. Regardless of
whether the BJP wins or loses, this is the right move. In Kerala, its alliance
with the Ezhava-based BDJS is the right strategy to build a Hindu vote bank,
even though the party does not have a clear leader.
Beyond Assam and Kerala, the BJP does
not seem to have a clear strategy in states where it has traditionally been
weak. In Uttar Pradesh, just a year away from assembly elections, it does not
have a face for the chief ministership. In
Odisha, where the Modi government does not want to ruffle the BJD, it is
probably building a new leader in Dharmendra Pradhan, the Union Petroleum
Minister who has some achievements to his credit. But it is not clear if the
BJP would want to win Odisha in 2019 or be happy with a runner-up medal. The
two options need different strategies.
Broadly speaking, the BJP needs to
think through its strategy in three buckets. In states where it already has a strong
base (Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Himachal, Haryana, Jharkhand,
Delhi) it just needs strong local leaders; in states where it has a reasonable base,
but not enough to win comfortably on its own (Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka, Maharashtra,
Assam), it needs both leadership and an ally strategy; in states where the BJP is either weak or
incapable of winning on its own (Punjab, J&K, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West
Bengal, Odisha) the party needs a combination of the above two essentials and a
Most of the states currently in
election mode fall in bucket three (barring Assam, to some extent). Apart from
building potential leadership faces, the BJP cannot become the natural party of
governance in these states unless it has an ally strategy, or a 10- to 15-year
perspective on how to grow its own base, or both.
If it wants to govern on its own, or
as a senior partner in any state, it needs to look at the Kanshi Ram strategy
for building the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) from scratch. Kanshi Ram’s gameplan was simple: create your
core vote block in the first election without any illusions about winning;
consolidate the block in the next election so as to defeat one of the dominant
players through tactical voting; in the third election, combine the voter block
with tactical alignments to become the pole player. This is the strategy that
brought the BSP to power in Uttar Pradesh, first in a messy alignment with the
BJP, and then by appealing to the BJP’s underlying voter case, the upper castes,
This is exactly what the BJP needs to
do in its weak states if it wants to be senior partner, or even the main party in due
There are three building blocks to
this 10-year vision: one is to have an over-arching political position (an
unchanging core value proposition for the voter); adding state-specific strategies
(which voters to target; which allies to pick up for the long-term, etc); and making
tactical adjustments to align national and state strategies).
The last is important in states where
demography makes it impossible to occupy pole position. This is best illustrated
in the BJP’s current position in Jammu & Kashmir, where its nationalistic
position is in conflict with the political imperatives of its Kashmir-based
ally. The BJP is a Hindu party from Jammu, and the PDP a Muslim party in the
Valley. This is the reason why it is in power, and this is the reason why the
partners frequently have heartburn. Their positions are mutually-exclusive.
The only solution possible is for the two partners to agree to primacy in their core areas, and share power. This means a tacit agreement to not grow in areas occupied by the other. This is exactly what happens in Kerala, where parties appeal to specific communities and geographical areas. If any party tries to extend itself, it has to exit the alliance.
In J&K, the best way forward
for the BJP and PDP is to think of themselves as two sub-regional parties with
limited ambitions in the areas they are not strong in. If the PDP tries to grow
too much in Jammu and the BJP in Valley, the alliance cannot work. This is the
reason why the BJP and the Shiv Sena are at loggerheads in Maharashtra. They
occupy overlapping political spaces, and this is creating endless friction. The
solution here is for the partners to break up, or to divide the state between
If the BJP wants the entire cake for
itself, it should exit alliances. It needs a 10-year plan, the Kanshi Ram one.
Whether it is Assam, or Kerala or Tamil
Nadu or West Bengal, the BJP’s core proposition is its Hindu identity. These
are the states where Hindus see themselves under demographic pressure from the
minorities, and if the BJP offers this strong value proposition, it can build a
core voter base. Over the next 10 years this proposition can only get stronger,
as demography, or migration and/or religious conversions are big issues in
Wooing the Hindu vote with the Kanshi
Ram strategy means establishing your Hindu identity in the first election, growing
the voter base in the next and tactically using it to defeat one of the major regional
parties, and finally becoming the senior partner in election three.
In politics, of course, all strategies are subject to course correction depending on developments, but broadly it is the Kanshi Ram strategy that is best for the BJP if it does not want to permanently remain a junior partner in a state.
As you are no doubt aware, Swarajya is a media product that is directly dependent on support from its readers in the form of subscriptions. We do not have the muscle and backing of a large media conglomerate nor are we playing for the large advertisement sweep-stake.
Our business model is you and your subscription. And in challenging times like these, we need your support now more than ever.
We deliver over 10 - 15 high quality articles with expert insights and views. From 7AM in the morning to 10PM late night we operate to ensure you, the reader, get to see what is just right.
Becoming a Patron or a subscriber for as little as Rs 1200/year is the best way you can support our efforts.