In Bengal, TN and Kerala, BJP Needs To Take A Leaf Out Of Kanshi Ram’s Book

by R Jagannathan - Apr 11, 2016 01:22 PM +05:30 IST
In Bengal, TN and Kerala, BJP Needs To Take A Leaf Out Of Kanshi Ram’s BookBJP flags/Getty Images
Snapshot
  • 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 10-year vision.

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, especially Brahmins.

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 course.

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 themselves geographically.

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 these states.

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.

Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
Get Swarajya in your inbox everyday. Subscribe here.

An Appeal...

Dear Reader,

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.

Become A Patron
Become A Subscriber
Comments ↓
Get Swarajya in your inbox everyday. Subscribe here.
Advertisement

Latest Articles

    Artboard 4Created with Sketch.