The BJP cannot win by centralising powers in Delhi and using Modi repeatedly as its trump card.
After some point, the voter fatigue will set in. It has to grow more regional leaders.
After a thumping win in the Lok Sabha elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been receiving some gentle knocks from the electorate. In both Haryana and Maharashtra, the party failed to cross the halfway mark. While it has managed to retain power in the former state, in Maharashtra it has lost the plot. It failed to read the signals coming from its alliance partner Shiv Sena that it may go to any length to obtain the chief ministership.
As things stand, a Sena-Nationalist Congress Party-Congress government seems most likely with Uddhav Thackeray as chief minister. While one can’t predict the longevity of this three-headed animal, the fact remains that the BJP is out in the cold for now in India’s richest state.
The Jharkhand elections may bring more intimations of political mortality, and so will the Delhi one in February. Bihar, to come later in 2020, may also spring a few surprises, as Nitish Kumar may flex his muscles at a time when the BJP seems to be slipping.
The question is: what should the BJP’s response be to the loss of power in some states?
The answer is two-fold: focus on governance and economic reforms at the Centre, and, two, develop a strong leadership in the states so that future state battles can be led by regional leaders rather than depend entirely on Narendra Modi and Amit Shah.
The main takeaway from the recent setbacks in Haryana and Maharashtra is that the electorate has learnt to differentiate between state and central issues, and if Modi and Shah want to retain power in Delhi in 2024, it is in Delhi they must deliver. This means economic reforms, growth and jobs, and visible improvements in areas like defence and internal security, among other things. The popularity of Modi alone won’t be enough. And even this popularity will decline if there is weak delivery on economic objectives. Elections in 2024 can be won only on the basis of a solid economic performance that everyone can see and feel for herself.
The loss of a few state governments may look like a debacle to some in the party, but the fact is many voters were also worried about the absence of alternatives to the BJP and Modi. By gaining a few states, the opposition will now be forced to deliver on the economic front, too. The Modi government will find that some of the shrillness in the opposition rhetoric will die down at the state level, even if the ruckus continues in Parliament.
On the positive side, staying in the opposition means the BJP now gets the opportunity to try out new leaders, or rebuild old ones into formidable fighting forces. In Maharashtra, thanks to the Sena-NCP-Congress tie-up, it will occupy the entire opposition space.
While Devendra Fadnavis can be asked to rebuild the party’s base in Maharashtra so as to manage without the Sena in future, there is no point keeping Shivraj Singh Chouhan out in the cold in Madhya Pradesh. He should be asked to prepare for 2023 when Madhya Pradesh goes to the polls again, but this time with a new deputy who can take over if Chouhan falters.
The BJP looks likely to lose Delhi and could also face a tough fight in Jharkhand. In Delhi, it clearly needs a strong chief ministerial face to take on Arvind Kejriwal, and in Jharkhand it can give Raghubar Das a long rope if he does reasonably well in the December elections. Otherwise, it needs new leadership. Bihar too requires a strong leadership, because Nitish Kumar will at some time have to hang up his boots.
The BJP cannot win by centralising powers in Delhi and using Modi repeatedly as its trump card. After some point, the voter fatigue will set in. It has to grow more regional leaders.
The right way to signal a political change is to set up a commission to devolve more power to states and local bodies. Reform of the constitutional power structure is central to higher economic performance. By doing this, Modi will also be able to take some of the heat off the Centre for any economic shortcomings in future.