The Future of the BJP

Written by  //  August 17, 2010  //  National Politics  //  3 Comments

Six years and two successive UPA governments later, the BJP seems to have finally warmed to its role as the principal opposition party in India. The seemingly mindless rabble rousing, incessant hectoring and disingenuous criticism of the government on issues which predominated earlier seems to have finally given way to prudent opposition, issue-based co-operation with the Left parties on the floor of the House and even principled support to the government when all-party co-ordination was the need of the hour. This is a healthy sign for politics in the country when opposition, both in Parliament as well as outside is effective in pointing out governmental failures and responsible when the occasion demands. Equally, these are welcome signs for a party, the ground beneath whose feet was swept away by two successive election defeats and the departure from active politics of its talisman Atal Bihari Vajpayee. However whether these signs can translate into an improved national performance in the next General Elections or not is an entirely different question; a question, which requires deep introspection regarding the ideology, the values and the vision which the BJP has, of itself, and of India in the 21st Century.

Two sorts of questions are relevant for the BJP going forward. First, relates to the sections of voters the party needs to target to shore up its electoral performance; the second concerns the values embodied by the party and its positioning on the national stage, especially vis-à-vis the Congress.

PART I: IDENTIFYING TARGETS

Turning to the first question, there are broadly three sections of the population which the BJP needs to concentrate on, in the coming years. Though this may amount to an over-simplification, since polls in constituencies are affected by a myriad factors incapable of easy classification, nonetheless some simplification, and consequently generalisation is imperative, if the party is keen on developing a coherent electoral strategy. The first section is the youth. The last elections saw 24% of the electorate comprising youth voters. This number is only set to increase both in terms of absolute numbers as well as in terms of actual participation, given the growing politicization amongst both rural and urban youth. It was not as if the BJP was not cognizant of the importance of catering to the youth in the previous election. But its multi-pronged strategy of a snazzy website for L.K. Advani, an extremely active virtual presence as well as a “Friends of the BJP” organization, representing the intellectual face of the party, bore little fruit. This was unsurprising given that these steps severely under-estimated the political acumen of the youth and the issues which found resonance. A website, Facebook updates and a smattering of young leaders were all salutary, yet superficial measures. A failure to buttress these with saying the things the youth wanted to hear- on religion, on jobs, on building an inclusive India- indicated a deep-rooted disconnect between the party and youth voters. The fundamental realization which eluded and continued to elude the BJP in the aftermath of the successive defeats is that connecting with the youth is not distinct from taking a clear stand on contemporary political issues. With a politically active young population, the key lies not just in superficial measures but in articulating policy positions which represents modern thinking concomitant with an acceptance that certain sleeping dogs—re-writing history textbooks, building temples and demolishing mosques- are best themselves consigned to history. In other words, modernity must be both in what you do and what you believe in.

The second section, overlapping partially with the first, is what I term the “residuary voters”. This section, dominant in upwardly mobile middle class India, attach great value to their vote, yet find little to distinguish between political parties. And it is not difficult to see why. On most key, populist issues, both the BJP and the Congress take largely centrist positions with little to separate the two. While the Congress spews secularist rhetoric to distinguish itself, the BJP often harks back to a golden age before the medieval period, where the country was bountiful and at peace. The options left to such voters in such a situation is either to vote Left, if there is any ideological sympathy, consider a gaggle of caste-based parties, or make a distinction between the Congress and the BJP, where none superficially exists. It is at these times, that more often than not, the residuary vote goes to the Congress. This is unsurprising, given the fact that the Congress represents something to everyone, a party which at one time, speaks in many voices, and therefore attempts to keep everyone in the political spectrum happy. Further, the Congress is a largely tolerant party, accommodating all and sundry under its ever-expanding umbrella of ideological nothingness. Most significantly, it is not prone to any form of religious intolerance and violence, an issue which can immediately deter even the most undecided and dithering voter from voting BJP. This residuary vote is crucial and articulating a vision, policy and programme distinct from the Congress, yet relevant to the current day and age is the pressing concern for the BJP on this front.

The third section, not to be ignored or taken for granted is those whose ideological views concord with the founding principles of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar. In an effort to reach out to sections hitherto estranged from the BJP, the party must ensure that its core constituency is satiated and feels no reason to look elsewhere. At this point of time, the core constituency deserting the party is an unlikely scenario. No right wing party of a similar stature exists, nobody articulates the majoritarian cause as well as the BJP does, and few other parties are as trenchant critics of the Congress. Yet, this support must not breed complacency. As the Shiv Sena- MNS squabble in Maharashtra shows, it takes little time for more radical splinter groups to emerge and steal a small yet significant portion of the original party’s thunder. Caution on this front is thus the need of the hour for the BJP.
The strategy to address the concerns of these three sections of the voting population is singular—Articulating a vision for the party which is both principled and pragmatic, securing its core values, yet steering clear of the antiquated shibboleth that has marred its public image and extrapolating that vision on to the country, a dynamically developing yet humane nation representing a harmonious balance of traditional values and modern thinking. Elaborating this vision, breaking down its salient elements into courses of action and underlining certain aspects for specific attention is a task in itself, and one which will be articulated in this column, at an appropriate time.

3 Comments on "The Future of the BJP"

  1. Sakshi Gupta August 26, 2010 at 6:49 pm ·

    The bursts of coherence and cooperation from the BJP still appear to me to be too patchy to allow for the conclusion that the party has found its rudder.

    Take the party president’s response to the Vedanta matter in Orissa and Rahul Gandhi’s subsequent visit to the state, which surely is remarkable only for its complete irrelevance. The denial of mining permission presented an opportunity to the BJP to take a stand – on development v. rights of indigenous groups, on the growing clout of lobby groups, on confusion within the UPA on its development policy; not to mention the more pragmatic opportunity to win back Patnaik and his BJD as an ally.

    Gadkari’s gem of a comment in response to the entire episode was that Rahul Gandhi lacked charisma!

    I think we will see lot’s more floundering from the BJP before any coherent policy takes shape. That said, I agree with your vision for the path that an effective opposition to the current administration needs to follow, I find it hard to believe at present that the BJP will be able to fill these shoes.

  2. Sakshi Gupta August 26, 2010 at 6:50 pm ·

    *lots more floundering*

  3. Arghya August 27, 2010 at 2:40 pm ·

    Sakshi,

    I agree that some floundering will follow. But I think this floundering at least has some purpose and is as a result of some thinking of larger policy goals unlike last term when it was clearly without direction or purpose. The nuclear bill is a good example of mitigated floundering with a reasonably clear goal of ensuring that the bill passes, nuclear energy being something the BJP itself is in favour of. As opposed to the nuclear deal in the last session. More on the vision to follow in a few days.

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