The recent polls in Maharashtra and Haryana, and the trends in the upcoming polls in Jharkhand require BJP to review its alliances and choice of leadership at the state level.
If the recent polls are any indication, BJP should be changing its poll strategy. In Maharashtra, Shiv Sena did an unusual U-turn by changing its demands after the two party alliance won a poll. While Shiv Sena has been an old ally of BJP it’s time that the think tank within the party started analysing its reasons for forging these alliances and got a little pragmatic about its long term objectives.
If one goes back to history, Shiv Sena under Bal Thackerey was propped up by Congress to counter the leftist forces in Mumbai. Shiv Sena has always had a fluid agenda where sometimes it has propped the interests of the `Marathi Manus’ and sometimes pro-Hindu interests while unleashing campaigns against south indians or north indians depending on the whims and fancies of its leaders. From the way Uddhav Thackerey and his advisors have handled the aftermath of Maharashtra elections, it’s clear that Shiv Sena is an inconsistent and untrustworthy ally. That fact that they are seeking an alliance with Congress and NCP proves it. In the short term, forming poll alliance with parties like Shiv Sena might win BJP elections. But this can’t be a long term strategy. And there are lessons for the party in most of the recent assembly elections and the upcoming ones.
Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh are two solid examples. While both Vasundhara Raje and Shivraj Chauhan were charismatic leaders, they were unable to present to the electorate a winning narrative. The reason why BJP resoundingly won the Lok Sabha elections was the solid narrative it could present, which included development, schemes to alleviate poverty, fight against corruption and decisive steps to tackle national security. Its debacle in state elections can be attributed to a lack of similar strategy and inability of its leaders to convince the electorate that they will provide good governance while solving problems that affect the common man at the grassroots level. While BJP does have a few charismatic leaders in states, where is the second line?
Take the case of Karnataka. Yediyurappa is currently leading the government. But where are other promising leaders who can ably replace him? The same goes for most other BJP ruled states. There has been little or no thinking in terms of providing space for new leaders to emerge. Also, the party has not analyzed its alliances well enough. In Jharkand, two of its allies are going on their own. In Haryana BJP had to take the support of a rape accused to form the government.
The need of the hour is that BJP should take a long term view of the politics in states. It should clearly communicate its ideology to the electorate, cultivate strong and charismatic leaders with integrity. While winnability is a major issue in elections, the party should not compromise on the quality of candidates it fields in elections. Short term alliances to stay in power should be done away with. It’s okay for BJP to sit in the opposition for many years if needed, but a strong message should go out to the electorate that the party stands by certain principles and is committed to a pro people agenda that includes development, poverty alleviation, governance and the rule of law. With Narendra Modi at the helm the party has managed to win the confidence of the electorate at the center. But what it needs are string leaders in states and a uniform messaging on what the party stands for.