BJP must reassess strategy: The Statesman columnist

In this photo taken on May 23, 2019, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit Shah wave towards their supporters in New Delhi, India. PHOTO: REUTERS

In her commentary, the writer says that the Jharkhand results could also mean that the Bharatiya Janata Party's position in Rajya Sabha may have to continue to depend on non-National Democratic Alliance players.

Kalyani Shankar

NEW DELHI (THE STATESMAN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) allies are getting emboldened to criticise the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), as they perceive that its winning spree has been halted.

As long as the BJP won state after state, they kept mum. But now that the BJP is facing trouble, particularly after the party's humiliating defeat in Jharkhand where it did not even emerge as the single largest party, the murmurs have started.

The allies have been demanding frequent meetings and consultations.

The NDA has also been shrinking gradually in the past two years.

Of the five major allies, only Shiromani Akali dal and Janata Dal (United) remain while two others, the Shiv Sena and Telugu Desam party, have parted company. The BJP itself dumped the People's Democratic Party (PDP) last year.

This week, Akali Dal leader Naresh Gujral said in an interview with NDTV: "I've said it time and again, and we need that Vajpayee touch. Vajpayee, if you recall, ran a coalition of almost 20 parties. Yet everybody remained happy because everybody was given respect. They were treated with equality. Vajpayee's doors were always open and there was consultation."

Though the BJP allies have supported the Citizen Amendment Act in Parliament they are opposing the proposed countrywide National Register of Citizens (NRC).

The Jharkhand results also reveal the BJP's failure to retain its allies whereas regional players like the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), Shiv Sena and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) are gaining predominance.

Most importantly, the Congress, which had a major part to play in toppling the BJP in the states of Maharashtra and Jharkhand, seems to be playing alliance politics better.

The Jharkhand results reveal that the presence of the BJP in states is shrinking from 71 per cent of the landmass under BJP-governed states in 2017 to just 35 per cent in 2019.

The number of BJP ruled states has also come down in the past two years from 17 in 2017 to 11 today.

Some of the important BJP ruled states are Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Haryana, Tripura, and Gujarat.

The party has never been in power in three states - Kerala, Telengana and West Bengal.

What may be of more concern is that its graph in state polls has been on a steady decline since 2018 when it lost its bastions of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh besides Rajasthan.

Its huge victory in the Lok Sabha elections this year has not translated in to gains in states though Prime Minister Modi's popularity remains high transcending the class and caste divide.

Despite winning the 2019 Lok Sabha elections with a bigger margin, the BJP could not manifest a similar performance in the state elections in Haryana and Maharashtra.

The BJP formed the government in Haryana but only with the support of Jannayak Janta Party ( JJP) leader Dushyant Chautala.

Also the opposition did much better than expected in all the three states. For the first time since the state's formation the party has not emerged as the single largest in Jharkhand.

The inabilities of BJP chief ministers to appease caste loyalties to create voting preferences in state elections have harmed the party.

Though Modi won with a massive majority in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, people differentiate between the national elections and state polls.

This is despite Modi's assertion of the double-engine growth model with a BJP government at the Centre and a BJP government in the state.

The lack of prominent local leaders is yet another reason for this slide. Significantly, the BJP lost in these states despite fulfilling most of its core agenda like the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir and Triple Talaaq and now the citizenship bill.

Secondly, it also has to decide whether its current strategy of 'Ekla chalo' has helped the party or damaged its fortunes.

The BJP, enthused by its remarkable victory in 2019, has been emboldened to try to go it alone but it has not worked.

The Jharkhand results also mean that the BJP's position in Rajya Sabha may not improve soon and it has to continue to depend on non-NDA players like the BJD and TRS.

The BJP is still a minority in the House of elders. The BJP needs to go back to the drawing board to rework its strategy for the upcoming Assembly polls. Next month Delhi will go to polls and by year-end Bihar faces Assembly elections.

The Jharkhand loss might have an impact on these polls. The BJP needs to hold on to its allies and also look for new friends.

While it had emerged as a party with a majority at the Centre not once but twice, the need for coalitions in states continues as the party has to ride piggyback on regional parties wherever it is weak.

When there was a murmur from the allies, the BJP chief Amit Shah had assured them in July last year, "We will give respect to our existing allies, bring in new friends."

The BJP should have a rethink after the Jharkhand disaster and do some damage control to retain allies.

The writer is a senior journalist. The Statesman is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 24 news media entities.

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