Why BJP wins elections & why it may also lose elections

BJP’s relentless attack on the Congress is because it knows only the Congress can derail it. BJP is happy to facilitate regional parties to divide anti-BJP votes, writes Sonali Ranade

Amit Shah, Yogi Adityanath, Keshav Maurya and Dinesh Sharma having lunch at a BJP worker’s house in Lucknow
Amit Shah, Yogi Adityanath, Keshav Maurya and Dinesh Sharma having lunch at a BJP worker’s house in Lucknow

Sonali Ranade

Congress is the only pan-India party that contests 200 seats [out of 540] directly with the BJP. With a command of 20% of the total votes, it is the core of the opposition votes, and so must be a key part of any strategy to replace the BJP.

The problem is Congress’ strength varies from region to region. It can only gain power in 4 to 5 major states on its own. In most others, it must add its vote to that of regional partners, [who differ from state to state,] in order for the opposition to win.

The diffused nature of its 20% vote means that it cannot gain as much share in power, as its overall vote share should command. The regional partners, where they exist, command a dominant share of the vote, and therefore naturally expect to get a similar share in power. The Congress loses out in the bargain.

So, what is an appropriate strategy for the Congress in such circumstances? Let’s understand BJP strategy first.

The BJP has come to power largely building layers of support around its core base of 25% of the vote that has almost always been with it. These are the traders and the merchant classes, of middle castes, conservative in outlook, and have always been well to do.

To this core, BJP has added more middle castes by sharing power with them through its “Hindus are in danger” propaganda. Middle castes were traditionally denied power in Congress. BJP has made strenuous efforts to salami slice the middle castes, and woo some of them away from regional players, like Samajwadi Party in UP or Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar. Astutely, BJP has stepped into the breach left open by Congress.

On top of this core of 30 to 35% of the vote, BJP has stolen the 10% uppercase votes that used to go to the Congress. With some social engineering among the SCs and STs, BJP has built up a vote share of 40 to 45% on its own. It doesn’t really need allies, unless it is to deny them to the Congress. Maharashtra is an exception to this rule.

So, BJP is not too bothered about competition from regional parties, and is happy to encourage them to marginalise the Congress. As long as BJP can contain the Congress vote to 20%, it has nothing to worry about. Which is why BJP keeps the Congress permanently under fire.

As a part of this containment strategy, it aggressively targets the family, particularly Rahul Gandhi. It knows only the Congress can significantly shatter its hegemony; if it goes from 20% to 25% of the votes; or if it effectively combines its vote base with that of regional players. So, for BJP, Congress is the only threat to its pan India hegemony.

RSS/BJP are also determined to skew the democratic playing field in their own favour through a variety of devices. The chief weapon is the anonymous Electoral Bonds, but not the only one. This has been combined with RSS Governors in states, packing the Election Commission, selective application of the law, and beyond the pale communal polarisation of the polity.

Given this BJP strategy, what should Congress do? Congress’s vote bases have changed significantly over the years. But with a carefully calibrated strategy, it can still build a core of 30% of votes by combining SC/STs with minority communities like Muslims, who by now know their very lebensraum is being shrunk by the RSS/BJP hegemony.

So, the core of 20% SC/STs + 10% Muslims/ minority puts Congress already at 30% of the vote against BJP’s 40%. Of course, for this to happen, Congress will have to carefully tell its base that come what may, it will safeguard their core interests. Once Congress has finetuned its strategy for 30% of the votes, its bargaining position vis-a-vis regional players becomes much better.

Things will need deft handling in places where it is in direct competition for the base with regional players like Mayawati in UP.

Here it must carefully choose a dual strategy; but without giving up its base to any regional partner.

How can this strategy be implemented in UP; the most complex, contested and the immediate battleground?

The Congress core target voter base should remain the same: Dalits plus Muslims, who constitute some 30% of the votes. Congress has to compete with Mayawati for 20% of the Dalit votes. It should not compromise. It must woo the Dalit votes aggressively, unmindful of Mayawati. At some point an adjustment will be necessary with Mayawati, in certain seats, large or small in number. It should make the adjustments seat by seat. This will help sharpen Congress’ appeal.

Quite obviously, contesting and splitting votes with Mayawati will hurt the Congress and the opposition. Here Congress must recognise that it has always shunned the middle castes, and it is they who have defeated the Congress. These castes will not return to Congress on their own.

So, to stay in the game, Congress must ally openly with those who command their vote. The Samajwadi Party for instance. This doesn’t mean shifting loyalties. It is a tactical alliance, indeed even strategic, given that it will take time to create its core. And Congress must concede dominance to SP wherever it can win. The additionality of votes such an alliance brings to both, will to some extent offset the loss that direct competition with Mayawati will entail.

The Congress must recognise that its old Brahmin/Savarna base has vaporised and shifted to the BJP. These people are smart, opportunistic, and with no loyalty to anybody but themselves. So long as BJP is seen as the winner, they will remain with BJP. The day balance of power shifts, they will shift too. There is therefore no point in wooing this base. It should instead concentrate on its core of Dalits and Muslims.

Politics is now largely about who we are. Economics has taken a back seat. Nevertheless, the pandemic has wrought humongous change. 75 million have been added to the ranks of the poor; some 30 million have lost jobs; and labour participation has shrunk to 45%. More people are jobless than those with jobs. There is much latent misery waiting to explode as household savings are exhausted.

So, by focusing on the economy, particularly on the jobs front and the young jobless, Congress can make a bid for 5% to 10% of the vote of young people distressed by the economy. The strategy should be put to work immediately in UP

The Congress leadership must recognise that all sections of the party need to hear a clearly articulated strategy for coming back to power eventually. There has been no such communication to the rank and file for long.

The challenge to leadership from the old guard basically reflects a failure to communicate strategy. It is not that the old guard or G-23 can look forward to great political career elsewhere. Hence much of the dissent will melt away if leadership has clear plans, with reasonable chance of success, and communicates them effectively to the ranks.

That is the minimum due. So rather than treat dissent as a challenge, treat it as an opportunity to clarify and formulate strategy.

In any other world, given BJP’s dysfunctio-nal politics, this would be a government ready to be sent home come next election. Even demagoguery and propaganda factories have limited efficacy in the face of hard facts of life like poverty and destitution, that now stares in the face of some 30% of the rural and urban folk. So, bouncing back isn’t a problem provided you have a credible plan.

The introduction of Charanjit Singh Channi, Jignesh Mevani and Kanhaiya Kumar are good first steps. But they must come wrapped in a credible plan.

(The writer is an independent commentator. Views are personal)

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Published: 08 Oct 2021, 4:00 PM