BJP's Strategy

BJP is on a bull run and the confidence can be seen in all moves being made by the party, across states. Its new found confidence is now driving the Amit Shah-Narendra Modi to embark on an ambitious path to establish BJP as a truly national party with a national agenda and having a national footprint.

BJP has never had it so good and now wants to continue consolidation of this positive sentiment by making inroads into states where they have very little to no presence. The assembly election results of Haryana and Maharashtra, where its strategy to go to polls alone, has worked in the party’s favour and now the party is driving home a message to the nation that it is serious about establishing its national presence.

RSS is back

Even the RSS that was forced to remain in the shadows through the decades post-independence, now sees an opportunity to make its ideology relevant, riding on the Modi wave. What was restricted to tacit advice and support over the years, is now emerging from the shadows as a pro-active guiding partner.

The organisational support given by the RSS to BJP in Maharashtra is evident from the results, especially in the Vidarbha region. Devendra Fadnavis, a loyal ex-RSS follower, is now the Chief Minister and the RSS sees this as the best chance to extend its influence to a wider region.

The BJP needs to be clear on its strategy to make inroads into various states of India, as each has its own set of issues and political interplay. The decimation of the Indian National Congress has left a political void, which played the secular card and kept the Muslims and backward classes, on its side. The strategy lost its sheen over time, as regional parties took over local issues and changed the political dynamics that traditionally worked for INC for decades. With Congress in political wilderness, it’s now up to the BJP to step into this opportunity and consolidate its presence in states where it has very little influence.

The dilemma before the BJP is either to step into the space left by the Congress by presenting a moderate and secular agenda and taking an inclusive approach in developing the Muslim community at the state level, along with other regional backward classes or continue to develop the non-Muslim pro-Hindu votes, with RSS support. If BJP takes up the latter strategy, it could lose the Muslim voter support, while not necessarily increasing the Hindu voter base.

Will polarisation work?

From all accounts, BJP seems to be following an anti-Muslim appeasement strategy and continuing to develop its pro-Hindu approach to the voters. In Assam, where the BJP won 7 out of 14 Lok Sabha seats this year, the focus for the party was to highlight the illegal immigration from Bangladesh into Assam and the changing demographics in the state. The party tried to polarise the voters by making ‘love jihad’ controversy a poll issue, as also Congress’s Muslim appeasement policy.

The results show that the strategy seems to have worked in Assam but the party must take a serious look at whether this policy of polarisation is sustainable over time and whether it will work across the country.

The Lok Sabha election results show that the voter has voted for the BJP mainly on two accounts; Narendra Modi’s persona as a better alternate to what the UPA offered and ‘development’. Both these together, worked for the party and if BJP wants to make serious and sustainable inroads into regional party strongholds, it is imperative for the party to continue to focus on ‘development’ as a national agenda and also present a ‘secular’ and ‘moderate’ face to the nation.

Hindu resilience

The Hindus of India may seem to vote for Hindutva in some cases however, the average Hindu voter across the country is essentially secular, moderate and more accommodating than we tend to recognise. The very fact that India through centuries, has been able to absorb so many diverse religions and cultures into its fold and still continue to hold onto its heritage and identity, is being missed out by BJP, which can easily usurp Congress’s platform of a secular party and give it a new face with ‘development’ as the core focus and benefit for all.

Were BJP to walk this strategy, the gains for the party could be significant and sustainable over the long term and will not allow the regional parties to gain ground in their own backyard using local issues.

Alternate approach

That said, the BJP is showing signs of taking alternate routes to polls rather than work on polarisation of voters on religious grounds. The strategy at the state level being explored, involves isolating voter segments from the local ruling party’s traditional stronghold and building on that platform against the local party in power. This seems to be BJP’s move in J&K, as well as Tamil Nadu, which goes to polls in 2016.

J&K: the next test

The J&K election is coming up in November this year and BJP is determined to make a significant impact this time around. Narendra Modi’s repeated visits to the state have been with an eye on these elections. The party has decided to focus on consolidating Hindu votes in the Jammu region, along with developing communities like the Gujjar and Bakkarwal.

In addition, the BJP is banking on weaning away the Shiite community, which has a strong presence in the Ladakh region. Another small but significant segment is the displaced Kashmiri Pandit, which the BJP is pushing to register and vote from wherever they are located.

The recent floods drained away any popular support that the ruling party had within the valley and with Congress already weakened, the top brass at BJP realizes it has its best chance to make its presence felt in the valley and J&K, as a whole.

Should the party manage to win significant number of seats, it will be interesting to see how they tackle the controversial Article 370 issue, which was one of the party’s main highlights, during the Lok Sabha polls.

Breaking the Southern bastion

On similar lines, the party is trying to break traditional grounds in Tamil Nadu. The state goes to vote in 2016 and with Jayalalithaa tied down with legal trouble, BJP has shown street smartness by trying to break the traditional Dravidian stranglehold in Tamil Nadu and develop an alternate plank, based on non-Dravidian focus.

Just as the BJP is developing the persona of Sardar Patel as an all India icon as opposed to the traditional Nehru-Gandhi clan, in Tamil Nadu, the BJP along with the RSS, has decided to use the 1000th anniversary of King Rajendra Chola’s accession to the throne, as an opportunity to develop the non-Dravidian vote bank. The celebrations will be through the year and present the BJP with sufficient opportunity to consolidate its presence there.

To further break the traditional hold, BJP has chosen an OBC to head the state unit. It’s a smart move but the BJP and the RSS will have its hands full in converting the local people, who have always showed fanatical loyalty to their traditional leader, ignoring all pending issues.

Only time will tell…..

The attempt to break down traditional vote banks politically in various states is better than trying to polarise voters on religious grounds. The coming time will show whether the BJP has truly evolved as a national party with a national agenda or remained a party that got caught within the web of its own strategy.