What if BJP Wins UP?

This week’s Outlook Cover Story is titled “What if he fails?” . In the cover photograph, a ‘young’ and smiling Rahul Gandhi (albeit with a receding hairline) is happily interacting with natives of  UP while his gorgeous sister looks on approvingly from behind (you may not be far off the mark if you construe it as back seat driving). The subtext is clear – what will happen to Rahul Gandhi and his carefully choreographed future if he fails in UP?

This interesting cover story set me thinking on the opposite theme – “What if BJP Wins in UP?”. What implications will it have on BJP and more importantly on its leadership debate. The context – now that is clear that Narendra Modi will not campaign in UP. Let us consider the two alternatives :

1. What if BJP Fails?

First let us define what will constitute a BJP failure. This is a relative question and in multiple scenarios BJP can be considered to have failed. For example – if it is clearly relegated to a humiliating  fourth position (20+ seats, even if Congress itself does badly at say 40+) , or is significantly below Congress ( as in Congress is 80+ while BJP is say 40+), or even if BJP does well (as in 90+ seats) but Congress wins a majority on its own. Put simply, BJP’s failure will be measured not only in context of its own numbers, but also relative to success of Congress. Why Congress? Because in the larger scheme of things at national level, only these two parties are in competition.

Now that we understand what a failure of the BJP in UP would look like, let us look at its consequences –

This election in UP has been a Nitin Gadkari show. All the way through. He has taken four decisions, all of which have his unmistakable imprint . First, he has defied not only Modi but also Advani in bringing back Sanjay Joshi. Despite visible public protestation by Modi, he has continued to have him.  Second, the induction of Uma Bharti despite reservations by MP unit cadre as well as local BJP leaders in UP. Third, the Kushwaha episode. And fourth, and perhaps the most important – a below the radar, low media hype election campaign.

If BJP fails through any of the scenarios outlined above, the hammer would surely fall on Gadkari. He will be blamed for faulty election strategy and for compromising BJP’s campaign against corruption through the Kushwaha episode. But most importantly – he will be blamed for antagonizing Modi, BJP’s biggest and only true mass leader, by being obdurate on Sanjay Joshi. If BJP fails, Gadkari can kiss his national ambitions goodbye.

At the national level, an already nasty media campaign against BJP will get even more vicious.. It’s presumed lack of leadership will be highlighted ad nauseam. Corruption will no longer be an issue, at least as per media.  All the gains that BJP had purportedly made against a gigantically corrupt and blundering Congress would plausibly be lost. Congress would be  on the upsurge. The moment of Prince would have arrived.

BJP supporters will obviously be dispirited. But in the defeat, the chant to bring Modi to national stage, by his die-hard supporters, will only get shriller. It will now become  the TRUTH that only Modi can take on the combined might of Congress and the establishment (read as complicit and compromised institutions). Modi will become the accepted future of BJP.

So in the short-term BJP’s failure in UP would seem disastrous but in the long-term…..?

2. What if BJP wins UP?

Let us understand what does a BJP win mean – one scenario is obviously getting an absolute majority or emerging as the single largest party. Remember, Nitin Gadkari has claimed that  BJP is  the dark horse of the race. Another scenario in which BJP could be considered a winner is if it does significantly better than Congress (say Congress is at 40+ seats while BJP is 100+). In this case, no government  in UP would be possible without BJP.  When the entire national media has written off BJP, this will be a major upset.

What will be the consequences of this win?

Nitin Gadkari will obviously arrive at the national level with new “weight”. Uma Bharti would script her comeback to BJP with a bang. But what else?

As argued above, Nitin Gadkari has taken four major decisions in this election. Two of these are particularly significant. One –   defying Modi on Sanjay Joshi and two – the below the media radar, door-to-door style election campaign. Look closely and these two might seem connected.

The bane of BJP in elections has been that even though it might have a committed support base but in the past Muslims have been voting en bloc against it. So unless BJP gets vote percentage share from the rest in the region nearing forties (as in Gujarat), this handicap always affects it in the first past the post system. A mid twenty percentage vote share, decent to make a good  enough  showing for other parties, is simply not good enough for BJP.

The two events that propelled Muslims to vote strategically against the BJP happened in 1992 (and thereby a decade of persistent voting to defeat  BJP) and in 2002 (starting another decade of strategic voting against BJP). Both these two events are now in history and well past their sell by date.

What can be a possible solution to this handicap – the Bihar model.  So what is  the Bihar model? In Bihar, the BJP in alliance with JD(U) did exceedingly well because they prevented the en block voting by Muslims. Sure Nitish as a low-key leader helped. But two other things happened in Bihar – one, it was a below the radar, door-to-door style campaigning (as is being tried in UP) and two, Modi did not campaign in Bihar (as again in UP).

The theory is – in present times of general disenchantment against Congress, Muslims would not vote en block against the BJP unless a high voltage election campaign shocks (and reminds) them into doing so. A below the radar, issue based election campaign (as tried in Bihar in 2011) would still get BJP it’s committed votes while preventing the Muslims from voting en mass against it. This does not mean the Muslims will start voting for BJP – but that they, like other any other community, would start voting based on individual preferences and not strategically with just one aim to defeat BJP. If this can be achieved, then BJP with its committed voters and additional floating voters who may vote for it depending on issues in that particular election,  can actually stage a win even with mid twenty  percentage votes.

Bihar was only a partial test of this thesis as it was being fought with JD(U) as lead partner and Nitish as face. UP will be true validation of this thesis as BJP is fighting alone.

So if  BJP wins UP – it will be two successive elections in North Indian Hindi belt (where the appeal of Modi is plausibly at the highest outside Gujarat) where BJP would have won without Modi.

In such a scenario will the logic not seem just that Modi is indeed a liability outside Gujarat, as the national media suggests? That outside Gujarat, BJP wins without Modi and not with him will become the common refrain. Some of this reportage, will no doubt, be inspired by BJP insiders who consider themselves to be in the leadership race.

Modi not only frightens those outside his party, but also some within his own. RSS is wary of him since he is his own man. Those leaders, whose only constituency is TV studios, obviously fear him, for his ascendency will mark and end to their ambitions. Some of this opposition  to Modi within BJP will be his own doing too, after he has refused to campaign in UP and thus has taken on almost everyone.

So all these diverse interests will coalesce into propagating this – a resurgent BJP is within sniffing distance of winning the national elections. It should grab that chance by projecting a moderate,  universally acceptable face as its national leader and not waste it by projecting a polarizing figure like Modi. Because after all it has been proved that BJP can win as important a state as UP without Modi, so why do they need him anyway? Chattisgarh and MP will be touted as additional proof, that low-key leadership works and the high voltage attention that Modi brings will do more harm than good to BJP.

So in the short-term, a win in UP will be euphoria for BJP but in the long-term……?

Put simply the scenario looks like this :

  • BJP fails in UP: Short term disaster for BJP but in the long-term, Modi as President of BJP by end 2012 (when Gadkari’s term ends)  and leading it in 2014.
  • BJP wins UP: Short term euphoria but in long-term various forces combining to keep Modi out from national stage. Someone else (Sushma / Jaitley / Gadkari) becomes the leader in 2014.

So what do you, the committed BJP supporter prefer? A BJP win or failure in UP?

And what do you, the non BJP supporter prefer? And yes, what do you, the centrist prefer?

Please vote on the accompanying poll.

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28 thoughts on “What if BJP Wins UP?

  1. A win is a win is a win.

    Factors other than UP elections will also dictate the future of BJP. A clean chit to Modi by the trial court, for example, will enhance Modi’s acceptability. The win in UP will signal the upcoming change in the center and influence the media to project BJP more favorably since they would like to remain on the right side of the next government to protect their business interests.

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  2. Rain says:

    Either way BJP wins. Modi is the face of good governance and will continue to do so. Many who vote for BJP now, are actually voting for Modi as PM. Think of it this way. There are large number of Nationalists in UP. Do not discount them.

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    • Akhilesh Mishra says:

      Brilliant quote. It has been used by maany in my Twitter stream. Just a thought – Brutus in the end “betrayed” Ceaser and ended up on the losing side 🙂

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  3. sUMIT says:

    Very Intresting situation. But if BJP get good numbers in UP but short of power & Congress is decimated. Modi cant be ignored for 5 big states coming up.incl in Gujarat,MP,Rajastan,Chattisgrah & Delhi , where Modi can be Ignored. Also I Dont think RSS will make Modi BJP leader either way.

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  4. Tushar says:

    Nice and intriguing… I will be watching the results more closely now in the backdrop of the implications that this article suggests. As a non-BJP supporter, I have voted for BJP’s loss, because if it does propel Modi to the center stage as predicted, the effect will not be beneficial for BJP in the long run either. I don’t foresee BJP ever coming to power in the Centre with Modi as it’s Prime Ministerial candidate. So, BJP loses in 2012…. and also in 2014. 🙂

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    • Akhilesh Mishra says:

      OK Tushar I get it. You are bewitched by the glam and beauty of Rahul’s sister and her dimples. I get the reason for your BJP hate 🙂

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      • Tushar says:

        I never said the I want Congress to win… just that I don’t want BJP to win. And the reasons for that are based more on ideological differences than on the personality of the party leaders. 🙂

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  5. low key affair to avoid muslims strategic voting to defeat bjp… nice thinking..
    but are muslims going to fall into this trap ? if so ,for how many times.. ? or is this ploy of not going overtly against muslims being used so that bjp gets atleast a bit of so called acceptability wrt sickular smaller state parties ?

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  6. syamukamath says:

    I think RSS supports Modi and for Modi to be in center a saffron UP is inevitable. Only akali dal and Sena or MNS may support Modi. The other key ally JD(U) would never support Modi. Secondly loss to come in Karnataka must be dealt, although both JDS and Congress aren’t good, karnataka bjp has been very poor. Great leader VS Acharya passed away.

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  7. Shailesh says:

    If BJP looses badly in UP , I don’t think they can win 2014(even modi won’t be able to help).If Congress does well in UP elections then nobody can stop UPA 3.0

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  8. kashyap Shah (@amdavadi) says:

    I would want BJP to win, frankly. Even though I am a hardcore Modi-supporter I believe that grass-root connection for BJP comes from its cadre and the RSS (& its affiliated institutions) – Modi can do well without them in Gujarat NOW because he has established and proven himself and people willingly vote for him.
    Outside Gujarat BJP needs its cadre as is evident in UP elections. Modi, outside Guajrat AT GRASSROOTS may not be as effective as we think (this I say with a risk of being bashed by twitterati 🙂 BUT I again say this..I am a hardcore Modi supporter)
    Modi has campaigned extensively during 2009 elections and there wasn’t much positive effect in areas he campaigned because of multiple reasons and may be most being out of his control so I wouldn’t stress on it.
    He HAS to prove outside Gujarat that he is a team player – he being seen as threat within the party is not a good sign as after all its an era of coalition and if you cannot convince your own party, buliding bridges with others is difficult.
    A win-win situation can ONLY be when BJP does well as a party AND accept a strong leader like Modi as its main leader, be it in the capacity of Party President or as PM candidate. I would in fact be happy to see him as a strong Home Minister too instead of just PM.
    Again I am saying this assuming that the reports about rift between Modi and party leadership is TRUE and if all this is not a part of a wider strategy.

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  9. Sunanda Vashisht says:

    Ok here are my two cents as I had promised, on your thought provoking piece..The thought that only if BJP loses in UP, or should we say gets 4th place irrespective of the seats it gets, will it lay the platform for Narendra Modi to arrive on centerstage troubles me. So does BJP need to be completely decimated for Modi to come and revive it with magic wand? First of all we need to get this clear. Modi is no magician. He is a hard working and an honest politician, but certainly has no magic wand. Without complete and whole hearted support from party, Modi can’t do much. A weakened BJP will affect his national prospects as well. So my ideal scenario is something you haven’t discussed. BJP gets the bronze in UP (roughtly 50 seats) ,it consolidates its position a little more. Modi handsomely wins his elections in Gujarat later this year and works his way up in the party hierarchy to reach the top spot as the PM contender.. Hopefully two years should be enough time for him to win over his detractors in party first and then elsewhere..

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  10. krishnarjun108 says:

    Interesting Post, I don’t agree that revival of Bjp fortunes in UP without modi’s involvement will undermine modi’s national standing and improve national standing of nitin gakari. If bjp performs well we have to see it in the context of anti-corruption and anti-congress mood in the country created by a series of scam exposures and the anti-corruption environment created by personalities like Ramdev, Hazare. Gadkari will definetely get credit for projecting right people like UMA and efficeint election management but that will not add weight to him as a national leader.
    The best scenario for Bjp is crossing 75 mark irrespective of congress performance, it will keep party alive for the next parliament battle, scoring below fifty inspite of all this mess will take Bjp into a sort of irrepairable mode in UP.
    Coming to narendra modi and sangh both are at a critical juncture, another defeat for Bjp will severely damage the goal of RSS, its cadre are already a frustrated lot given the loss of opportunity to make an impact when NDA was in power. It’s true RSS has extensive network with shakas,schools, allied organisations but still it’s no where close to influence a billion people only by its organisational strength. It needs a personality who can be an ambassador to its ideology with impeccable integirty,credibility and popularity across the country. Without credible leadership they can’t give the right message to country in the parliament elections irrespective of their sate level performance in UP & bihar. Here narendra modi scores over anyone in Bjp with his track record of ten years in gujarat. if rightly played Bjp can leverage a lot on Modi as leader and his performance. Undermining the poster boy of bjp will severely demoralize cadre besides exposing parochialism within sangh parivar leadership. Modi can add a lot of hope and extra energy to insipid and moribund bjp
    coming to narendra modi, he has to decide wether to restrict himself to gujarat or try for a national election. for that he needs to know his standing in the organisation, there is no point jumping into fray leaving gujarat without complete support from bjp and parivar. if reports are to believed and going by attempts to rehabitilitate scandal tainted sanjay joshi it’s clear that sangh fears his autonomy, without autonomy he can’t be like the modi we know and that would severely impact his standing in the org anisation as well as his ability to project himself nationally. so, again if reports are true he may be sending a message to Gadkari-parivar that he is happy in gujarat and they have all freedom to bring back bjp to power in centre by whatever means they feel appropriate. Modi won’t leave Gujarat unless he gets afreehand in the organiation at centre, that’s for sure.
    Some commentators commented that party is important that individual, true to certain extent but without credible individual leadership party can’t achieve much. the tragedy of Bjp/sangh parivar is so far except for modi it couldn’t provide a credible political leadership. Their lack of real leadership stock is the reason for their lacklustre performance and subsequent defeat during their earlier chance with power. If modi is not above party or ideology, the same applies to nitin gadkari and RSS bosses. nobody is above ideology and as long as modi shows commitment to ideology there is no reason why he shouldn’t have main say in the organisation with all his unmatchable accomplishments and leadership qualities.
    For more my post in CRI on why modi is the man

    http://centreright.in/2012/02/modi-is-the-man/

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  11. shreyas raj says:

    MISHRA JEE, you are poor at facts , there was an unavoidable en mass voting against NDA in bihar, despite of nitish. RJD got most of the seats in muslim dominated areas.

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