Election Politics – Congress & BJP

With Narendra Modi’s emphatic win in Gujarat and Virbhadra Singh’s win in Himachal Pradesh, the score is 1-1 to Congress and BJP. Is this the precursor to the coming elections. However though Modi won for the third time; Gujarat in 2002, BJP won 127 seats to Congress’ 51. In 2007, BJP won 117 to Congress’ 59 and in 2012, BJP won 115 to Congress’ 61 seats. Though BJP’s tally declined, Congress’ tally increased over the three elections. This is some consolation for the Congress. But for BJP, one has to take into account the Keshubhai Patel factor which did not impact much this election though it did eat away both BJP and Congress votes.

BJP’s supporters feel Narendra Modi’s hatrick in Gujarat qualifies him to be the BJP’s candidate for PM in the centre. There are six such CM’s serving at present, including Tarun Gogoi (Assam), Naveen Patnaik (Odisha), Okram Ibobi Singh (Manipur), Manik Sarkar (Tripura) and Sheila Dikshit (Delhi) hailing from different parties. What makes Narendra Modi special for BJP? Will he be accepted by the rank and file of the BJP in the centre and the states?

Can Gujarat be replicated in the other states. The answer is no. In Gujarat, he appeals to the urban class, who are fairly well-to-do. Congress has a support base in the rural areas of Gujarat. He is said to be autocratic in his policies and actions, and where personality politics hold sway and is very visible in the state. Here it is Narendra Modi all the way and no one else, not even the BJP central leaders. Many feel with this win, he will demand a major role in the national scene. But will he succeed? The answer is a cautious yes and no. He will be able to galvanise the fragmented BJP, appeal to the BJP voters in the urban areas. But with his style of functioning, he will rub many leaders the wrong way. So in the long run, he is bound to have friction with his BJP colleagues in the centre and leadership in states.

Virbhadra Singh’s win in Himachal Pradesh has a lesson for the Congress. If the reins are given to an experienced and influential state leader with a free hand to pick candidates and work out the election strategy, it works to the benefit of the party as the results show in Himachal. The Congress tradition has been to over-ride the state leadership and abide by the high command or the centre diktat. The same Virbhadra Singh was humiliated; he was shifted to the centre and shunted to various ministries. Ultimately a brain wave and a masterstroke of giving him responsibility to manage the election saved the Congress. Can this model be replicated in other states, the answer is yes and no. It depends on the size and demography of the state. But one thing is clear personality politics like Modi in Gujarat and Virbhadra Singh in Himachal Pradesh have proved that strong state leaders carry the party members along as they understand local conditions and state politics better than leaders at the centre who mainly depend on feedback of observers. But there is a tendency to brush away dissidents which could prove crucial at times in close fights.

There is no doubt with this win Narendra Modi is looking at Delhi and national politics. And if he is projected as the PM candidate, will all the allies accept him as the leader? Will the BJP win the 2014 general election? And if BJP does win and Narendra Modi is the leader of NDA and becomes the PM; will he be a good PM? The answer is no. Narendra Modi ruled Gujarat in an autocratic manner, brushing aside dissidents. As PM he will have to deal with the whims and fancies of the BJP allies with their own agendas, which he will find difficult to manage as he is used to imposing his ideas and policies on others. This might not work in coalition politics. And BJP too is not so sure. BJP leaders, including Venkaiah Naidu and Arun Jaitley said the party has not finalized a PM candidate for 2014 polls and the party has many capable candidates.

The immediate problem for BJP is Nitin Gadkari’s term ends this December. Will he get a second tem? If not, who will be the replacement as BJP party President. Will the Delhi Durbar and RSS rift escalate or declare truce. Will the section led by LK Advani who is presently is aloof, throw in his hat directly or through a proxy?

For Congress, the spate of reforms has rejuvenated the party at the centre. They will have to consolidate their position as the largest national party. And hope this rejuvenation percolates down to the state leadership which can translate into votes for Congress candidates. What does Gujarat win mean for BJP and Himachal Pradesh win mean for Congress, the two major national parties in the country? How they move on from here and consolidate their success, only time will tell.

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