Party with a difference to party with indifference?
The 2019 Assembly verdict has given the BJP strong lessons in deciding poll planks, treatment to be meted out to party loyalists and allies, the Opposition's and voters' diverse views
The BJP's clarion call for 'Shatpratishat Bhajapa' (absolute BJP) has gone off target. Firstly, the claim, when consistently made, appeared tall. Yet the party leadership didn't mind pursuing it till it realised the hyperbole. But, it was too late to reverse the undoing. The BJP's indifference to certain issues created most of the fault lines that a seasoned opponent like Sharad Pawar used for his party's benefit, while a subdued Congress grabbed the much-needed leverage that Pawar provided. The BJP's ally Shiv Sena reduced its strength but landed itself in a position that the BJP had never expected. The drama of bargaining will continue until the saffron allies reach an agreement on sharing power. They cannot afford to stall forming a government that a collective mandate demands be run amicably for the welfare of the people or perish.
BJP's flawed homework
It now emerges that the BJP's homework was flawed way beyond local equations. The internal surveys – the state's, central unit's and the party's national president's own – created more blunders than expected in distributing tickets between turncoats and BJP's internal competitors, who had worked hard on cultivating their constituencies.
The problems were compounded because of a pre-poll alliance with Sena, due to which prospective candidates couldn't contest on a party ticket. It has been proved beyond a doubt how the BJP suffered by dropping prospective candidates for other favourites, be it from within the BJP or turncoats. A model in districts like Yavatmal where the party saved face by defeating rebels could not be replicated elsewhere. Not all defectors were elected and the winners such as Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil couldn't influence their own to vote for the alliance.
The Sena camp was no different but the severity of its rebellion was lesser. When we see the larger picture, it appears that the Sena lost to BJP's pitting of rebels against its candidate. The winners among their rebels are a clincher for the BJP. However, that does not erase the sentiment that deserving people were denied candidature when the odds were in their favour. The voters defied the BJP leadership's assumption that a Midas touch that they claimed to have earned through the landslide Lok Sabha victory, thanks to the Modi charisma, would make any Tom, Dick and Harry a winner. The Sena's projections were as unrealistic as its ally's.
BJP's dramatic ticket distribution was never taken as a precursor to a fractured mandate. Hopes flew higher on a flight of hype that went vertical every passing night before the polling day. The BJP sensed a crash-landing in its fiefdom Vidarbha and the parts where Pawar could garner sympathy at much later stages. Tickets in Vidarbha, particularly in the eastern region, were finalised considering a collective influence of CM Devendra Fadnavis, veteran union minister Nitin Gadkari and neo-powerful energy minister Chandrashekhar Bawankule.
But the humiliation Bawankule faced when dropped from Kamptee near Nagpur changed the social balance against the BJP. The Teli community had sounded a warning bell even when there was a move to replace its representative in the Lok Sabha polls from Wardha, Ramdas Tadas.
The MP was fielded again after the furore and won handsomely. The community took Bawankule's ouster as an unpardonable insult and used its mammoth strength to topple the BJP in at least 10 segments, including Kamptee where the sitting minister's replacement had come from the community. The Teli outburst forced BJP's national leadership, which had denied Bawankule and his wife a ticket, to give Bawankule due importance. The damage could be repaired only by inducting Bawankule in the cabinet. Party insiders said that the high command's decision of dislodging the minister was ill-informed. The state leadership couldn't do much to change the high command's mind.
Who PawarED agency?
The biggest strategic mistake BJP committed was bringing Pawar under the Enforcement Directorate investigations. The realisation of the goof-up was reflected in the speeches the party's national leadership made in the later stages of the poll campaign. These speeches did not feature Pawar-bashing. But by that time, the NCP boss had fanned the anti-BJP sentiment so powerfully that no other force could have repelled it. A significant number of Maratha votes that went in Modi's favour in the Lok Sabha earlier this year diverted to the ageing leader, who of late had fallen out of the Maratha's favour in view of the reservation demand. Earlier, the BJP and Sena collectively encouraged defections of NCP leaders, giving the Pawar-led opposition to create an impression that the ruling parties had used the fear of punitive action. The voters accepted the poll plank which was later cemented by ED's action in a Pawar-related case. This development's influence was threatened by Ajit Pawar's resignation over NCP's internal politics, but the uncle ensured that the nephew was cooled down, given a freehand and drawn into the mainstream contest against the BJP. The rest is in the unforgettable pages of Maharashtra's political history.
The 2019 Assembly verdict has given BJP strong lessons in deciding poll planks, treatment to be meted out to the party loyalists and allies, the opposition's and the voters' diverse views.
The BJP needs to factor in the Maharashtra and Haryana poll results while planning elections in other states. The Modi-propelled nationalistic agenda alone won't work.
Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore Send your feedback to email@example.com
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Maharashtra political drama moves to Supreme Court