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Karnataka Elections 2013 - Lessons for BJP

The Karnataka elections episode offers valuable lessons for BJP. It’s a now or never for BJP to recover its confidence and give a spirited performance in 2014.

Below-mentioned are few observations of mine & constructive criticism of BJP's approach written partly in open-letter format.

  • Encourage Internal democracy
The larger point of removing Yeddyurappa wasn’t whether it was a wise decision or not. The real question is more basic: WHO removed Yeddyurappa? Was it the decision taken by Karnataka BJP Unit or was it imposed by its Delhi High Command? From what we understand, the Delhi High Command unilaterally took the decision without consulting the state unit.

Thus, it was its Delhi based leaders, some of whom cannot even win an election on their own, who decided to throw out a genuinely elected leader responsible for overthrowing decades-long Congress rule. BJP should understand that unlike Congress, where dynasty acts as binding glue for divisive forces, it cannot function in this high-handed manner. Technically, if it’s against dynastic politics, it should allow home-grown leaders a greater say in the party affairs than aged veterans who although once relevant are no longer connected with the masses and ground-realities.

In future, the proposal of Modi as PM candidate may not gain universal acceptance. So how’re you going to resolve that? If you presume that your Delhi based leadership is omniscient enough to decide all, you’re going to repeat a Karnataka - 2013. Instead, initiate internal elections and resolve leadership issue through internal democracy. Let your grass-root workers who sacrifice much for you, have stake in your party decisions.

  • Improve Media Relations
If you would have bothered to notice, mainstream media in India is compromised to a considerable extent. Some media corps function like extended PR agents of Congress. While some are pure opportunists, others have deep ideological differences with you (left-leaning media). No matter what you do, you’ll remain an object of criticism. Ok, some instances to drive this point.

  • Why was Nitin Gadkari harassed for so long on cases of corruption which were barely similar in scope as the UPA-II scams?
  • Would the media’s offensive against Yeddyurappa been of the same intensity had he been a Congressman? Has not BJP in the process of satiating media actually handed out Karnataka to Congress on platter?
  • Why does media focus on corruption charges against an opposition party when the governing alliance faces charges of corruption of an incomparably huge scale?
  • Why the staggering loot of AP under YSR hardly found coverage in national media?
  • Why are Modi’s speeches, which generally have good substance, analysed microscopically to find avenues of criticism? Why a lacklustre speech-performance by Rahul Gandhi receives positive coverage?

BJP must realize that English-media in India is generally left-leaning and has ideological problems with the very existence of the party. That’s their prerogative. But by seeking approval from media on your secular credentials you’re actually playing by the rules set by your opponent. If the debate is framed this way, you’ll never gain the upper hand in the narrative.

Remember, when you first rose to power post-Ramjanmabhoomi movement, you did so by gaining control on the intellectual narrative - however short-lived. You did so by refusing to play by media’s rules and instead cornered them by setting the tone of the debate first.

You make a fool of yourself by attending debates in channels hostile to you, because you are actually providing them credibility. Since you were given an opportunity to defend your stand, they proclaim this reflects well on their neutrality. If you cannot help appearing on their channels, atleast invest in establishing your own media-channels that allow your version to be fully and accurately represented. By allowing those openly critical of you to define you, you’re heavily losing out the battle of perceptions. Do what YSR did to blunt Eenadu’s attack - launch a Sakshi that would allow your version to reach public.

  • Hindutva’s past. Now?
BJP should realize that Hindutva doesn’t possess the same appeal it had two decades earlier. The nation has moved on, and so should BJP. Many anti-Congress votes do not convert into pro-BJP votes. Why? Sizable sections of Indian youth (now the demographic majority) want jobs, business-friendly environment, and corruption-free bureaucracy among others. BJP doesn’t articulate its positions on these and doesn’t provide a healthy alternative vision to the Nehruvian Socialist trap that we are in.

Infact, some BJP people are in favour of socialist economy and sometimes argue for ridiculously romantic concepts such as swadeshi goods, no-MNC policy. BJP must realize that Hindus traditionally were fantastic traders across ages and that we can deal with international competition with cutting edge technology if given the right atmosphere. It should put an end to these Gandhian economic ideals and dash forward to modern economy. Hindus were traditionally entrepreneurial before Nehruvian socialism changed the situation.

Do not talk of inclusive governance, socialist justice, reservations, schemes for minority etc. at all. Do not fight Congress on the battle-lines favourable to them. You can’t compete with Congress using its patent methods.

Instead, focus your energies in projecting an idea of developed India and your proposals to achieve them. Take the battle away from the divisive votebank politics exploited to hilt by Congress and bring the issues of development in. That’s where you scored well in past - NDA’s legacy is that of fastest growth-period in India.

You lost your once in a lifetime opportunity to decimate Congress permanently, not because you were too Hindu, but because you were not Hindu enough. Once you tasted power, people saw through your hypocrisy as you backtracked on your promises including Ram Mandir and tried to appease minorities again much like Congress.

Do not become a Team B of Congress.

  • Make Way for Modi
Do not let woolly intellectuals based in BJP Delhi High Command, dictate terms on election-hardened leaders. Your party owes its existence to those who fight on the election battlefield, respect them. Respect the overwhelming and ever-exploding support base for Modi and project him as your PM Candidate.

Do not listen to those who claim that this will wean away minorities from BJP. Muslims have traditionally never voted for BJP and this has almost nothing to do with Modi. They most probably didn’t vote for Vajpayee either. Christian votes are possible to gain through good governance as exemplified by BJP’s Goa experience.

People would want to us to believe that Modi is a divisive figure. I liked what Tony Blair said of similar accusation against Margaret Thatcher - "If you take decisions you are bound to divide”. Modi is a divisive figure, because his success threatens the status-quo and its beneficiaries. If election verdicts are decided on basis of development, instead of votebank politics, corruption will no longer be overlooked in lieu of castiest and religious considerations but would rather be punished electorally hereafter.

The contrast between Modi, a chaiwala who rose to become the CM of Gujarat with an impeccable record of corruption-free governance and fastest economic growth sits appreciably well against a regime controlled by a dynasty which created new heights in corruption and under whose tenure the India Success Story was pushed back by decades.

By projecting Modi as PM candidate, you attract a sizable section of undecided voters and consolidate your position that could yields results in 2019 if not in 2014. Otherwise, you pretty much risk your very existence. 


  1. well written, covered the point that BJP should rework its marketing strategy - segmentation, targeting, positioning :)


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