Lessons BJP must learn for 2019 Lok Sabha polls

   By M D Deshpande

After the BJP’s ‘unexpected’ loss in bypolls in Phulpur and Gorakhpur Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh due to an alliance between SP and the BSP, all talk turned to the 2019 Lok Sabha. This piece will give many reasons why BJP ‘may’ (not ‘will’) lose 2019 Lok Sabha elections, if its national leadership does not learn the necessary lessons.

Good performance by a government does not result in automatic gain of votes. At the most, lack of performance may result in defeat, as happened to Digvijay Singh in Madhya Pradesh in December 2003. Election results are on the basis of multiple factors such as-

1.  Caste equations

2.  Anti-incumbency at the MLA/MP level

3.  Anti-incumbency at the state/central government level

4.  Chief Minister/Prime Minister’s popularity

5.  Regional preferences

6.  Extent of party factionalism

7.  Extent of opposition unity

8.  Choice of candidates

BJP has a habit of giving wrong tickets. Let us take the case of Nagpur Lok Sabha seat in the 2004 polls. The BJP gave the ticket to a rank outsider Atal Bahadur Singh who had been a Lohiaite all his life & had his Lok Manch. BJP, RSS men resented his candidature when there were many proper leaders in BJP who could have been given ticket, and he lost by nearly 1 lakh votes, and was not seen with BJP ever since. Even in 2009, a similar mistake was done when the present Governor of Tamil Nadu, Banwarilal Purohit was given the ticket in Feb 2009, the day he joined the party, which he should have joined at least an year back. Purohit was always sympathetic to the RSS cause, but not a member of BJP. He lost by a relatively small margin of 25 thousand votes. No lesson from 2004 was learnt by BJP, that Purohit should have been asked to join the party at least one year before 2009.

As Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi made blunders in ticket allocation in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls which resulted in BJP winning only 15 seats out of 26 in Gujarat, despite the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate L K Advani contesting from Gujarat. All 4 sitting MPs who were re-nominated won, despite Modi’s objections against some of them, while ‘new faces’ put by him lost in Patan, Porbandar, Rajkot, Dahod and Surendranagar. All three Congress defectors fielded by the BJP in Patan, Surendranagar and Dahod were defeated, the BJP workers did not accept the Congressmen being given tickets at the last moment, when there were many in the BJP who could have won these seats for the party.

A similar mistake was made in giving the ticket in Barmer Lok Sabha seat in Rajasthan in 2014. Jaswant Singh was denied a ticket and he contested as an Independent and got 4.01 lakh votes and came 2nd behind the winner Sona Ram of the BJP who got 4.87 lakh votes. The Congress candidate got only 2.20 lakh votes. If Jaswant Singh could get 4 lakh votes as an Independent in a Lok Sabha seat, how many would he have got as a BJP candidate? He certainly would have won the seat easily for the BJP. Even assuming that there was some reason for denying him a ticket, the BJP’s choice of giving the ticket to Congress defector Sona Ram was totally wrong. He was a Congress MP from the same seat 3 times in the past, and instead of him, the ticket could have been given to Jaswant Singh or to a dedicated BJP leader. In 2014, the BJP managed to win this seat, but the mistake can be seen clearly.

In 2014, in many states the people voted for the BJP as they wanted to see Modi become Prime Minister and not necessarily because they liked the local BJP candidate. This was because people wanted a change at the Centre desperately. In 2019, there is no reason to think that this will happen again as people will consider many things such as local issues and the local candidate’s stature before voting for a local candidate. When there is no wave or a desperate want for change from a corrupt government, it will be difficult for any national leader to wield influence among local voters. Hence the BJP needs to be aware that though some unpopular candidates may have won in 2014, they may not win in 2019.

The media often specializes in hit jobs against the BJP and the Sangh Parivar. It lied about the statement of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat on reservations & reported as if he had opposed reservations. The same was also done about the ‘Rs 15 lakh free deposit in everyone’s account’ promise by Modi, whereas he had made no such promise. See video and read this article. There were many reasons for the BJP’s big Delhi defeat in Feb 2015, but one major reason was the lie that the suit of the Prime Minister cost Rs 10 lakh. The truth of the suit was given by The Times of India here.

Stitching cost of the suit was only rupees 7000. Times of India gave the cost of the suit as rupees 10,000 and apologized for propagating a lie. People like Lalu Yadav, Rahul Gandhi, AAP leaders like Kejriwal, Raghav Chaddha, Ashutosh, keep on repeating this lie like Goebbels. Check out this quiet clarification by TOI at the end.

But the BJP had no ability to counter the lies on the cost of that suit (the lies were repeated even in October 2015 in Bihar Assembly polls by Rahul Gandhi), nor the lies on what RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat really said on reservations. He fully supported reservations in that interview to Organiser, nowhere had he opposed them.

Lalu Yadav milked this issue to the fullest by lying in rallies in Bihar “RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has demanded end of reservation” since he had nothing to offer on governance or any other issue. At that time in October 2015 there was a need for the RSS to move PCI (Press Council of India), and the courts and get an order from the courts to order media to report the truth for twice the duration as lies, and to restrain Lalu from lying in Bihar. Perhaps due to overconfidence of BJP from opinion polls predicting a win in Bihar or due to any other reason, neither BJP nor RSS complained to PCI or Election Commission nor moved the courts, and allowed the media & Lalu to lie, and BJP lost the polls badly. RSS has always supported reservation in the past and also in this Interview. Link for a statement of September 2014, much before the Bihar polls when RSS chief supported reservations.

Even before the 2017 Uttar Pradesh polls, some TV channels had reported RSS publicity-in-charge Manmohan Vaidya as saying that ‘Reservations should end’ when he had opposed religion-based reservation for Muslims, not caste-based reservations. Such hit jobs will increase before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, and there is little to suggest that the BJP will be able to counter them, or even understand the need to counter them.

PM Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah cannot be insulated from the blame for the BJP’s debacle in Delhi Assembly polls in Feb 2015 either. The BJP was at an all-time high in Delhi in May 2014 when it won all 7 Lok Sabha seats. The AAP was desperate to form a government again with Congress support, it wrote to LG on 20 May 2014 & asked him not to dissolve the Assembly. Then in July 2014 Arvind Kejriwal was trying horse-trading to break the Congress MLAs and form a Government with their support, and was caught on tape. At that time, the Delhi Assembly should have been dissolved as soon as possible in May 2014, and fresh elections held with Harsh Vardhan being projected as the party’s CM face, and the BJP would have got an easy win. But, the BJP delayed dissolution of the house, gave AAP enough time to regroup, and committed blunder after blunder, faux pas after faux pas to get a deserved rout in Feb 2015. Narendra Modi and Amit Shah did not speak at all on the subject of early dissolution of Delhi Assembly in 2014. There is no reason why they will not commit such blunders even in 2019, if they have not realized the mistake of 2014. The reason for not dissolving Delhi Assembly early in 2014 could only have been pressure from Delhi BJP MLAs who may not have wanted elections, but Modi & Shah should have overruled that.

The Prime Minister also committed another blunder in Uttarakhand in 2016. The BJP should never have tried to form government there when 9 Congress MLAs revolted against the Congress Government. There were 28 BJP MLAs out of 70 and 42 MLAs supporting the Congress before the crisis. Even after 9 Congress MLAs became rebels and supported the BJP, the Congress Government had a majority with 33 out of 61 MLAs supporting it, since the 9 MLAs would be disqualified under the anti-defection law. The BJP should not have tried to form the government there, but not only did it try, President’s Rule was imposed on 27 March, just 1 day before the Congress Government had to prove its majority on the Floor of the House on 28 March (which it should have been allowed to do). President’s Rule may have been technically justifiable, but should certainly not have been imposed 1 day before the floor test. In the Cabinet meeting on 27 March, Union Ministers Sushma Swaraj and Rajnath Singh were reportedly against imposition of President’s Rule, but Modi reportedly succumbed to Arun Jaitley’s insistence of imposing it, which proved an embarrassment for the BJP.

With TDP pulling out of NDA and Shiv Sena already making it clear that it will contest the elections alone, the BJP’s allies are also reducing in number. It will be quite a task to cross 272 seats even with the NDA allies (only JD-U, SAD and LJP counting as major allies), let alone on its own, for the BJP in 2019.