With huge inroads in the Northeastern states, especially in Tripura the BJP seems to be winning all the preliminary rounds to the ultimate finale (General Elections in 2019). Despite all the commotion created by the Opposition it seems that the BJP is only rising in popularity and in fact expanding in territorial extent. It is now a pan India party no longer limited to the Hindi heartland.
On the other hand, if we were to go by the recent by polls in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, the BJP may have a cause of worry as it seems to be losing out some seat share in these two states which were squarely dominated by it in 2014 polls. While it had won all the 25 seats in Rajasthan, the BJP lost only two seats out of 29 in Madhya Pradesh. These were the most prolific States for the largest Indian party after UP and Bihar. Any substantial loss in these States in 2019 could have a major impact on the party’s fortunes.
In this Article, we analyse the major Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats for the BJP in 2019
“Modi v. Rahul” narrative:
Let us face it, one of the major reasons behind the massive mandate in a 2014 was a strong, natural leader put against a weak and reluctant politician in the form of Rahul Gandhi. Going into General Elections, voters’ mind will naturally be influenced as to the potential Prime Minister and not the regional issues. On this front, not much has changed in the last four years. When the country goes to polls next year the Indian National Congress and Rahul Gandhi won’t have much to show as far as the Party President’s efficiency and contribution post the 2014 polls is concerned. While Modi has transformed his image into a leader of international standing, Rahul still appears to be a clueless politician with constant and mysterious disappearances from the country further alienating him from the electorate’s mind. Moreover, Rahul Gandhi’s absence during crucial polls (his absence post the Northeast fiasco being a perfect example) has only worsened his image.
It is up to the BJP leadership to go into 2019 with the same narrative and compel the Congress into showcasing Rahul as its Prime Ministerial candidate.
The BJP inherited a fragile economy from the Manmohan (read: Sonia) Government. The BJP despite structural reforms like the Demonetization and the much-awaited Goods and Services Tax has managed to accelerate GDP growth to a healthy 7 per cent and above and sustain it over a period of time. It is only natural that unlike 2004 when the BJP failed to capitalize on the euphoria created by impressive economic growth under the then PM Vajpayee, this time around BJP must leave no stone unturned to showcase the policy paralysis of the UPA Government put against excellent recovery by the Modi led Government.
The Opposition parties, particularly the Congress have taken a catastrophic move of questioning the Army on Pakistan policy and unnecessarily criticizing the Modi Government for taking harsh steps to tackle Pakistan and Pakistan generated terrorism in Kashmir. The surgical strikes followed by unnecessary hustle bustle created by the Opposition or personal remarks passed on the current Chief of Army Staff, General Bipin Rawat being some of the examples. The BJP has a golden opportunity of appealing to the National sentiment of the electorate. BJP cannot afford to miss it. Therefore, greater stress must be laid on BJP’s intent to pursue blood and iron policy against Pakistan and the unjustified softness shown by Opposition towards Pakistan.
Winning and sustaining uncharted territories:
As discussed earlier, BJP might lose out on some of the seats where it has traditionally and also in 2014 won a Lion’s share. However, what the mainstream media and the Opposition has deliberately ignored is that BJP is also making quick progress in States where it had almost no presence. Tripura is just an example. BJP has already made huge gains in Odisha local polls in 2017. It has also improved its performance in Kerala elections. Moreover, the victory Northeast polls might have a spillover effect for the BJP. It is very much possible that when a state say, Bengal goes to elections the next time around, it is inspired by BJP’s acceptability in the neighbouring regions.
Even if BJP were to lose out in some of the States where it won heavily in 2014 on account of incumbency and local issues, it is very much possible for the National party to make up for the loss from other States where it had no presence in 2014. After all, all that BJP needs to do is maintain the numbers it had achieved in 2014. Even if it were to lose out 40-50 seats in some States it can always gain 40-50 in States where it has seen phenomenal rise post 2014.
This is one area that is going to bother BJP. Shiv Sena has not been much of a friend since 2014 and Shrimoni Akali Dal has always been giving the BJP some reasons to worry from lack of trust to diminishing presence in the state of Punjab. Chandrababu Naidu has also passed hints of discontent after the Budget was presented this February.
It is important that the BJP does not shock itself due to sudden departure of an ally before the elections. It must therefore, be ready to go alone even if there is loss of any major traditional ally. It has also gained new allies such as NDPP, allies in Meghalaya, etc. It is important for the BJP to retain them and to be on the same page in 2019 polls and afterwards also.
Frustrated Middle Class:
A general opinion has been formed that the budget was a letdown for middle class. There were massive rants and piles of frustration on Social media. In fact, for the first time on a large scale, India without Modi post 2019 was discussed with loud proclamations of not voting for BJP in future. Was it justified for people to feel short changed about not getting any Tax benefits? Considering that none was offered in this budget the answer is maybe. Does the budget warrant people to term the government as Anti Middle class? – Clearly No. But BJP will need to do a lot to change this perception.
Caste Wars are back:
The BJP might have scraped through in Gujarat but the Congress’s strong showing at the hustings proved that Caste continues to be as potent a force in the national political discourse as ever before. Congress strategists have realized that the road to power in New Delhi, leads through caste politics. If nothing else, the nation must brace itself for a more vicious clash of caste based identities across the country. If 2014 saw a consolidation of Hindu vote and a gentle effacing of caste identities, 2019 is going to be all about reinforcing caste identities and peddling false narratives to splinter the Pro-BJP Hindu vote, all to get Congress back to power.
A spoilsport third front:
The question of a powerful third front has almost been done away with Nitish Kumar coming back into the NDA fold. However, given the common resentment against BJP in certain quarters there could be some regional allies coming into play. Such alliances could create substantial damage in a closely fought contest. We have seen how such alliances can turn a contest on its head.
The BJP must be careful enough to create alliances where it is possible to do so and also keep its workers on guard against any such unholy alliances.
The BJP needs to show some killer instinct this time. Lack of ruthlessness and leniency were the major causes of its defeat in 2004 even after a fairly decent term by the then Prime Minister in face of a rainbow coalition. This time the BJP will have to be ruthless and make sure that nothing is taken for granted. The energy shown by Party President Amit Shah post the historic mandate in the Northeastern States is a welcome sign.
In the end, it may all boil down as to how much the BJP loses out in the BJP run states facing natural anti-incumbency and how much it has gained out of the States where it has started to show presence or has increased its presence.
A second term for PM Modi will automatically give him the license to follow his reformist policies more freely and it could officially be the last nail in the coffin for the oldest party of India, the Congress.