It is time for BJP to rethink its traditional approach and create a model for voter to feel that they will make a difference in their life if they give their vote.
Those who are running down BJP after recent Delhi elections need to acknowledge that the same polls that predicted a win for AAP in the Delhi elections also predicted if Lok Sabha elections are held today, BJP win will all the 7 seats in Delhi. Herein lies the answer to the debacle BJP facing in the State elections. To get a perspective, let us go through what an average voter is looking for in order of priority:
- Matters of Bread
- Matters of Heart
If a voter is living in a riot prone area where he/ she is under constant security threat to his/ her livelihood it is the safety and security that occupies the foremost importance. One may have a comfortable home or job but if one’s home can be attacked or burnt or there is a constant issue of security, no one wishes to live in such a location and that issue occupies a topmost space in the voter’s mind.
Depending on Narendra Modi to campaign without any groundwork of addressing issues of people at State level will not carry any credibility.
Once the security is taken care of, the voter naturally focusses on matters of bread which comprises the ability to find a job or make a living, ability to conduct day to day life without extra burden. Here comes matters of education, health as well as probity (i.e., lack of corruption) in the government both in day to day local interactions with officials and major corruptions issues at the national level.
Once those two are taken care of, there come matters of sentiment/ faith, respect for the religion and other related aspects such as correcting the injustices of the past and other such matters.
These are not necessarily compartmentalized and can be inter-related because those who are felt insecure due to their faith will also be challenged for their security and economic welfare. A voter who is constantly challenged with riots such as in some areas of UP before BJP came to power would have security as utmost priority whereas a voter who does not have challenges related of security in places like Delhi would switch to matters of Bread such as jobs, education and health issues. Where both are not overwhelmingly primary issues, such as in Andhra Pradesh, people are challenged with issues such as rampant religious conversions abetted by billions of dollars of FCRA funds pouring in.
The Indian voter has matured. Even a remote village voter seems to recognize the clear difference between central and state elections. People recognize that in matters of security such as terrorism, external aggression, the country is in good hands of Narendra Modi. They also recognize that central government oversees projects related to national infrastructure and other national initiatives. While they can see the clear improvement in the areas of security and infrastructure at national-level which are under the direct control of the center, other matters even if pioneered by the center, require states to do the last mile delivery and has a major say in their success. Central leadership under Narendra Modi has managed to bypass many layers in schemes such as in the case of toilets, cooking gas, direct transfer to citizen accounts etc., to be efficiently delivered to the voter but that is not always possible schemes related to education or health. Voters today can identify the improvements in an area due to the efforts of the Center or the State. The success of BJP in the center is the perception of the voter in the delivery of these by the central leadership under Narendra Modi. By the same token, the failure of BJP in States is also a perception of the voter that, the state BJP leadership is not better than their challengers in the delivery of issues which are under control of the State.
In election campaigns, voters will respond to those who would deliver on the concerns which occupy their minds the most. Campaigns are most effective when they ride on the promise and performance of the party. What delivered BJP stupendous success in 2014 in the center is the promise of Modi in addressing enormous security concerns and corruption at the national level by the previous UPA Government. What repeated the success in 2019 is its performance on many areas such as security, infrastructure and last-mile delivery in areas of toilets, cooking gas etc., What sealed Modi in the minds of voter is the direct connection that Modi has with his voters through many programs such as Mann ki Baat and many other such programs. It is visible to the voter.
But why the same does not repeat in the State elections? It is because Narendra Modi does not represent State leadership. Most BJP states have not created state leaders of such calibre except few. These states have not pioneered last-mile delivery or improved perceptibly of their citizens in matters of education, health, state infrastructure, etc. Depending on Narendra Modi to campaign without any groundwork of addressing issues of people at State level will not carry any credibility because now, voters can clearly distinguish between State and Central elections. Here I am not discounting the Break India forces polarizing the Indian voter and this needs to be accounted for with great vigilance but their success will be limited if voters’ issues are addressed.
While running a city like Delhi or small state Goa is vastly different from running a big state like UP, the issues of voters are not largely different.
If BJP wants to win further State Elections, it needs to create genuine State leaders who have both political and administrative skills. In those areas where BJP is in power, the State leader (Chief Minister) needs to emulate and even improve upon what is done at the central level by Narendra Modi at the State level. If there is a Narendra Modi app, why not a Yogi Adityanath App in UP to directly interact with State Citizens in Hindi. It is not clear if Yogi Ji is continuing to meet UP state citizens directly periodically, but such connects are very important. Narendra Modi is directly interacting with students, with chartered accountants, etc. The same can be done at the state level, where the CM directly meets teachers, health officials or police in the state and create centres for public grievances and a mechanism to address them. Each ministry should be guided by a set of proven, passionate and patriotic experts rather than being solely guided by bureaucrats. Each ministry should have a set of measurable objectives and independent monitoring of the success of those objectives (not by the same bureaucrats or their selected assignees).
In those areas where BJP is not in power, it needs to identify few potential members in each constituency and set up a system of giving a ticket to those who gain the most confidence of the population based on matters of importance in the minds of the constituents. It could be a well-known doctor serving the people or an activist speaking for the rights of the people. In West Bengal, it is the security that occupies most of the mind space of the people, whereas in Maharashtra it might be matters of the bread is a major concern on the minds of people. But the potential to making a perceptible difference in the minds of the voters is critical.
Besides this, what is sorely lacking in most political parties in India is the accountability of an elected member to his or her constituency. Apparently, there are some Lok Sabha constituencies where the elected member never stepped in that constituency until the following election. Each lawmaker must develop a set of objectives for his/her constituency and based on the feedback of his constituents set goals with measurable parameters and constantly keep in connection with his/her constituents. Today BJP is being voted to power in the center entirely based on Narendra Modi leadership, but it can sustain better if there is a process developed to ascertain accountability of each elected member to their constituency.
Then, there is the issue of bureaucracy. There is nothing that is stopping India to progress as China did, but for the stranglehold of bureaucracy on the country and the nexus between politician and bureaucrat which is suppressing the development. This plagues not just at the state level but also at the central level where the best of the schemes are watered down with little accountability on the last-mile delivery. Much of India’s potential is not tapped as can be seen from the stupendous success of Indian Americans that left the country. Its own history until invaders destroyed is testimony to that. The author had detailed discussions with a member of Khadi board at the central level which has a budget of 60 lac crores or more per year and how the money is siphoned off with little accountability. What is most tragic is that the same bureaucrat who oversees the delivery was asked to monitor the delivery and therefore the top central leadership has little clue on what was delivered. This is pervasive across the board in multiple central and state institutions. This could be easily improved tremendously by getting proven leaders of the society and community, who are not necessarily bureaucrats, to lead the institutions.
By nature, a bureaucrat is looking for his or her job security, a job to be done during fixed hours and then move on to his family whereas a passionate and proven leader will work for the nation, even with little remuneration. Even if a bureaucrat has great abilities, they are trained in their mind to be subservient to their masters and lack ability to bring in or push through innovating ideas to their pollical masters. During a recent talk Rajiv Malhotra, author of ‘Breaking India’, who is spending his own funds and working tirelessly to bring many issues plaguing India and its culture, spoke about the lack of adequate response from ICSSR (Indian Council of Social Science Research) to malicious social engineering of both foreign and internal Break India forces and how little it has to show for billions spent over the last few decades for their research. He also mentioned how China was able to do so successfully. Why not get such people to head institutions like ICSSR?
I believe the Indian electorate is maturing and asking for credible performance results from its political establishment. What people like Prashant Kishore are doing is not rocket science and it is not that BJP does not know, it simply must show will to implement the same at State level what was done at Central level. It should not shy away from learning from State level smaller parties whether it is TRS in Telangana or even AAP in Delhi. High decibel campaigns without persistent and perceptible difference over the long period in the lives of voter will not carry water. While running a city like Delhi or small state Goa is vastly different from running a big state like UP, the issues of voters are not largely different. It is time for BJP to rethink its traditional approach of top-down and only emotion-based issues to garner vote and create a model for the voter to feel that they will make a difference in their life if they give their vote. BJP should just follow what it did at Central level to the State level and maybe even improve upon it.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.