In the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections, the Congress and its leader Rahul Gandhi have repeatedly raised the issue of unemployment and accused the Narendra Modi government of failing to provide jobs.
One would normally expect the BJP to counter it by reading out a long list of economic achievements of the Modi government in the last five years.
But the BJP has chosen not to do that. Its election strategy team knows well that showcasing ‘good economics’ hardly translates into more votes.
So, what went wrong for the BJP in 2004?
The BJP’s campaign managers, in their bid to showcase a ‘Shining India’, did not talk about basic bread-and-butter issues that mattered to each and every voter. In contrast, the Congress’ 2004 campaign around ‘aam aadmi’ brought the party to power.
At a state-level, regional parties saw a similar pattern. Jayalalithaa-led AIADMK, an NDA partner, suffered a defeat in 2004 despite Tamil Nadu emerging as an automobile manufacturing hub during that period. Chandrababu Naidu-led TDP lost the election in an undivided Andhra Pradesh even as Hyderabad emerged as the IT destination of India.
Therefore, macroeconomic decisions, disruptive or otherwise, may be good for economic course-correction but possibly lead to little electoral benefits.
That’s why in 2019, the focus of the BJP campaign is not showcasing the GDP numbers or boasting about macroeconomic fundamentals.
It is rather projecting people’s schemes, like Ujjwala or Mudra, and telling voters about the significant changes the Modi government has brought in their everyday lives.
The BJP’s campaign managers know that elections are all about influencing voters, in urban and rural areas, and winning seats. At a recent election rally in Gondia, Maharashtra, Prime Minister Narendra Modi talked about doubling farmers’ income and ensuring affordable housing to all.
National security plank
Besides government schemes, Narendra Modi’s handling of the national security issue is also a key feature of the BJP election campaign.
The idea is to tell the voters that only a decisive and strong leadership can effectively counter any threat to national security. So, BJP president Amit Shah at a rally in Udhampur, Jammu and Kashmir, said that no one can “dilute AFSPA” and the BJP would stand “like a rock behind security forces who are protecting our borders”. Shah also had words of warning for Pakistan.
But the BJP poll strategists are not harping on the theme of “desh ki suraksha khatarey me (national security in danger)”. That’s because national security is not the only issue that influences voting behaviour in favour of a party.
In the wake of the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai, the BJP had extensively focused on national security in its election campaign in 2009. But the Congress-led UPA registered an impressive win in the Lok Sabha elections and formed the government.
The losses in 2004 and 2009 have held out important lessons for the BJP’s campaign managers. Those expecting Narendra Modi to counter Rahul Gandhi’s claims about job losses may be left disappointed.
But, do expect the BJP leaders to stress on women’s security, pension schemes, and farmer income support in the election rallies.
The BJP’s election campaign strategy, so far, seems to be on the right track. The party is waging the perception battle deftly. But voters’ preference remains as unpredictable as mountain weather.
The author is the former editor of ‘Organiser’.