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This election loss has 10 lessons. BJP can choose to learn them or kiss 2019 goodbye

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To begin with, the BJP needs some humility and accept that it no longer has a Supreme Leader who can make lamp-posts win.

It is conventional wisdom that usually the loser learns from a defeat, rather than the winner in the heady high of victory. Here are 10, mostly rude, lessons for the BJP from this triple setback in the heartland.

  1. Its high command-style management of the party is now broken. For it to work, Narendra Modi has to have the ability to swing state elections by himself. He did so until Uttar Pradesh. His limitations first became evident in Karnataka, where the BJP came up short against an incumbent. The latest elections have exposed his limitations further. If you do not have one Supreme Leader capable of making lamp-posts win, you cannot have an all-powerful high command. You must devolve power.
  2. The dream of a Congress-mukt Bharat was a fantasy so ugly even the RSS had disowned it. It is now over. The Congress was reduced to 44 in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. But even in that rout, it had secured 10.7 crore votes against the BJP’s 17 crore. You cannot kill a party which still had 107 million adults voting for it in its worst rout in history. In the past year, the BJP has ended up with a Congress-yukt Gujarat and now a Congress-led Hindi heartland. The BJP cannot wish the Congress away.
  3. The BJP’s opponents, and more importantly even its allies, are getting over their fear of the “agencies”. First, the BJP has misused these too much and too crudely. The Congress too misused these in the past, but it had acquired the sophistication to be less in-your-eye. Most cases have been so bad, they’ve fallen by the wayside. The agencies punish their victims through leaks and plants. Nobody is afraid of bad publicity anymore, because people by and large do not believe it. Christian Michels can no longer give you an electoral advantage.
  4. The era of squashing the institutions is over. These results have come on top of the messy revolts in the Supreme Court, CBI and RBI. These have greatly dented the Modi government and the BJP’s image as a “hard” establishment that no one would dare mess with. No longer. The institutions have been losing their fear. These results will help wipe out any residue that survived.
  5. The fantasy of controlling both houses of Parliament by 2022, and thereby being able to make important changes to the Constitution and the system of governance, is now buried. In fact, given how wisely the founders have built the bicameral system for preventing majoritarian excess, it can be safely said now that no party can even in theory own both houses, whatever the result in 2019. So, everyone, including the mighty BJP under Modi and Shah, has to learn to negotiate, trade spaces.
  6. Indian voters aren’t about to start voting against Motilal and Jawaharlal Nehru, or Indira and Rajiv Gandhi in 2018-19. They are voting for or against you, not someone’s great grandparents. So, step out of the time machine. The war of 2019 will be fought in “these”, not “those” times.
  7. The BJP’s slogan is “mera desh badal raha hai” (my country is changing). It is probably true. But one thing that is not changing with the voter is her dislike of arrogance, inaccessibility, of leaders who talk down to them. Nor does she like abusive campaigning. That Shivraj Singh Chouhan has performed the best among all incumbents also underlined the power of non-threatening, accessible and humble leadership. It was a blunder to switch to vidhwa-Ali-Bajrangbali type of campaign metaphor when what had won you a splendid victory in 2014 was the positive promise of “vikas” and “achche din”.
  8. Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh are India’s most “Hindu” states among those where the BJP is in a straight fight with the Congress. What that means is, the Muslim vote in these is way less than even half of the national average. You might, therefore, be able to occasionally polarise a state like Uttar Pradesh with a large Muslim population, but people in predominantly Hindu ones won’t vote against the Muslims of UP, Kerala, Kashmir, Assam or Pakistan. Their concern is their own fate.
  9. In 2014, you had been able to use nationalism and economic optimism to reunite the Hindu vote chronically divided by caste. The half-life of that formulation ended some time back. Now, win allies among some crucial caste-based parties, concede space to them, or retrace your steps back closer to your core vote.
  10. And finally, stop treating Rahul Gandhi like a joke. This election is his coming of age as a political leader. He has put in the effort and commitment. Your criticism against him and his family is dynastic arrogance and “foreign-ness”. It worked as long as he looked aloof and kept disappearing while you were seen as true, desi sons of soil. The young Indian voter hates a sense of entitlement. By this campaign, however, the roles have reversed. Rahul has looked more humble, accessible, less entitled, and more positive.

Also read: BJP had 5 trump cards before this election, but that’s set to change now

How the BJP deals with these 10 lessons will determine the outcome of 2019. Once again, a loser usually learns more from a loss than the winner from a victory. To live up to this with some humility, or imperiously defy it—the choice is the BJP’s.

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  1. Mr.Shekhar Gupta is logical and merits consideration.

    B.J.P must develop local leaders and good speakers who should be able to demolish the lies of opposition. They must highlight achievements,do more for rural villagers and expose the old failures of Congress.
    Vote share is still good and hard work can get better results.

  2. “And finally, stop treating Rahul Gandhi like a joke. This election is his coming of age as a political leader.”

    He has actually been active in an even greater electoral victory. That was in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections ,
    where INC beat BJP 206 – 116 in seats, and 28% – 18% in vote-share.

    Even THAT was not his “coming of age”.

  3. no doubt the assembly elections have proved that the Indian voter is no longer fooled by the promise of Ram mandir, the grand statue of Patel or the PR stunt of make in india. real India only wishes for peace, harmony and smooth administration. they only want to be treated with equality. divide and rule just doesn’t cut ice anymore. farmers distress, communal violence and giving power to people like Yogi Adityanath isnt getting them any votes. the young India will appreciate the efforts by Rahul Gandhi as he is making his priority to win us and make efforts. BJP needs to wake up to the Millennial India and smell the coffee.

  4. You are absolutely right. In state elections, the focus should be on the state level leadership, but Modi took it on him. The comments in the family has nothing to do in state elections.
    The cow vigilantes antagonised some section of population, mostly Dalits and rural, whose livelihood depend on the animal trade , dead or alive. They created a virtual law and order situation in the country. Actually, the defeat of Modi led party is the win of hardcore section of RSS, who are against him. The GST, although good, but, the traders, mostly in these three states, always used to evade taxes,felt the heat. They too voted against BJP, in the hope that congress will reverse the GST. Although Muslims voted enmass for Congress, the Hindu voters, once again showed that they are secular. 2014 election was won on the development issue, but was totally hijacked by hardcore fools. As I have written many times earlier, these elements will prove to be the last nail of BJP’s coffin. Modi failed to rein in these so-called cow vigilantes and dummy Ram Bhagats. It is time for BJP to see the writing on the wall and amend it’s policy as suggested by Mr Gupta.

  5. You are, as always, spot on about lessons for BJP. But I think there are also a few for INC and Journalists….

    First, there’s a huge urban rural divide like never before. There’s severe farmer distress but the urban voter is quite unconcerned about that. Low farm prices mean low food prices and low inflation. Similarly the rural voter is totally unconcerned about the problem of youth unemployment.

    Second, the bhagwakaran of the narrative symbolised by Yogi Adityanath is meaningless to both the distressed farmer and unemployed youth while being totally abhorrent to the educated liberals who see pluralism as India’s greatest strength. And ash smeared trident carrying sadhus demanding Ram Temple, beef ban, gaushalas et al look more like Nazi Stormtroopers. Also trampling roughshod over institutions like CBI, RBI, Supreme Court and politicisation of Army’s actions leaves a lot of liberals very uncomfortable although admittedly neither the farmers nor the unemployed youth give a damn!

    Third, while this is an unequivocal repudiation of BJP it’s not any ringing endorsement for INC which remains smeared with sleaze and shadow of past scandals. Rahul Gandhi doesn’t inspire any confidence as a potential PM despite paens to his great leadership. He’s an intellectual pygmy with no administrative experience, any grand vision or even basic communication skills. At least none demonstrated so far. It’s not that there’s any dearth of talent; Sachin Pilot, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Milind Deora among the young, Shashi Tharoor, Capt Amarinder Singh among the older ones are obvious but there are surely many more. If INC is serious about getting back into power this is the time to reflect and reboot. And find a credible leader.

  6. Paying heed to any suggestions will go against the grain of the BJP. That’s like asking the zebra to change its stripes. They are the elite. This is a country of the poor, and BJP is a party fundamentally anti-poor, and pro-exploiters-of-the-poor. They can never come out of their Manuvadi mindset, and helping the victims of Manuvad will require precisely that!

    The people of India have seen that they are only good at hollow talk and pretences of sympathy. “Ab lau nasani, ab na nasaihon”, as Tulsidas has said. “I was asleep so far, now I’m awake”. That’s what the people are saying.

  7. These reasons and lessons are perfectly valid. The BJP indeed needs to rework its strategy and approach, if it is to continue beyond 2019. ALL THE SAME, ONE undeniable lesson from the last few months is that Goebbelsian lies, propaganda and abuse mixed with cheap and childish jibes, peppered with Primary school boyish acronyms and one liners have replaced any sensible, meaningful and visionary messages for voters. WE should view in retrospect, what exactly was Rahul Gandhi’s message and promise to voters, if he has indeed ‘come of age’ and is now a full fledged political leader during this campaign. NOTHING, except a constant refrain of cheaply attacking Modi at a ‘personal’ level, the practice avidly followed by his second and third rung leaders in the Congress party. IF, ‘THIS’ is the kind of leader that India should have for the next five years from May 2019, , I am prepared to shed a tear right now.

  8. 11. Maintain a tight rein over the overzealous ‘bhakths’ who mercilessly trolled anyone whom they perceived as anti-Modi. They had gone into raptures over their leader’s 56″ chest! That Modi and everyone in the BJP had endorsed this brigade of nationalistic commandos is a given. Even the moderate BJP supporter had grown disillusioned by this unsavoury bunch…..

  9. On some point you are correct,but not on others, for example the maturity of Rahul Gandhi. Loosing these elections is not a certificate of his maturity.

  10. Yes , so nice it has been equipped as a nice journal , one man show game in a big thickly populated countrycannotbe a top leadership activity .pragmatic approach is in any election campaign we observe more critical comments , is it necessaryethically not justified to people who ruled past and left us , now we have to observe present people’s administration

  11. You have hit the nail on the Head. Actually those 10 Blunders are equivalent to the 10 Heads of Ravana whose arrogance was his biggest unmaking.

    Not much different for the 3 Self Certified Master Stroke Players currently occupying the hit seat.

    This Bitter Pill was needed and how ….

  12. If I were Modi, I would be getting sleepless nights by Rahul Gandhi’s press conference today. It was well rehearsed and Rahul Gandhi knew what face to put to the electorate. His admission that 2014 decimation was a learning opportunity for him will resonate with youngsters in a changing world where failure is increasingly acceptable as long as the person evolves. That said, Rahul Gandhi will avoid taking the role of the PM even if Congress manages do contribute greatly to a coalition victory in 2019. The reason for this presumption is that he comes across a person who would rather have his periodic undisclosed holidays while still having a job of a parliamentarian. Whether this assessment is correct, only time will tell. And here is the 11th lesson for Modi…people may be ready to accept a leader who is human enough to taken an occasional holiday but throw out a leader, who, even with his 24 x 7 x 365 days schedule, is not truly accessible and cannot empathise with citizens when they are suffering either because of some religious conflicts or general law and order.

    Now whether Modi spends sleepless nights after 11th Dec verdict and Rahul Gandhi’s press conference or treats this as a wake-up call would be the determined by his intelligence.

  13. Indian voters aren’t about to start voting against Motilal and Jawaharlal Nehru, or Indira and Rajiv Gandhi in 2018-19. They are voting for or against you, not someone’s great grandparents. So, step out of the time machine.

    11th lesson – Modiji, AJ should not treat the tax payers as 3 rd rated citizens by imposing fine of Rs 1000/5000 for late filing of Income tax returns, fine of Rs 50 per day for late filing of GST return, fine of Rs 500 per day for late filing of MCA21, ROC returns- This will kill entrepreneurship in any nation

    fantastically written and all are facts- no imagination no exaggerations-

  14. So what regime change will not bring results and overcome the misgivings of major time of ruling by these Gandhi’s you are promoting. One day the writer will also disappear in crowd.

  15. Rahul won a negative vote but BJP lost for arrogance,for a talkative and foreign tour loving PMwithout idea to solve real problems.He created a bad position talking about tea stall boy loving rich standard of using suits costing lakhs and competing with world rich leaders.

  16. Don’t think BJP will take this seriously or rather Guptaji would be painted as Congress agent. Moreover, like Congress, BJP has already placed a shield to protect duo Modi and Shah. Party would claim that assembly verdict has nothing to do with general election 2019

  17. I would say – with utmost humility, for each Indian citizen roots hard for her government’s success – that it is no part of any government’s job / task / duty / mandate to change India’s social / cultural / linguistic / dietary / religious composition and beliefs. If there are cultural organisations that have such aims, they are free to proselytise their world view outside the structures and resources of the government. The Constitution, widely acknowledged as our foremost Holy Book, has laid out reasonable parameters that allow citizens and the government to work together to create a more just and equal society. To that extent, no government is more equal than another, simply because its ruling party has fifty or a hundred more members in the Lok Sabha. Most Indians, without reading the Constitution, have a fine sense of where the boundaries are etched. They do not like these to be transgressed.

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