BJP national president Amit Shah | PTI
BJP national president Amit Shah | PTI
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BJP chief Amit Shah is known as a master election strategist but barring his home state Gujarat, the party under him has failed to beat anti-incumbency in recent polls.

New Delhi: Tuesday’s electoral verdict exposed a gaping hole in the armour of BJP president Amit Shah — that he hasn’t figured out a way to beat anti-incumbency against the BJP, except in his home state of Gujarat.

The saffron party was in power in Goa and Punjab when in the March 2017 assembly elections, it was found wanting. The BJP secured just 13 seats against the Congress’ 17 in the 40-member Goa assembly but managed to form the government by securing the support of small parties and Independents. In Punjab, the BJP’s coalition partner Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) shouldered all of the blame for the loss.

The BJP drew a blank in the latest round of assembly elections, losing Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan to the Congress and making no impact in Telangana or Mizoram.

Is party chief losing control?

So what has gone wrong? There was a time when Shah could take no false step — Prime Minister Narendra Modi had even called him the ‘man of the match’ of election victories.

The BJP president would visit a poll-bound state ruled by a rival party and the tide would start turning. The BJP would start dictating the electoral discourse. Leaders from rival parties would start chucking their decades-old loyalty to their parties to rush to the saffron camp. The party’s organisational machinery, well-oiled and geared, would then take over to deliver the final blow.

None of this seemed to have worked in the latest round of assembly elections.

BJP veterans recall Modi telling Shah at a meeting in late 2013 that he should get leaders from other parties to join the BJP to create a mahaul in favour of the BJP. The BJP president did exactly that in the Lok Sabha and subsequent assembly elections. The tide, however, seemed to have turned this time as many senior leaders, MLAs and even ministers left the BJP to join the Congress.

There was rebellion in the Congress camp, too, but desertions and rebellion in the BJP camp were unprecedented in this election. Shah suddenly did not look in control. When he snubbed party workers, leaders and legislators earlier, it was interpreted as a sign of his confidence and grip on the party; the same is now cited as one of the reasons for their alienation.

Also read: Tight race in MP & a BJP win in Chhattisgarh: Election results a mixed bag for exit polls

A narrative gone wrong

The BJP did dictate the electoral discourse in these assembly elections but it was for all the wrong reasons.

It was about the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, expelling illegal Bangladeshi immigrants “one by one”, Congress party’s “widow” siphoning off funds, Rahul Gandhi’s dada-dadi, nana-nani not laying water pipe-lines in Chhattisgarh and the Dalit credentials of Lord Hanuman, among others. ‘Vikas’ did come up for a mention but almost in passing reference.

This complete shift in discourse — from ‘vikas’ to ‘Hindutva’—was a well-crafted strategy. To be fair, the BJP never gave up on its Hindutva agenda. But in the past, ‘vikas’ used to be the prime narrative and Hindutva was thrown in occasionally to keep the Sangh Parivar and fringe elements happy.

But as the saffron party swamped the political landscape in India, ran governments in 21 states comprising 70 per cent of India’s population, the BJP’s attempt to still accuse the Congress and others for all the problems faced by the people has begun ringing hollow.

The electorate is growing impatient of waiting for the realisation of their dreams as promised. The master strategist that Shah is projected as he couldn’t have missed it.

And that’s when the BJP made the shift — now with ‘Hindutva’ as the main narrative and ‘vikas’ the sub-narrative. And that’s when the RSS came into the picture, with chief Mohan Bhagwat raking up the Ayodhya Ram temple issue and Shah promptly seconding it. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad and other Sangh affiliates took over from there.

Shah’s strategy to beat anti-incumbency against the BJP in states with Hindutva didn’t work in the Hindi heartland. People have heard it for far too long. And the unending diatribe against the Congress for being the main villain is no longer a comfort to those who once expected the moon from Modi.

Shah looked to have the Midas touch when the ‘Modi wave’ swept across the country. That touch seems to have gone missing when the wave seems to have started receding — though not completely — and the party needs a new strategy.

Also read: After today, Rahul Gandhi is no longer the ‘Pappu’ of Indian politics


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