“Being more accessible to the core constituency that put in sweat and blood for Modi’s election will go a long way. Also, while silly statements from leaders should indeed be discouraged, this will only work if there is a clear strategic focus on Hindu causes from within the administration. This can be relatively low profile, the “good news” will travel fast on internal networks, but it cannot be ignored.” – Sankrant Sanu
There will be many analyses of BJP’s performance in the Delhi election. From The Economist to Sagarika Ghose, professional “secularists” are shouting, with not a little bit of glee, that it is a result of BJP’s “deviation from its development message” and Narendra Modi’s “failure to curb the Hindu extremist fringe” and so on. All this gratuitous advice of “not deviating” from development often comes from those that are rooting for the BJP to fail. Rather, given the deep roots of the BJP in Delhi, we should examine the failure of the BJP to get its core cadre in Delhi excited.
Simply put, a key ingredient to BJP’s loss and victory is often the enthusiasm of the BJP workers, and also the Sangh cadre. An influential Sangh worker remarked to me recently that they did not work to install the Modi government simply for “development”; civilizational issues were core to the enthusiasm of the workers. Over the last few weeks, I had occasion to meet various people directly or indirectly associated with Hindu causes across the country and there is a general feeling of disappointment with the Modi government on that account. This does not make for an enthused and motivated cadre.
The excuse that the party is working towards a Rajya Sabha majority first does not hold much water. Many decisions are executive and don’t need legislative approval. The UPA acted far more swiftly to advance its ideological agenda with far fewer numbers. One senior academic told me that UPA appointees are still continuing in key decision-making positions across the country, and when the UPA had come to power in 2004 it had removed NDA appointees and installed its own people within 4 weeks. The censor board case is a clear example. The UPA had dismissed the highly qualified Anupam Kher and installed ideological puppets with no film experience. Yet the BJP inexplicably continued with this board even after their term had expired till they resigned in a big drama. This passivity is mystifying. Eight months on, no more excuses need to be made for it.
This attitude has also been seen in the handling of the media. For decades the Congress corrupted the Delhi media into compliance with a combination of perks, outright payments, privileged “access” and personal favors, and the fear of being left out of the gravy train. Modi appears to have taken a more hands-off approach, but the media darbaris appear at sea without a master to control them and throw them scraps. Those raised on dependency cannot be weaned off overnight. They can only start rooting for a different gravy train as they did in the case of AAP.
The other secularist story-line is that statements from Sadhvi Niranjana Jyoti or Sakshi Maharaj derailed the Modi government agenda. In a large party, you cannot muzzle everyone’s opinion. Sadhvi Niranjana’s remarks were also distorted; the corrupt media darbaris will manufacture dissent. From Indira Gandhi on, there is a long history of the Delhi media bending and crawling. There needs to be a proactive media management strategy beyond sending mostly inarticulate spokespersons on television. This is an area to learn from the Congress. The dismantling of the toxic “secular” academic citadel needs to be part of this strategy.
At the same time it is clear that the forces against the BJP have consolidated after the setbacks. With both Muslims and Christians showing an increasing interest in BJP as a viable alternative, their thekedars also needed to strike back. The rabidly communal Owaisi’s MIM was reportedly active in canvassing for AAP. The series of church “attacks”, mostly incidents of vandalism, were likely orchestrated to keep the “flock” together and attempt to create fear. For any crime, first look to motives. Random church vandalism could only hurt BJP and consolidate Christian votes against it. It also has the advantage of creating a perception of “decline of religious freedom” under BJP that can be used internationally to pre-empt control of missionary activity. Those that clearly stand to gain from these must be the primary suspects, and the plot must be uncovered. At the same time the BJP must work towards real needs, including the perceptions of security of the minorities, while freeing them from the clutches of those that benefit from their fears.
Kiran Bedi parachuting into the Delhi campaign would have been more productive if done six months ago, without making her the head of the campaign. Bedi has little political experience and her interactions with BJP workers and senior Delhi leaders showed a disconnect. This disconnect carried on to her campaign where she looked to impress the voter with long policy lists rather than create an emotional connect. She came off as a policy wonk rather than a leader of people. Her high-handed approach did not go well with the workers, even leading 30-year BJP veteran, election campaign manager Narendra Tandon, to resign (though he later withdrew).
Finally, the inaccessibility of PM Narendra Modi has also been part of the cadres’ malaise and the high-handed approach of Bedi did nothing to help. People who have worked with Modi for decades also find his door closed. He appears to have surrounded himself by a bureaucratic coterie, leading to additional disappointment from the cadre of “their man” being in power.
Being more accessible to the core constituency that put in sweat and blood for Modi’s election will go a long way. Also, while silly statements from leaders should indeed be discouraged, this will only work if there is a clear strategic focus on Hindu causes from within the administration. This can be relatively low profile, the “good news” will travel fast on internal networks, but it cannot be ignored.
Poll timing is also a factor. If Delhi polls were held right after the Lok Sabha elections, they would have carried the momentum into the assembly. Waiting many months, parachuting in an outsider, failure to handle the media, lack of progress on issues that the cadre cares about and worked hard for all need to be part of the loss analysis. Complacency cost the BJP in 2004. It should not assume that it would be automatically getting another five years if it continues on this path.
There are some immediate things that the government can work on towards religious equality, parity and harmony in India, which will enthuse those that had worked for the BJP:
1. Cleanup of academic and cultural bodies with entrenched anti-Hindu bias.
2. Stopping FCRA contributions to religious and cultural organizations from foreign entities and investigation on the role of foreign missionaries in fomenting religious discord.
3. In the States it controls, the BJP must also see that Hindu temple funds are used and released exclusively for Hindu cultural and religious organizations rather than using it to fund other religions or collecting it for the government as a kind of “jizya tax” on Hindus.
For the longer term, the government must initiate a commission to study the distortions caused by Article 28 and Article 30 to religious equality and the communal division of India based on religious identity and fix the disastrous RTE act. Also it is outrageous that the BJP government opposed a PIL that sought that Indian languages be allowed in the higher judiciary. It needs to move beyond showmanship and lip service to Indian culture and start backing up its words with actions. – Niti Central, 11 February 2013
» Sankrant Sanu is a graduate of IIT Kanpur and the University of Texas at Austin. He spent nine years at Microsoft Corporation in various engineering and management roles. Today he holds six technology-related patents and is involved in mentoring entrepreneurs and in various startup ventures.