New Delhi: Faced with consecutive poll defeats, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) says it is time for the party to put its house in order and connect with its cadre.
The main opposition party in the Lok Sabha lost assembly elections in all the three states—Maharashtra, Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh—that held polls last week. The results were announced on Thursday.
The ruling Congress party, along with its allies, held on to power in Maharashtra and Arunachal Pradesh, and was expected to form the government in Haryana as well, though it fell slightly short of a majority.
Little to show: A deserted Bharatiya Janata Party election management and coordination office in New Delhi on Thursday. PTI
“We will have to have an honest analysis,” said BJP spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad. “We need to address these (internal) issues. There is a need to speak in one voice and be up to the expectations of our well-wishers and supporters.” Any reinvention of the party would involve its ideological parent the reassertion of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) over the BJP, say analysts.
“This defeat would give further reason for RSS to reassert itself,” said Bhaskar Rao, political analyst and chairman, Centre for Media Studies. “The reinvention process of the party, which the leadership is openly talking of, involves a greater role of the Sangh.”
After losing in the April-May Parliament elections, the BJP was struck by a series of controversies. Senior leaders Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie and Jaswant Singh openly criticized the party for its poll strategy. BJP later expelled Singh in August over his book on Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan.
Party members have also challenged the leadership of veteran BJP leader L.K. Advani.
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Analysts say the latest results underscore the BJP’s disconnect with ground realities.
“The BJP was without an agenda,” Rao said. “The only agenda that was reflected during the campaign was differences within its leadership. There was a clear lack of communication at all levels in the party.”
An internal analysis of the results shows the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), led by Raj Thackeray and a party with a similar right-wing ideology, influenced at least 30 seats against the BJP-Shiv Sena combine in Maharashtra. The MNS won at least 10,000 votes in nearly all the places it contested in, eating into what might have been BJP-Shiv Sena votes.
“These 10,000 votes were crucial for us,” said a BJP leader who worked closely in the party’s Maharashtra campaign. “The core thing is that those who managed Lok Sabha polls were not the ones who managed these ones. So the problem (is) more organizational than being that of strategy.” After the results were announced, the BJP deferred its parliamentary board meeting scheduled for Thursday evening to Friday.
“The country’s main opposition has failed to infuse confidence among the voters to replace the ruling combine. It is a lost opportunity,” says analyst and former BJP member Sudheendra Kulkarni.
Analysts also point out that in the latest assembly elections, the BJP took on its erstwhile allies and supporters.
If it was the MNS, a splinter group of an ally, in Maharashtra, in Haryana the party took on the Indian National Lok Dal led by former state chief minister Om Prakash Chautala.
Several key leaders left the party before the polls, including Kiren Rijiju who joined the Congress in Arunachal Pradesh.
Asked about the likely reason for the BJP’s defeat, Rijiju said, “The reason remains the same as the reason I left the party for. The grass-roots-level workers are willing to work but there is no direction from the leadership.”
The BJP, which won nine out of 60 seats in Arunachal Pradesh in the previous assembly polls, could only win three.
In Maharashtra, the BJP-Shiv Sena combine won 90 out of 288 seats, and in Haryana, it improved its tally from two out of 90 seats in the previous state election to four.
“We have improved our vote percentage from 10% to almost 16% in Haryana. The message in Haryana is that the only reason for the Congress’ comeback is a divided opposition,” said Vijay Goel, party general secretary in charge of Haryana.
“The message (for the BJP) is that it has to be different from the Congress. If it were like the Congress the people will prefer the original and not the photocopy,” said analyst and RSS ideologue S. Gurumurthy. He is a former head of the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch.
“It’s time for rejuvenation through introspection,” said Tarun Vijay, who heads an RSS think tank in New Delhi and is a former editor of RSS mouthpiece, Organiser.
Graphics by Ahmed Raza Khan / Mint