The much awaited results for the four states and one union territory which went to polls in March and April have been announced. LDF, NDA and Trinamool have retained Kerala, Assam and Bengal. DMK and NDA have won in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry.
The results are a mixed bag for the BJP. The party was in serious contention in three places - Assam (as an incumbent), Bengal and Puducherry (as the principal opponent).
The BJP has successfully defended Assam, snatched Puducherry from Congress, but failed to dethrone Mamata in Bengal. In Assam, despite a tough fight from Congress led Mahajot, NDA has secured a decent majority.
In Bengal, despite BJP’s high pitch campaign and a polarized environment, Trinamool has managed to secure an unexpected near three-fourth majority, upsetting all exit poll projections.
The only solace for BJP in Bengal is the fact that Mamata lost the elections from Nandigram against her former aide Suvendu by a narrow margin.
The party failed to win a single seat in Kerala despite all efforts. In Tamil Nadu, it has won 4 seats out of the 20 seats allotted to it in alliance with AIADMK.
So, what are the lessons for the BJP from 2021?
1. Needs to shun its template model of campaign
The BJP follows a very templatized campaign model across states which includes big rallies of the Prime Minister, roadshows by Amit Shah, a symbol based campaign, aggressive social media blitz, crowdsourcing for manifesto, bombarding the state with MPs / Ministers and so on.
While this has worked in the past, it needs to be tweaked keeping in mind the local / regional dynamics and sensibilities. The outsider versus insider campaign did hurt in Bengal.
The fact that the party has no leader of stature, except Suvendu, who can conduct mass rallies and disseminate party’s messaging in local language, impacted BJP’s prospects.
From Modi to Shah to Nadda everybody spoke in Hindi giving credence to Mamata’s allegations and helping her cash in on the asmita factor, which the duo have so effectively used in Gujarat.
2. When pitted against a strong leader, focus on localized instead of Presidential style campaign
State after state, where BJP faces strong regional satraps, be it - Nitish (Bihar), Kejriwal (Delhi), Naveen (Odisha), Telangana (KCR), and now Mamata (Bengal) - it has failed to make a mark.
The reason is that the party follows a Presidential style of campaign, pitching Modi versus the regional party Chief Minister, to cash in on the anti-incumbency.
In this process, the party fails to recognize that these leaders are very popular, strong brands, and the anti-incumbency is more at the local level, against ruling party MLAs. Party needs to target these MLAs and make it a localized contest rather than a personality contest between incumbent CM and PM.
It’s often said that attacking Modi makes him more stronger, in a similar manner, attacking these strong brands like Mamata only make them stronger and in a way help them to deflect / negate the local level anger.
3. Performance is the key for re-election
After Bihar and now Assam, it’s crystal clear that state government performance is key to re-election. Satisfaction levels of people with Vijayan or Sonowal or for that matter Mamata’s government was fairly high, greater than 65% as per surveys.
Non-delivery of promises by the state government cannot be negated by the Modi factor where BJP is in power as we saw in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Punjab and to some extent in Haryana.
Assam has been won because Sonowal has delivered on state as well as central schemes giving credence to the double engine ki sarkar model of the BJP. Party should not see it as a validation of the CAA or a counter polarization mandate against the Congress - AIUDF alliance.
4. Women voter emerging as a key actor in polls
The women voter is increasingly taking independent voting decisions due to increase in literacy, awareness and financial security. Many schemes of the state and centre are directed towards the women. They are also turning up in larger numbers than men in many states including Bengal and Bihar.
BJP won narrowly in Bihar riding on the woman vote / support. The party didn’t offer anything substantial to counter Mamata’s offer of universal basic income to women head of families in its manifesto.
Party should have known that Mamata is the only woman CM in India. The woman folk have a natural affinity and love towards her. PM decrying Mamata in rallies and his pet ‘Didi o Didi’ slogan while getting applause on TV channels and audience somewhere hurt the sensibility of woman voters in the state.
They silently backed the TMC on EVM and nobody saw this tsunami coming. This is why probably exit polls which have an under representation of females in their samples got it horribly wrong.
5. Project and empower local leaders
The party needs to nurture, project and empower local leaders in states where it is weak. The Congressization of the party is very dangerous for BJP in the long run. The 2014 victory was also due to the strong performance of the party in states like MP, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, where it had strong local leadership.
Party didn’t have strong candidates to contest on all seats in Bengal and Kerala. In Bengal, it had to offer tickets to turncoats on more than 100 seats. The Assam victory is also due to the strong leadership of Himanata and Sonowal in the state. The high command culture is not the true character of the party.
6. Shouldn’t be seen as power hungry
BJP has a mammoth election machinery and its top leadership which is very passionate about winning elections. However, they shouldn’t be seen as power hungry and willing to do anything to get there. While there were coronavirus cases rising in the country, its leaders did show callousness by holding big rallies, so did the opposition parties.
The alleged misuse of central agencies, continuing with campaigns in a national emergency situation, did create a perception that it doesn’t care for the lives of people and is only interested in gaining power in states.
To sum up, the BJP hopefully will certainly draw lessons from this historical mandate due to its pragmatic approach.