Perception vs Reality in Politics (Part 1)

Love it or hate it, BJP is here to stay. Currently, it is the only political party that has the ability to form a central government on its own. The next candidate, Congress, has a very disparaging record of winning only 44 seats in 2014 and 53 in 2019. In both cases, he was below the 10% mark required for his leader at home be designated as Leader of the Opposition (LOP).

The situation is unlikely to change drastically in 2024. The BJP currently has 303 seats of its own and this number increases to 353 with the support of its allies. Perhaps the only change that might happen in 2024 is that a few regional parties might gain a few more seats at the expense of the BJP and Congress. In the worst case scenario, the BJP may not win a majority on its own. However, the odds remain in favor of the formation of a government by the NDA (BJP plus allies) in 2024. The opposition, fragmented as it is today, will continue to remain so. The likelihood of a single opposition party returning with a significant number that gives it the leadership role and its leader LOP status remains bleak.

Does the nation like the BJP? A significant percentage of the nation’s voters love the party, otherwise it wouldn’t have been in power. The majority of these voters belong to the northern, central, western and northeastern regions. In the South, the BJP only has a strong presence in Karnataka. These voters appreciate and recognize the work done by the BJP government and support it unequivocally. They do not blame the government for the increase in communal tensions. Instead, they believe the fears of the Muslim community are ill-founded and instilled by the opposition, community leaders and clerics as part of vote-banking politics. They credit the government with failing to follow minority appeasement policies that have plagued the nation for decades. They proudly support the government on issues such as the NRC, CAA, Sections 370 and 35A and its policies on Pakistan and China. They believe that the BJP provides a strong government that wants to transform India into a powerful, developed and self-sufficient nation.

Does any part of the nation hate the BJP? There is a reasonable proportion of voters who hate the party. Over the past eight years, BJP hatred has become part of their DNA. So regardless of what the government does, they continue to hate it. This group includes three main subgroups. Topping the list are opposition, Congress-led political parties that celebrated for decades after independence and are now struggling to remain relevant, especially at the national level. Next comes the small group of leftists, leftist intellectuals, socialists, dollar-loving activists, pseudo-secularists and liberals. They were the “think tanks” of Congress and other governments in the past, but find no credence with the government today. A large percentage of the strong Muslim community of 200 million, which has lived and prospered with Hindus for generations, forms the last part of this group. They seem to have suddenly developed a fear of Hindus and Hinduism over the past few years. The sole objective of this hate group is to remove Mr. Modi and the BJP from power, but they have no idea how to do it. As a group, they oppose the NRC, the CAA, the repeal of Sections 370 and 35A, and government policies on Pakistan and China.

Finally, there is a reasonable percentage, especially among educated urban and semi-urban young voters, who have a love-hate relationship with the BJP. Some of them vote for the BJP, some don’t. Many of them could easily switch loyalties if another viable political option were available. They like the good work done by the government in different areas, but tend to take it for granted. They like the way the government is standing up to China and Pakistan, but are reluctant to support it. As a group, they blame, if not hate, the government for the increase in communal tensions while neglecting the roles played by the opposition and the Muslim community itself. Many of them fall into the trap of hating BJP because it looks trendy. The majority of them are self-centered and see the CAA, NRC, and the repeal of Sections 370 and 35A as unnecessary obstacles in their quest to pursue higher education, work, and life.

In Indian politics, more often than not, the voter votes for the party and not for the candidate. For many, the local candidate is an unknown commodity. Voter outreach is limited to a few senior and more visible party leaders. In most cases, parties only announce their candidate for a constituency a few weeks before the election. Sometimes some may even be strangers. Thus, in most cases, the voter does not have time to know his candidate and vice versa. Therefore, it is the party and its senior leadership that influence the voter’s choice. This in turn means that the perception of the party and its senior leadership is of the utmost importance. The BJP’s last two victories at the national level, as in many states, are largely the result of this logic. Another example is the success of the Aam Admi party in the local elections in Delhi.

Unfortunately for the nation, Congress and other opposition parties do not have that luxury, especially at the national level. This has resulted in the absence of a viable opposition that can challenge the BJP. An alternative comprising a coalition of like-minded parties is always an option. However, for this to become a reality, the main instigator must be a party with a significant national footprint, a clear national vision, acceptable leadership and an ability to win at least 20-25% of the seats. This translates to at least 100 seats in Lok Sabha. Currently, that seems like a tall order, even for the Congress party that has ruled the nation for more than 60 years since independence. Any coalition of a dozen parties (and almost half the number of candidates for the prime minister’s chair) without such a prime mover can only be a recipe for disaster. Unfortunately, this is the harsh reality of Indian politics today.

In such a political environment, the BJP must realize that domestically it can play long and uninterrupted innings if it plays its cards right. The most critical map is the perception map. It’s time for BJP to do some serious reality checking and work to develop a more positive perception, especially among those who want to believe it but are reluctant to do so. Some of the key areas to address in this regard are discussed in the following paragraphs.



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The opinions expressed above are those of the author.



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