Elections 2009: What the BJP Did Wrong

As we look back at the past six months, here are two key things which stand out:

  1. 26/11 and the assembly election results of Delhi and Rajasthan completely turned the momentum away from the BJP. Till then, its twin planks were terrorism and the economy. Both got neutralised in the past six months – or perhaps, the BJP was not able to convince voters how it would handle the two areas differently and better. Even as food prices have increased and jobs are being lost, the message that the BJP is the better alternative did not get through. The negative campaign around terrorism in the Delhi assembly elections was seen by the electorate an attempt by the BJP to exploit a vulnerable situation.
  1. The campaign itself had the right ideas (good governance, development, security with the need for strong leadership), but the message went off-track for multiple reasons.
    1. LK Advani (LKA) was not seen as strong and decisive in the two opportunities that he had to make a mark: the Jaitley-Rajnath argument, and the Varun Gandhi moment. This in some ways undermined the main plank of the campaign.
    2. The “weak PM” argument backfired when Manmohan Singh (MMS), along with Sonia, Rahul) hit back with a vengeance, and Ayodhya and Kandahar were brought up. MMS played the role of the “bechara” perfectly. The BJP did not have a counter to that – and it could not possibly have been that the party would have expected the Congress to not respond.
    3. Most importantly, the BJP let the old fears re-surface with its decision to not drop Varun Gandhi even after the advice from CEC (Gopalswami). In contrast, the Congress decision to drop Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar was seen as positive (and gained in Punjab.) Basically, the Varun Gandhi incident coming on the back of what happened in Mangalore (and the ensuing media coverage) turned away moderate Hindus and youth (approx 40mn new voters) in urban areas for whom harmony matters more. For many, between the slippery road of religion and the slippery road of dynasty, the former is a definite No-No. LKA should have used the Varun moment to make a decisive statement on the inclusiveness of Hinduism, and taken the discussion completely away from the “secular-communal” issue – just like what Obama did with his race speech in Philadelphia at the height of his campaign.

There are many other factors which can also be thought of:

  • Disconnect with the voters: What explains the huge gap between expectations (160+ seats) and reality (120 seats). The party – and its cadre – are seen to have lost touch with on-ground realities in many parts of the country, and the disconnect with Urban Middle India is especially deep. (Of course, it could be argued that the Congress too did not expect its result. But that is not the answer.)
  • Selection of Candidates: This issue is more important than it is given credit for. If the party thinks it can thrust someone a month before voting day and they can win, there is something wrong. In many cities and states, the BJP lacks leadership and suitable candidates. It didn’t even experiment this election – and it was the Congress that fielded different, younger candidates.
  • Media management: This has always been a challenge for the BJP. An important segment does tend to watch the English channels more and get influenced. The BJP gave them the Varun Moment.

In some ways, the out-of-the-box, disruptive thinking that the BJP needed to do this election did not happen. It started off as an underdog and ended as one. In some ways, nothing changed between the start and finish, except that the UPA cleaned up some of the states the BJP was not present in. (That was predictable in the sense that even if the Left or AIADMK had done well, the Congress would still have managed to get them. So, in some ways, 100+ seats for the UPA from these states were always in the bag for the UPA.)

96 thoughts on “Elections 2009: What the BJP Did Wrong

  1. Very good analysis, Rajesh. I hope your friends in BJP take notice (no pun intended). My personal view is that BJP has started to resemble the GOP in US. Just as the latter is stuck with outdated views on abortion, gay rights etc, the BJP also keeps going on an on about Ram Mandir, Hindutva, pseudo-secularism when what we actually need to know how it wants to provide good governance.

  2. I think the BJP did not know what to do with 26 11. Basically u had this big issue that can turn tides but bcos of karkare issue BJP played it low.

  3. It’s gross miscalculation of LKA to call MNS a nikamma repeatedly, and he retorted at the right time, added to it, the final verdict was double subsequent whammy right in the face of LKA. What a poor loser Advani is, he lost the argument and the verdict both decisively.

    It’s time to clean up the house, get the proper people of the likes of Arun jaitley lead the party, rather than chauvinists, history is not on their side, nor future is going to be.

  4. Well, they have already lost. Now is the time to see how they can salvage themselves for future elections.

    – Avoid Negative Campaigning
    – Build a strong cadre, based on nationalist issues
    – Build a vision for progressive, peaceful India
    – Win Confidence of Muslims and Christians.
    – Show Zero-Tolerance for care that play religion card
    – Build a young cadre base, based on the vision of progressive India
    – Maintain distance with RSS.

    BJP needs to walk out of RSS shadow and work on national level with national support on issues that are being faced by countrymen today.

  5. BJP has indeed underplayed in the election game.The keygen of BJP , Atal Bihari Bajpayee’s lack certainly was unfortunate for the party.

  6. Rajesh – Good Analysis. As I said before BJP lost the opportunity when it did not fire Varun Gandhi. Even if it has lost elections and had fired Varun Gandhi it would have reduced its communal image. I am not sure who made the decisions on Varun Gandhi but firing him would
    have reaped electoral benefits and also made
    Advani a Vajpayee. Advani tried so hard for a secular image in past but here was an opportunity given to him and he squandered it.
    What Jinnah could not do, Varun would have done for Advani !

    Vishal

  7. Rajesh,

    THink in terms of the possibility of election rigging and EVM manipulation.

    Considering the anti-incumbency, congress could not have won such big victory.. Think of the Tamilnadu, and you will understand my words..

    I wish in future, the conspiracy gets exposed at some level..

  8. Great analysis Rajesh. Have hit the nail on the head…!
    My views:
    From a “Communications ” perspective :
    “The meaning of your communication is the response you get.”

    If “defeat” is the response then the BJP needs to inspect its channels of public communication, people who were responsible for the content & design of that communication. Public Communication, not just during elections but during moments of national crisis as well . As Rajesh mentioned in pt 1. – 26/11 & economy- ” the BJP was not able to convince voters how it would handle the two areas differently and better.” These are the times when clear & firm stands of the party need to be communicated and not knee jerk reactions or seeking refuge in the likes of Arun Jaitley. Where is BJP’s intellectual arsenal and ammunition ? When would the party get rid off, ” Jaitley sahab ne bol diya….vahi theek hoga..” disposition.

    Reg its defeat, all that is being said on different blogs & media needs to be studied & analysed objectively by the BJP leadership.
    However, at this point and time objectivity seems to be a rare virtue , without which any self introspection would be futile. Stiff necks need to losen up. “When ?” is that time going to be ….is a million $ question.

    Also that, communication is all about image & perception not reality. The BJP needs to work on “reality” as well. At school I studied in physics, ” the image of an object can not be brighter than the object itself.”

    I think there is no dearth of experts & advisors in the BJP (has an army of experienced civil servants), the problem is the absence of a wisdom to prioritise & decide the degree of trust that needs to be laid in “cold ” information & knowledge . I am not disputing the integrity of information & knowledge. All I am saying is, nations can not be built by information management. The wisdom to use complex chunks of information, comes to a leadership with vision. Not to election winning machines & their operators.

  9. What BJP lacked is the man-on-street

    I have seen atleast in my constituency the Congress-NCP supporters going door to door and explaining why we should for them

    The Sena candidate from my constituency , did not even send the usual pamphlet

    The BJP may have had a great web-presence ( Number 1 website , huge list of bloggers etc etc ). But what really matters is how many people you can mobilize on the street.

    You need friendly people in every neighbourhood who can take your message
    Not just a few high profile rallies.

  10. think we need some of these 360-degree Performance Appraisals that corporates have for their employees, and let it constantly be rated by the public.

    Say civic amenities, corruption, employment, safety/ crime rate, … instead of focussing all the energies on clever marketing and propaganda – the easy bits instead of the real bits. This is what i hope people value, a solid performers vs cheap propaganda machines that fail single every test of customer experience.

  11. I personally does not believe in blaming Varun Gandhi or Narendra modi.Its all nonsense. Sir;dont you think the punch line of BJP “Determined leader….decissive Goverment” is the worst possible quote used for election purpose.Dose Advanee is the one and only point of attraction for the nation?Do you think the country love in individual self advertisement? I am a strong supporter of BJP.But shocked when I found this quote under the board of BJP/Advanee. For God shake dont pass the blame game on Varun or Narendra Modi. Advanee jee was the wrong choice.The advertisement strategy was the worst one.conflict with in the organisation fueled the issues.Why Rajnath singh is the President?Who knows him in except UP?Does he a National figure?Where are the main election issues?where are the young players in the party?

  12. I personally does not believe in blaming Varun Gandhi or Narendra modi.Its all nonsense. Mr.;dont you think the punch line of BJP “Determined leader….decissive Goverment” is the worst possible quote used for election purpose.Dose Advanee is the one and only point of attraction for the nation?Do you think the country love in individual self advertisement? I am a strong supporter of BJP.But shocked when I found this quote under the board of BJP/Advanee. For God shake dont pass the blame game on Varun or Narendra Modi. Advanee jee was the wrong choice.The advertisement strategy was the worst one.conflict with in the organisation fueled the issues.Why Rajnath singh is the President?Who knows him in except UP?Does he a National figure?Where are the main election issues?where are the young players in the party?

  13. Why my support to BJP withered away ..

    I am writing this article to analyze the reasons for the defeat of BJP in this elections and I will do so by telling you the mood swings I had during the election process.

    When the whole process started about 3 months ago I was sure that I would vote for Mr Advani. I even became a volunteer in his website. Though I was a little upset with BJP’s opposition to nuclear deal but it was just one issue. I supported BJP on tough anti terrorism law and was against one family rule.

    I don’t remember the real sequence of events but I would like to give details why did my support withered away? I think the 1st blow was when the bickering came out in open. The fight between Mr. Rajnath Singh and Mr. Arun Jaitley did more harm than these leader realize. It gave a clear indication that BJP is not a united house and there is no one to put the house in order and hence it undermined the position of Mr Advani as a leader in control and the whole campaign that was based on strong leadership was belied.

    The second blow came when Mr. Varun Gandhi gave that stupid speech. One thing that BJP needs to understand is that people like me are sick of hate politics, all we want to listen about is development and development only. And moreover it makes no electoral sense and many times I am surprised by the lack of vision of these leaders. For one time electoral benefit they make permanent opponents who will vote in every election just to defeat them. BJP should now realize whenever you raise the tempers against any community it never forgets while the people for whose tempers were raised might support you for that time but invariably they forget the whole issue next time. So to make these people vote for you again and again you have to keep those tempers up. You cannot hope that by raising the tempers during elections again and again you will keep winning. People might be emotional but they are not stupid.

    The next blow was when BJP raised the temple issue. It felt as if BJP is trying to fool its own supporters. Everyone knows that other NDA partners will never let BJP do this. BJP is making a mockery of itself by raising it at the eve of every elections and then forgetting it after elections. Many people I know said,”ye kaise Ram bhakth hai jinhe Ram ki yaad her 5 saal baad aati hai”.

    The next blow was when BJP leaders attacked Mr. Manmohan Singh. Mr. Singh enjoys a lot of goodwill among youth. He is considered to be honest and upright person. The use of word “nikama” for him was absolutely unnecessary. Moreover, that budiya and gudiya affair was very unfortunate and took the focus away from real issues.

    I think BJP lost this election because it took the focus away from real issues and I really feel bad for Mr Advani, it is a shame that one of the glorious political career in India should end like this.

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