• mohd.shakib@smanik.com
  • November 20, 2015

BJP has received a drubbing in Bihar and knives are out in the party to fix the blame. The old guard wants Modi-Shah jodi to fix responsibility for the loss while the younger brigade terms the failure as collective responsibility.

Amongst the various reasons being discussed which can be attributed to the Bihar loss is non declaration of CM candidate by BJP. Would it have helped? Would it have led to a bigger loss? Supporters of the theory say that it couldn’t have been a bigger drubbing than this even if a CM candidate was announced. Valid point.  Those who oppose the theory argue that if BJP had declared a CM candidate BJP would have lost the polls from Day 1. Really? BJP was lagging behind MGB by a big margin from Phase 1 and by Phase 4 the game was really over.

I present below the probable reasons for BJP not declaring a CM candidate and attempt to rebut the same by logical reasoning. It’s pretty easy to criticize and do a post mortem some readers would argue. Yes, true. I am not saying BJP would have won if they announced a CM candidate, I am just presenting BJP’s arguments for not announcing a CM candidate and my counter arguments. Then it’s for the readers to take a call.

1. BJP argument – It didn’t have a leader of Nitish charisma and calibre to challenge him

PB Counter Argument – That’s not entirely true as Sushil Modi (ex- Deputy CM) is fairly popular and in all surveys was 2nd top most CM choice of public. He did close the gap in popularity ratings with Nitish (10%) by the polling for Phase 1 began.

If BJP had declared him as CM candidate, with the support of party infra he could have done better. He may not have toppled Nitish in popularity ratings (that even PM Modi couldn’t do) but he could have been able to claim some credit for the development done by Nitish govt. After all he was the Deputy CM.

This also could have changed BJP entire campaign from caste / jungle raj plank to development agenda.

2. BJP argument – It could have upset other caste groups supporting NDA. If BJP would have declared an upper caste CM, backwards would have not voted for it and vice-a-versa.

PB Counter Argument – This may not have been the case. Did upper caste not vote for MGB because a Kurmi was CM candidate? No some did vote. Did Yadavs not vote for Nitish? Yes they did. Didn’t people across caste groups not vote for PM Modi in 2014?

A CM candidate can only be from one caste group and not all caste groups. It’s always about creating the right combination of caste groups / balance. At least this would have brought some clarity.

Some BJP leaders were anyways saying that a backward will be made CM. So they should have gone ahead and announced it. Upper caste would still have voted for BJP because of no other choice and supporting a lesser evil between the two.

3. BJP argument – It could have led to a war within top BJP state brass, hence to keep everybody motivated till the elections no body was declared a CM candidate.

PB Counter Argument – This is a bizarre explanation. So to quench revolt you would not promote people? Sushil Modi was already the undisputed leader of Bihar BJP as he was the Deputy CM.

The Nitish-Sushil Modi government was running smoothly without any problem and there was no revolt. So why would a revolt take place now?

Even if a revolt would have taken place some it would not have been difficult to manage as state top brass like Mangal Pandey, CP Thakur, Prem Kumar, Nand Kishore Yadav do not command such following as Sushil Modi which was clearly visible in popularity ratings.

Non-announcement also led people to believe that BJP would do a “Khattar” in Bihar like they did in Haryana. This ignited the ‘Bahari vs Bihari” debate. Names like Rajendra Singh from Jharkhand were also floated in the media. He eventually lost the election.

When Modi was announced the PM candidate of BJP in 2013, was everybody happy? No. But over time people reconcile to differing points of view. CM chair is the not the only position, there were 34 cabinet ministries up for grabs in Bihar and people revolting would realize that they will screw their chance if they create a drama.

4. BJP argument – It could have made allies like Paswan, Manjhi and Kushwaha unhappy.

PB Counter Argument – This is again a ridiculous explanation. If Paswan and Kushwaha were day dreaming to be CM, it was not BJP’s problem. They already got their due share in Modi’s cabinet and could have been easily managed. They could not have afforded loss of cabinet positions.

Paswan a “man of all seasons” as Lalu fondly calls him (as he has been a minister in all governments since 1989 except for Rao’s govt. during 1991-96 and MMS 2009-14)is too shrewd to let his coveted position go. They were just posturing and BJP fell into their trap. And Manjhi claiming CM chair with 19 contestants is also laughable.

BJP couldn’t have prevented people from day dreaming, it’s impossible, but should have made its position amply clear with allies not to mess up.

5. BJP argument – BJP succeeded in Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand on the same model.

PB Counter Argument – Every state is different and has its own unique characteristics. Why did BJP announce a CM candidate in Delhi? Though it was done too late and didn’t help in the end.

There is a distinction between states whose CMs face huge anti-incumbency and states whose CMs are popular.

In Maharashtra (15 years of Cong-NCP rule), Haryana (10 years), Jharkhand (Soren family ruling the state for most of the time after it got separated from Bihar), people were disillusioned with the current regime and wanted a change. Same was the situation in J&K (Abdullahs). People wanted to throw out the current governments and install a new government under the leadership of Modi and didn’t care who the CM candidate was.

But in states like Delhi and Bihar where the incumbent CM is fairly popular, you need to present a face and reason for people to vote him out. Why would people vote out Nitish when he has done fairly good work and does BJP have any leader capable of beating Nitish in development agenda – people of Bihar seems to have asked? As it was not possible for PM Modi to take the chair of CM of Bihar.

Here is where a CM candidate like Sushil Modi would have helped. BJP would have articulated that he has been a deputy CM  with significant experience and under the leadership of Modi (at the center) will be able to do a better job because of better co-ordination, communication etc.

6. BJP argument – BJP wanted to make it a Modi vs Nitish fight and benefit from Modi factor.

PB Counter Argument – This is a dangerous trend for BJP. What makes BJP different from Congress is that it is not a one man party. It has strong internal democratic architecture. In 2014 while BJP did win due to Modi factor, its strong performance in states like MP, Goa, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka and even Gujarat was because of highly popular local leadership of SS Chouhan, Raman Singh, Vasundhara Raje, Yedyurappa, Parrikar etc.

In states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh which send 120 MPs to Parliament (22% of total strength) you need to have strong local leadership.

Depending on Modi for each state elections shows the lack of leadership depth in BJP and leads to overexposure of a brand Modi as somebody mentioned it.

Modification of BJP like Congress is very dangerous for party in the long run. If Modi-Shah Jodi feels there is no need to develop leaders because one day they could challenge their authority, then it shows lack of maturity on their part.

It was clear from surveys in the beginning of September that PM Modi was lagging behind Nitish in popularity ratings in the state. BJP should have taken a cue and acted on this like they did in Delhi if not to win at least to divert blame.

A clarity on leadership acts as a clear communication to the voter and always helps because elections now more and more becoming Presidential style in India. PM Modi benefitted from the same in Lok Sabha polls. There was no declared official PM candidate of any party (Rahul Gandhi was not official PM designate) except for AIADMK, which helped Modi win a walk over game. He may again benefit from the same factor in 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

This debate will continue and is never ending as its elections season this year with polls in Assam, Kerala and Tamil Nadu followed by UP and Bengal in 2017. Wait and watch if BJP declares CM candidate in all these states or not?

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