Analysis | BJP faces stiff challenges in 2020

BJP cadres with party symbol. File photo.   | Photo Credit: S.R. Raghunathan

As year-enders go, the BJP has much food for thought going into 2020, based on events that have taken place in 2019, both electorally and organisationally. For a party that had a mid-year triumph, polling more seats than the 2014 general election, the party should have been in high altitude for the rest of the months, except that it found itself losing governments in Maharashtra and Jharkhand and forming an alliance government in Haryana.

A slew of protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) has hit the image of the government headed by the BJP, especially in the student community and abroad.

The BJP lost its fifth straight Assembly poll in Jharkhand in December, drawing a straight line between the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the national level and the inability of its State units to win Assembly level polls. It is a fact that State elections are fought on local issues, and that, at least in Maharashtra, the pre-poll alliance of the BJP and the Shiv Sena did win a majority that got converted into a minority number with the exit of the latter from the alliance, after the results came out.

This does, however, also point to several issues – the 303-seat majority of the BJP has made it a domineering big brother, at least in certain States and with its long-term allies that are ruing their lack of consequence after being overwhelmed by the BJP’s numbers. In Maharashtra, the Sena had been chafing at the change in its circumstances, as did the All Jharkhand Students Union (AJSU), leading to real damage to the party in electoral terms.

Bihar poll

Going into Bihar later in 2020, with ally Nitish Kumar and the Janata Dal (U), it will have to be a different sort of negotiation, looking at what happened in Maharashtra and Jharkhand. The BJP may have to yield more or at least diplomatically negotiate its seat-sharing in Bihar. JD(U) vice president Prashant Kishor has already floated a formula for seat-sharing that could entail at least 130 seats being yielded to that party, a signal that the BJP should anticipate some tough bargaining.

Organisationally, State units have repeatedly found themselves being told to cleave unto Chief Ministers from the party that haven’t flinched from alienating senior leaders of the State unit, come election time. Jharkhand and Maharashtra have seen the consequences of that. The central leadership of the party has, till now, backed the Chief Ministers to the hilt but ended up paying an electoral cost. A more nuanced handling of State units and a more equitable power balance among various factions needs to be maintained.

This brings us to the other challenge coming up for the BJP in 2020. With State-level organisational polls heading to the halfway mark, the electoral college that elects the new national president of the BJP is almost complete. The party expects a new president to be at the helm by early 2020. It will mean the exit of the most successful party president that the BJP has had since its founding, Amit Shah.

While many say that it is unlikely that either Prime Minister Modi or Mr. Shah’s influence over party affairs will in any way wane, the fact remains that the incumbent (likely former Union Minister J.P. Nadda) will also be an important factor for the next three years. Every party president leaves a stamp, and Mr. Shah would be a tough act to follow. For the new president, the Delhi and later the Bihar elections will be the scale on which the first year of his tenure will be judged. Mr. Shah, a details man who has a take-no-prisoners style, delivered significant electoral and ideological goals for the party. His team will, in all likelihood, be retained by the new captain, quite how that will pan out is to be seen.

Despite the mid-year triumph of the general election, 2020 will be a year in which the BJP will be challenged. With allies, it will have to stoop to conquer, within the organisation it will have to find a collegial way of accommodating the often conflicting ambitions of the State leadership. This will mean it will have to be kinder and gentler, despite the 303-seat majority, and not allow its own numbers to drown out warning signs of a turmoil within.

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Printable version | Oct 17, 2021 12:19:25 AM |

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