A gripe against BJP’s successes

M Ramesh | Updated on January 08, 2018

Title: How the BJP wins: Inside India’s Greatest Election Machine; Author: Prashant Jha; Publisher: Juggernaut. Price: ₹399

Despite being a racy read, Jha’s deceptively biased work falls short on perspective and insight

Everybody knows that political parties (much like commercial marketers) get into granular demographic details in constituencies where elections are to be held, in order to influence voters. This is done the world over. It is also quite well known that recent electoral successes of the BJP are in part due to its building an effective election machine and feeding data into it. Prashant Jha’s book, How BJP Wins: Inside India’s Greatest Election Machine, fleshes out the framework by giving some details about how the party won recent elections, particularly the 2014 Lok Sabha and 2017 UP Assembly elections.

While some of the details are interesting, the book provides no major insights of the sit-up-and-take-notice kind and, therefore, is more about ‘how’ than about ‘what’. The book is less objective than it pretends, it is unmistakably anti-BJP, despite the positive statements about Narendra Modi.

This is particularly in evidence in a chapter titled ‘The H-M Chunav’, where the author’s sweeping and unsubstantiated assertions contradict with the description of the book by Yogendra Yadav, politician and psephologist, on the wrapper, who says “it tells the truth without ideological blinkers”. To that extent, it is a book wrapped in a lie. Of course, Jha, like anyone else, has an unalienable right to his views, but it is only fair to caution the readers that the book is biased.

Missing the point

The book begins with a chapter on the ‘Modi Hawa’ (the Modi Wave), which plunges right into how deftly the Prime Minister handled demonetisation, as opposed to the Modi Wave of the summer of 2014. The chapter gives a couple of examples (from the millions that Indians already know) of the noteban’s pangs and how Modi, with his anti-corrupt, pro-poor narrative, not only not lost public support but also warded off any change in peoples’ perception of the BJP as ‘suit-boot ki sarkar’.

The author gives credit to Modi for having taken up many of UPA’s initiatives, “reinvigorated a lethargic bureaucracy, used the network of Aadhar and deployed his own political capital to add urgency to implementation.” But he quickly adds that “it is debatable whether the BJP’s welfare schemes will ultimately have more real impact than the UPA’s.”

In the following chapter on ‘Shah’s Sangathan’, Jha details how the BJP President prepared UP for 2017. Using a “neutral-sounding” non-party “Yes, I am 18” campaign, the party embarked upon a voter registration initiative “believing that most first-time voters would opt for Modi.” Shah, the book says, also fired-up the party organisation, cross-checking identity of 1,28,000 booth-level committees’ chairmen, in which process it found out that “over 50,000 names were not right”.

Corrective action was taken and by the middle of 2016, the BJP had granular, micro-level data of party personnel.” Shah then personally met 20,000 booth-level committee chairmen, empowering and motivating them. Also, departing from the BJP’s traditions, Shah was also open to taking in defectors from other parties.

The next chapter on social engineering, arguably the most interesting, speaks about the BJP’s 60-per cent formula’ in the run up to the UP assembly elections. The formula is an assessment that 40 per cent of the population, comprising 20 per cent Muslims, 10 per cent Yadavs (loyal to the Samajwadi Party) and 10 per cent Jatavs (loyal to the BSP), would never vote for the BJP, and hence it was better to work on the other 60 per cent. This meant consolidating all the sub-castes of OBCs and SCs, such as Kurmis, Kuswahas, Lodhs — there are, the book tells us, some 65 backward groups — and bringing them under the BJP fold.

This also meant BJP expanding its base, comprising the upper castes of Brahmis and Thakurs, into these backward and scheduled castes. Jha says that the BJP was quick to see that within the Dalits, some were prosperous and there was a chasm between them and the rest, and the latter were ripe to be wooed.

In conclusion, the author says, “The BJP wins elections today because it is a new BJP, because it is an inclusive Hindu party.”

In the following chapter on how BJP depends on Sangh offers no great insight but there is an interesting reference to the episode of the controversy stirred up by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, supposedly calling for a re-look at the reservation policy — which impacted the BJP adversely — during the Bihar Assembly elections. Looks like Bhagwat never said that, though the way he worded his thoughts gave room to an alternative interpretation, which the opposition exploited.

Hollow rhetoric

In ‘The H-M Chunav’, Jha clearly paints the BJP as a polarising, anti-Muslim party, unfortunately without enough substantiation. He declares that “The BJP cannot, with its current ideological framework win elections in north and east India... without a strong element of communal polarisation.” He says the party needs to “construct the Muslim as the ‘other’, which needs to be taught a lesson.” Shockingly, he says, rather scurrilously, “They (BJP) have been actively complicit in anti-Muslim riots and violence — and benefited from the anger and anxieties such moments produce.” Since there is no substantiation, these statements leave the book open to legal challenge.

The chapter, ‘Beyond the Heartland’ is more a chronicle of how BJP won Assam and Manipur and in the final one, ‘The Future of the Hegemon’, Jha notes, rather patronisingly that “winning is easier than ruling.”

While the book does make for an interesting read, as it touches upon juicy topics, there is nothing in the nature of ‘revelation’ that might be expected of a journalist who has reported on the elections. For example, he says that in Assam the “BJP deployed all means possible” to prevent a Muslim vote consolidating alliance between the Congress and Badruddin Ajmal of AIUDF, but says nothing about what the means were — which is the real story.


Prashant Jha is a journalist with the Hindustan Times and the author of Battles of the New Republic

Published on October 22, 2017

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