While BJP’s election campaign committee chief was trying hard to win over Hyderabad, there were two interesting developments unfolding in the neighboring state’s capital, Bangalore, and the national capital of Delhi. In Bangalore a frustrated BSY, looking for greener pastures, was being wooed by D.K. Shivakumar of the Congress. In Delhi, almost the entire top BJP leadership of the state unit had rebelled against Vijay Goel at Nitin Gadkari’s residence. Of course, most of this was lost in the ‘NaMo in Hyderabad’ cacophony over the weekend.

The two events of Bangalore and Delhi are not only being ignored by the News media and Twitter, but also by most of the BJP. The party is smugly walking towards 2014 in a misplaced belief that power is hers for the taking. Dozens of committees are being set up to work on social media campaigning and digital outreach, scores of meetings are being organized to unleash the message of the party by inviting hundreds of techies and entrepreneurs are being encouraged to formulate a mission 272. Reports suggest 200 member tech teams are manning various digital outreach programs over and above the IT cell of the party. Every day new web portals are springing up, elucidating the clearest path towards winning 2014.

One of the committee head’s even reveals that they actually have built the “software” to reach out to each and every voter. In fact, he goes on to add, “Not just a voter but we can get details about the occupants of an entire building”. These digital outreach programs have huge targets too – to begin with 10000 volunteers and 1 lakh online volunteers by the end of August! Of course a great deal more would get added as we get closer to the elections. This entire exercise is so awe inspiring, that Congress and other parties might as well give up fighting the next elections. But no, Congress is equally determined to trend #Fekuexpress, not to be left behind in this digital war game.

Meanwhile in the real world, Bangalore Rural and Mandya are the two LS seats for which by-elections are to be held next week. Both of these are Vokkaliga bastions and are therefore JDS strongholds, while BJP is almost non-existent here so the party rightly decided to withdraw its candidates in order to put up a strong united opposition fight against the recently elected Congress government. These by-elections are crucial for the Congress party in Karnataka, which wants to continue its winning streak of May 5th. If Congress loses both these erstwhile JDS seats, then the latent dissidence against the “outsider” CM, Siddramaiah, would come out into the open in the run-up to 2014.

In both these LS seats, Lingayat votes range around 1.5 Lakhs to about 2 Lakhs, which although is not enough to win the seat on its own, yet could be the crucial differentiator between the victor and the loser in an all Vokkaliga contest. In each of the small towns and village clusters of these LS seats like Malavalli, Nagamangala, K.R. Pete of Mandya and Ramnagara, Bidadi, Kanakapura, Yelahanka of Bangalore rural, there are pockets of Lingyat votes ranging from 5000 to 20000. No amount of online volunteers will be able to persuade these voters; neither 10000, nor 1 Lakh, not even a million volunteers will be able to convince these voters. One man and one man only can convince them to vote in any which way he wants, for all of them owe their allegiance to this tallest Lingayat leader of the state. It is this man that D.K. Shivakumar and the Congress party are wooing in the real world, while the tech savvy and mighty software taunting BJP leadership is unable to convince itself into re-inculcating the one man who matters, into the party.

When it comes to technology and internet penetration, Delhi is as urban a state as one could dream of in a country like India. What is more, Delhi is ripe for a hostile political takeover due to humungous mal-governance and corruption by the Sheila Dixit government that has witnessed a million mutinies only last year on the streets of Delhi. It should be a cakewalk for the ultra tech savvy BJP in Delhi, right? Wrong, the actual situation is almost heart breaking. In two recent internal surveys, BJP was actually seen to be losing vote shares as compared to 2008!

Last week Nitin Gadkari was apparently stunned by the scale of rebellion against Vijay Goel and the depth of acrimony displayed by the entire leadership of the state unit at a meeting in his residence. In the Goel-Gupta-Vardhan-Jolly-Malhotra fight, BJP has apparently decided to go with the tried and tested formula for failure, “collective leadership”. This formula ensures that all the tech-savviness in the world will not result in the party’s victory and Sheila Dixit may even get an unprecedented fourth term!

What Delhi is crying for is a decisive leadership decision instead of a million online volunteers. What Delhi BJP needs is injection of lateral talent that can take it beyond its core-votes in order to tap the unprecedented middle class anger into positive votes for the party, what it is instead getting is a dose of collective leadership. Similarly Bangalore is crying for a decision on BSY and all it is getting is useless technicalities of central leadership being busy in parliamentary proceedings. Inept delays have the potential to transform a BSY into a BLM – Babu Lal Marandi – which is a euphemism for a point of no return. By the way, Jharkhand should have been the sixth state to go for polls by the end of this year, where once again BJP has managed to stay out of power, while Congress has managed to stay in, before the crucial LS polls next year.

Delhi, Bangalore and Ranchi are not isolated case studies, the rot is far deeper than we have ever fathomed. Take the case of Chhattisgarh, which will also go to polls by the year end, there is huge factionalism at various levels and also a great deal of local level anti-incumbencies. For instance, in the entire Bastar division, consisting of Bastar, Dantewada, Bijapur, Sukma, Narayanpur and Kanker districts, BJP is facing massive factional feuds and local leaders don’t see eye to eye on many issues. Even at a broader state level Soudhan Singh and Raman Singh are at constant loggerheads, while Raja Dilip Singh Judeo is mostly ill these days. Many recent covert and overt surveys are suggesting Congress to be in an advantageous position in this tribal state. Remember, the gap between BJP and Congress is merely 1.7%. Recapturing Raipur is proving to be an uphill task for the BJP in 2013.

Among the other 2 states that are going to polls, Rajasthan is too close to call and could be decided by as low as a single percentage swing eitherways. Thus BJP is almost staring at a big 2-3 defeat or even a humiliating 1-4 verdict in the upcoming round of assembly elections as of today. Needless to state that such a result would effectively put an end to any dreams of BJP getting back to power in 2014.

Again, these are not new developments, for most of this has been a sort of ‘work in progress’. Over the last year and a half, when there was supposed to be this huge anti-Congress wave across the nation, BJP has won no new states while it has lost 5/7 states that it was in power due to one reason or the other – 3 of them directly to Congress. On the other hand Congress has won 3 states from the BJP and retained power in 1 – Assam (this narrative discounts smaller states of North-East and Goa). All the three states that BJP lost to Congress directly – Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand – were due to local mismanagement of both strategic and political kind. So this design flaw is continuous and consistent.

The problem with the strategic thinking within the BJP and the extended digital community is the belief that national elections will somehow overcome the inherent design flaws that are causing the defeat of the party in state after state. This is nothing but a fallacy. When Uttarakhand was lost, it was construed as a one-off mistake, but Himachal was repeated with the same alacrity and then Karnataka was a deliberate catastrophe. Now Delhi and Chhattisgarh are disasters waiting to happen, while Rajasthan could just be an accident. With such setbacks, no amount of online strategy and digital magic can win LS polls.

No doubt, Narendra Modi is the most popular leader in India today and also possibly one of the most credible messengers that the nation so strongly believes in since Rajiv Gandhi’s hey days of mid-80’s. Alas! A leader alone cannot win national elections without adequate support from the states, especially so, in a far more federated India of today. It is the real politic at the state level that is missing in the grand strategy of the BJP and not some deficiency in the “Modi Math” that the left-liberal op-ed writers are harping about.

What must also be given a serious thought to, are the limitations of a Narendra Modi campaign, for Modi-mania is far more uneven across India than what many digital warriors want to believe. His appeal is far higher in the heartland of UP, than say in the neighboring city-state of Delhi. Similarly in Maharashtra, his appeal may be more limited than what most people had tended to believe. For instance, when Nitesh Rane made those outrageous comments about Gujaratis, he was actually pandering to a certain section of voters in his home state. Yes, abominable as those comments were, one cannot live in denial about the Ranes reacting to certain signals in the electoral antenna. The Maratha v/s Gujarati fault lines have existed for decades and these have only been accentuated in recent years due to vegetarian only middle class societies in the larger cities of Maharashtra, especially Mumbai – “the Ghati crowd gets agitated with the Gujarati exclusivist behavior”, to put it in local Mumbaiya lingo. It is in this context that Narendra Modi, till the last electoral cycle was seen in Maharashtra as essentially a Gujarati leader and was utilized in Gujarati dominated areas of Mumbai for campaigning by both BJP and SS. These subtle sub-regional calibrations must be inculcated when devising larger campaign strategies; whereas there seems to be a hint of an overreliance on Gujarati-techie-NRI clique in this whole digital mass outreach modus operandi.

This disconnect with reality among BJP and its supporters is best exemplified in the Telengana imbroglio. While the entire set of online warriors were celebrating a brilliantly written questionnaire by Modi, Congress party was coldly calculating the real, on the ground benefits of Telangana formation. In all likelihood, Congress may reap big electoral benefits in Telangana, while BJP may only be left holding on to abstract questionnaires, but the noise that BJP’s supporters make is seen to be believed.

If BJP as a party and her advisors were to concentrate their energies in setting right the wrongs at the various state levels rather than worrying about online campaign methodologies, then here are these 6 quick steps that Narendra bhai needs to take without any delay;

  • Restore BSY with full honours, for only he can win you any elections in Karnataka and no one else
  • Bring in lateral talent in Delhi to the forefront and put an end to the constant internal bickering, even if it means sacrificing some leaders (lateral talent can be from within the party or outside)
  • Modi should make a deeply personal appeal to the warring factions of Chhattisgarh and set the house in order
  • Some kind of working relationship has to be established with Babu Lal Marandi at any cost
  • 3000 Cr worth of freebies in the last months leading up to elections by the Gehlot government; mostly in the form of direct cash; have transformed the Rajasthan battle into a more even contest, so a recalibration in BJP’s battle plans is needed, with possibly greater concentration by Modi and also Vasundhara Raje Scindhiya giving greater role to many party workers who are now under-utilized
  • LS election campaigning can wait, what is of paramount importance is to win 4 out of 5 states in November-December; without these assembly victories, no LS campaign can be sustained; therefore all efforts should be concentrated towards assembly elections rather than expending energies towards a distant LS poll

Going by past experience, we can be reasonably sure that none of these steps would be taken in earnest. Eventually it would all be just status quo. Instead, BJP will more likely try to win 2014 by employing perfect algorithms. Larry Page should try his luck in Indian elections, he has a very good chance of succeeding on a virtual BJP ticket.

Meanwhile there is a raging war on Twitter about trending topics, fake DPs, sponsored tweets et al. while nobody really cares if the party couldn’t even find candidates to put up a fight and now BJP supported JDS candidates may even lose in Bangalore Rural and Mandya LS seats in a state where BJP was in power less than 6 months ago! Defeats don’t matter, just like a humungous 1 lakh 35k vote difference of Congress victory in Mandi LS seat didn’t matter just a month ago. In the cyber world, electoral defeats are virtual and trending topics are real. What matters is the next big idea of recruiting 1 lakh online volunteers to test the capabilities of our newest software tool. All of this of course will come crashing down to earth in 2014.

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Praveen Patil

Praveen Patil

Analyst of Indian electoral politics and associated economics with a right-of-centre perspective.