The BJP’s ‘failure’ to win the elections in West Bengal is being described as its ‘decline’, as though it had fallen back from previous positions. The truth is that it was foraying further into territory it had barely positioned itself in after the last Lok Sabha election. To make the jump into being considered the ‘favourite’ that lost out should actually be considered quite an achievement. Such commentary would be more appropriate for the results of the panchayat elections in Uttar Pradesh. Here, too, the reactions need to be more nuanced with greater understanding of the ground realities.
All the same, there are lessons to be learned for the party. It must understand that going into areas and states where it has never had a grassroots presence will require more than just the Modi magic. Even that, under the present conditions, is quite challenged as ‘development’ has taken a backseat to ‘survival’. In states like Kerala, Tamilnadu, West Bengal, etc., the party needs to develop local leadership. The lack of this has forced it to depend on defectors and celebrities to attract votes. This is not always guaranteed to work. The ideological base of the regional parties in the South poses a challenge to the other option of splitting governments down the middle.
The RSS has been operating in many of these areas for years but few of the leaders it throws up have vote-getting abilities, trained as they are to be unassuming and service-oriented. It is important therefore for those with talent to be inducted into the BJP early enough to become public figures.
Overall, though, the party should be happy with the inroads it has made in unfamiliar territory. It is also better placed, also, to take on challenges in states that it runs, such as Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. The panchayat election results, for instance, will have provided it an early strategy template. It must be noted that having much of its strength in the urban areas, it faces the two obstacles of caste based consolidation that is the strength of the SP, RLD and BSP, as well as the resentment that may exist among farmers due to the new agriculture laws. The MLAs and MPs in areas where its performance has not been up to the mark will certainly face the heat when ticket distribution takes place at election time. Also important will be its handling of the Covid crisis. The present setbacks will, no doubt, have awakened it to the challenges of the future.