NEW DELHI—The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) lower-than-expected performance in the Maharashtra assembly election can be attributed to factors related to both the right-wing party’s election strategy and the Devendra Fadnavis-led government’s performance during the past five years, a senior party leader from Maharashtra told HuffPost India on Thursday.
Speaking on strict condition of anonymity, the senior leader blamed the induction of powerful regional leaders from other political parties into the BJP just before the election as a major factor behind the party’s support base being “disturbed”.
“Mindless incoming of all elements which were rejected, and which had perhaps very little political clout in their own places...we perhaps accepted without application of mind,” he said.
In what should be a warning bell for the BJP, many of these new entrants were rejected by the electorate.
The senior party leader, who plays an important role in the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government at the centre and saw the preparations for the state election from close quarters, explained the consequences of this “mindless” acceptance of defectors.
“That has definitely disturbed our rank and file, our support base. In this I include the BJP and Sangh Parivar—including the extended Sangh Parivar; the value-conscious, law-abiding middle class. This support base did not like this tactic. What happened with Udayanraje Bhonsle is an example of that. You can’t nominate just anyone to contest on a BJP ticket,” he said.
Bhonsle, a Western Maharashtra leader who is a descendant of medieval Maratha ruler Chhatrapati Shivaji, had won from the Satara Lok Sabha constituency in May after he contested on the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party ticket.
But in the by-election that was necessitated by his jumping to the BJP, he looks set to lose, as he is trailing the NCP candidate by over 85,000 votes. The polling and counting for Lok Sabha by-elections happened alongside the state assembly election.
Bhonsle is just one of several such regional leaders from other parties who were inducted in the BJP during the election campaign. The senior BJP leader quoted above explained the party’s thinking behind this strategy and why, according to him, it failed this time.
“At the highest level in the party organisation, there is this thinking that our strength does not improve by every new entrant to the party, but the opponent’s strength does get reduced. So it’s a strategic game, which is apparently true and it’s a clever logical argument also. But then there is a catch: while it is true that there will be no value addition for us, but there could be a value subtraction for us as well. Udayanraje Bhonsle is a classic example as to how it, in fact, reduces the goodwill that you otherwise enjoy. And that was perhaps (something) we were unmindful of,” he said.
This “accommodation” of other leaders into the BJP has a cascading effect, he said, which was reflected in the party’s pre-election dealings with ally Shiv Sena. “What happened is that, in the alliance, Shiv Sena was accommodated a little more (than required). That upset our party workers. Since we contested without an alliance in 2014, our party workers’ aspirations had increased. Now, because of the alliance this time, there was some dampening effect on them,” he noted.
The alliance with Shiv Sena, he added, is something the party workers would rather not have. “It is not a pleasant prospect for the BJP to align with the Shiv Sena. They say all sorts of things about us every time and yet we align with them, that in a way impacts your own self-respect also as party workers. It is wrong to think that there are no consequences of that. There are scars deeply in your psyche of this insulting kind of behaviour of the Shiv Sena,” he revealed.
What happened is that, in the alliance, Shiv Sena was accommodated a little more (than required). That upset our party workers. Since we contested without an alliance in 2014, our party workers’ aspirations had increased. Now, because of the alliance this time, there was some dampening effect on them
The leader is right to be concerned—since the BJP has no chance of forming the government on its own, the Uddhav Thackeray-led party looks ready to milk its advantage for as much as it can. A senior Shiv Sena leader also told HuffPost India earlier in the day that the BJP’s poor performance in Vidarbha and Marathwada could be because it did not meet “people’s expectations”.
If these issues of electoral calculations and alliances were not enough to create problems for the BJP at the hustings, there was the manner in which Devendra Fadnavis ran his administration. It failed to transfer the popular goodwill it enjoys across all levels of the administration and for all, if not most leaders, the senior BJP leader believes.
“Normally what happens is that the connect between the ministers and party organisation remains weak. This happened in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Haryana,” he noted. He meant the manner in which the state government implemented the party’s agenda, including welfare schemes, conducted outreach among people, among other things.
The senior party leader added further that “The extent to which our party organisation needs to create pressure on ministers did not happen. And then it became a Chief Ministerial regime.”
When asked if he meant the CM had become more popular than ministers and the government’s work, he replied in the affirmative, explaining that, “The CM has to see that the goodwill that he enjoys percolates down (to the lowest levels of the government).” But that did not happen, he noted.
He did concede, however, “that is easier said than done.”