2020: Year of the pandemic had big lessons for Indian political parties


Coronavirus-hit 2020 is coming to an end. A vaccine, including in India, is just round the corner raising hopes of a COVID-free world in 2021. Despite the lockdowns and the work-from-home diktats for most people, including politicians, 2020 had its own share of political twists and turns.

We had two state elections in Delhi and Bihar, crucial by-polls in Madhya Pradesh to determine the fate of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government and municipal polls in Hyderabad. The local polls in Kerala are under way.

The year taught many important lessons to leaders and political parties across the spectrum.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)

The loss in Delhi teaches the BJP that it needs to develop strong regional leaders. ‘Congressisation’ of the BJP is harmful for the party.

The 2014 victory was not all due to Narendra Modi as propagated. the party won in many states due to strong local leadership of Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Raman Singh, Vasundhara Raje Scindia, BS Yediyurappa, to name a few.

You cannot rely on your ‘turk ka patta’ (high card) in each and every game. Overexposure of Modi will be harmful for the party in the long run.

State elections and national elections are different in character. People have nothing to do with national issues in states where local issues dominate. Party cannot write the same essay, however good, in each exam.

Bihar teaches the party about circular reference concept in Excel. Damaging your partner by propping up a party can damage your prospects as well. The National Democratic Alliance sneaked through in Bihar. The BJP failed to emerge as the single largest party in the state.

Nobody knows which way the Diwali rocket will fly once it leaves the bottle.

The farmer protests show that top leadership should shun their notion that they/their bureaucrats know it all. It should consult all stakeholders before making big decisions.

Indian National Congress (INC)

The party should first and foremost stop living in the past. It needs to accept the harsh reality that it is no longer the principal party in Indian political landscape. It shouldn’t bite more than it can chew (lesson from Bihar).

The way elections are fought is changing. The way Gen Z thinks is different. There is a general public hatred brewing for political dynasties.

The Congress-mukt Bharat slogan of BJP is not a joke but a serious ploy. Delhi continued to be Congress-mukt in 2020, while it almost achieved the feat in Hyderabad municipal elections.

The wound inflicted on the Congress cannot be cured by homeopathy medicine, now a surgery is needed. Cosmetic changes in the organisational structure won’t work.

Regional Political Parties

Regional parties and their satraps should stay away from national issues in state elections. They should stay away from attacking Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah in their speeches.

They should steer clear of controversial issues and focus on their achievements (incumbent) or manifesto points (opposition). This strategy was used effectively by both Kejriwal and Tejashwi.

Elections are contested by raising issues on the ground, jostling for occupying voter attention, and battling with opposition workers.

Tweeting all day and gaining an upper hand on social media may not fetch the desired results contrary to what agencies and strategists would tell you.

India is still predominantly rural where personal connect, door-to-door campaigns and influencers play a key role in the election process and results.

Leaders should also stay away and not get swayed by media coverage because positive coverage could be the handiwork of their own public relations teams.

That the ‘game is not over till the last ball is bowled’ also fits in well as an important lesson for regional parties. Both the above points aptly apply to Tejashwi’s loss in Bihar, an election which was on a platter and for the taking.

Opposition leaders are responsible for creating a grand alliance to match the might of Modi.

Bigger parties have more responsibility to have a magnanimous approach so that index of Opposition unity is high, preventing a split of votes which ultimately helps the incumbent (like in Bihar).

For All Parties

Low turnouts in Bihar, GHMC and Delhi polls all point towards growing voter apathy towards elections and politics.

Years of non-performance, high corruption, no visible change, and jod-tod politics are leading many people to stay away from the electoral process.

Many have started to believe that ‘sarkar, sarkar mein koi fark nahi hota’, enough for alarm bells to ring at the top.

The year also saw innovative campaigning methods used by parties to reach out to voters. Parties could learn from each other’s digital campaigns.

To sum up, I am hopeful that parties take these important lessons and draw resolutions for 2021 accordingly.

The article was first published here.

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