South Asian Insider
BJP has to get the national-local balance right
The BJP appears to face the burden of triple anti-incumbency since the local legislator, parliamentarian, and the state government is of the party in most of the states where it had done well last time. After two phases of the Lok Sabha elections, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) - the ideological parent and the organisational anchor of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) - has sent out a cautious reminder to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party chief, Amit Shah. As the Hindustan Times reported on Sunday, the Sangh believes that it is time for the BJP to concentrate on "local issues"; the national security pitch, especially the Balakot strikes, have limited traction on the ground now; and the campaign rallies need more energy. The Sangh believes that the fact that voter turnout has not increased - and has even dipped in places - compared to 2014 is a worrying signal for the party, since a higher turnout has usually yielded greater dividends for the BJP. There are two ways to understand the election, and its possible outcome. All surveys, reportage and anecdotal evidence suggest that Mr Modi remains by far the most popular national leader. He is the favourite to be PM. The reasons to support him vary from perceptions of his strength and decisiveness to absence of alternatives or a fear of a weak coalition. But there is another simultaneous process underway. As soon as the election is broken down to constituencies, there is a somewhat different story. The BJP appears to face the burden of triple anti-incumbency since the local legislator, parliamentarian, and the state government is of the party in most of the states where it had done well last time. Many are unpopular. Rebels have stood in pockets. The opposition has stronger local candidates in many places. And bread and butter issues often dominate. Even Mr Modi supporters end up suggesting that while they want him as PM, in their constituency, they would like to see another representative. The RSS warning stems from this second situation. As much as elections have got presidential, India remains a parliamentary system. And the only way for anyone to become PM is to have a majority of the MPs. Mr Modi's popularity is the BJP's strength, but will it be enough to offset all the local vulnerabilities of the party? Will only a national narrative be enough to neutralise concerns about the ineffectiveness or failures of delivery at the constituency level? The BJP may have an edge on the national story; but it is looking weak on the local front. This general election may well rest on whether the party is able to get the balance right in the coming phases.
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