BJP: Problem of Floating Voters

Posted on 2009-06-26
THE BJP and CPI(M), the most virulent opponents of the Manmohan Singh government, are in the midst of a severe post-defeat political turmoil. It is difficult to say which of the two is in deeper trouble. But the way the two rival parties have responded to their existential crisis provides a study in contrast. While the CPI(M) is struggling hard to find its foot, the disarray in BJP has led to a first rate leadership crisis. This is marked by resignations and protests and a murmur campaign about the Advani-Jaitely group’ proximity with PM.
The CPI(M)’s response, on the other, has been quick and fairly well structured. Within a month, they have held a series of meetings from their politburo down to the state panels in West Bengal and Kerala to review the electoral defeat. Contrary to media predictions, heads have not rolled in Delhi or Kolkatta. Every one, including Mr Prakash Karat, conceded ‘Third Front’ was a blunder. Now it looks the party may not oblige us by conceding the Left withdrawal of support to UPA was a mistake.
How will the Marxists finally emerge from their multi-pronged disaster depends largely on the ground war being waged in Bengal villages. For this we may have to wait. But a comparison of the way two parties have handled the calamity will provide valuable input to the political managers and social scientists. The way Mr Advani hastily appointed his protégés as leaders in two Houses without wider consultations, unduly delay in summoning the national executive, the RSS silence on continuing anarchy and Mr Jaitely’s holiday trip to Europe amidst the crisis – any of this could have been unthinkable in the BJP of the period 1986-95.
Change in Party Constitution
Efficacy of a political party’s disaster management depends solely on the soundness of its organisational structure. In that golden era, Ashok Road, not Prithviraj Road, remained the decision making centre with the veteran office-bearers – S S Bhandari, Mr Kushabhao Thakre, Mr K R Malkani, J P Mathur and K L Sharma – regularly attending the office. Mr Govindacharya used to describe such regular interaction as ‘our politiburo’. He himself had played a major role in the party’s consensual functioning. Things changed when power shifted to private bungalows, and the outside advisers and failed journalists emerged as the BJP’s real decision makers. Even the party constitution was changed to facilitate the unlimited Congressisation. Too many opinions, Mr Advani’s wiz kids argued, erode the authority. Hence the party boss had picked up young smarties that now constitute the party’s second rung leadership. And when the party finds itself in total disarray, all that is left with is a few quarrelling individuals.
As against this, the Marxists’ 45-year-old systemic steel frame seems to have enabled the cornered comrades ward off the much expected ‘fireworks’ and ‘head rolling’. Despite our best prodding, no leader came on record to talk against their colleagues the way we wished. When decisions are taken by consensus or in rare cases by vote, you cannot blame it on a super boss or a coterie and get away with it. But then democratic centralism as a perfect system cannot be imposed overnight. It calls for conscientious concessions and compromises. The BJP had tried a version of it for a decade. But it dumped it midway due to the urge for quick power and the misplaced notion that India could be ruled only by an Indira-style one-boss power structure built on an inverted pyramid system.
Shift in Media Behaviour
However, there are a couple of problems encountering both parties – of course, in varying degrees. These are: one, a ruthlessly adverse media projection, and two, a presumably growing proportion of floating voters. The second probably get stimulus from the first. The emergence of floating voters may yet be in the realm of presumptions because there is no way of precisely estimating their proportion. The term itself connotes uncommitted voters who could be swayed to either side. When the contest is close, floating voters can delicately tilt the outcome. The Left and BJP were the worst victims of the floaters this time.
How much of the new generation voters belong to the urban, and possibly some rural, aspiring middle classes? Influenced by new life style, consumerism and exposed more to media stimulation, this generation middle classes lack the commitment and loyalty of their predecessors. They could easily be swayed by the media projections. Last week Mr Venkiaiah Naidu said his party wanted terrorism, governance and UPA’s failures to dominate the campaign but a wile media hijacked it and highlighted Mr Varun remarks and Modi-as-PM comments. Some allege the apolitical middle class itself is a creation of the New Media. First they tried an anti-politician drive. But with the launching of elite gals and guys, politics is projected as more respectable.
The post-1991 BJP has had an excellent rapport with media. Mr Advani makes it a point to meet the media barons during his state visits. Mr Pramod Mahajan with his deft handling, ensured full media backing to the NDA. Media has been the sole beneficiary of the ‘Shine-India’ campaign. But by the turn of 2005, the corporates and media had decided to put their weight with the Manmohan Singh government. In private, BJP leaders take the shift in media behaviour as the most crucial factor for their poor showing.
Influence of Mass Partisanship
The Left had never depended on the mainstream bourgeoisie media and has their own counter propaganda mechanism in their strongholds. Yet now they are at a loss as how to counter the campaigner role of the new generation post-reform media with its unabashed partisan role. Ms Mayawati is a pariah and hence should be ignored or maligned whereas Ms Mamata has a messianic role. If she uproots a car plant or threatens industry, it should be treated with the fondness of a kid breaking a new toy. She can take charge of Rail Bhavan in Kolkatta and order her MOS to be in Bengal for five days a week. But none of us disapproves such distortions.
Rightly or wrongly, the Left camp alleges that the New Media had even tried to project Maoist violence in Bengal with kid gloves. The Left’s worry over the twin phenomenon of a campaign media and its contribution to the emergence of a growing proportion of floating voters apart, we seem to miss a crucial point – absence of dissent in media. For three decades, Ramnath Goenka’s newspaper empire had played this vital role. In this era of conformity, we have nowhere to look for the other view.