Congress Needs to Learn From BJP The Art of Poaching/Using Allies
Video Editor: Mohd Ibrahim
Video Producer: Anubhav Mishra
Cameraperson: Nitin Chopra
Every political party is breathlessly striking alliances for the 2019 polls. While it’s understandable why the Congress – which is plotting its rise from the abysmal lows of 44 seats in 2014 – would be showing alacrity, even the BJP – riding on its record high of 282 and bragging about having done more in 60 months compared to 60 years of Congress rule – is retreating, pumping flesh, swallowing pride, and cutting deals with detractors.
Why is this happening? Because since 1989, the Congress and BJP have always had a higher strike rate, ie won more seats as a fraction of those contested, whenever they have fought fewer seats. Even in the Modi hurricane of 2014, the BJP fought on lesser seats than in 2009. The exception was for the Congress in 2009 – when it fought and won a higher number of Lok Sabha seats – but that perhaps just proved the rule.
Fewer Seats, Higher Strike Rate
This “fewer seats but higher strike rate” lesson is clearly visible in the marquee transactions to date. The BJP even gave up won seats to pacify allies like Nitish Kumar and Uddhav Thackeray.
The Congress also cut terrific deals in Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and possibly Maharashtra, winning some, losing some, yet staying utterly focused on “must have these allies on board come what may”. But it’s quite difficult to understand why the Congress initially held back in Delhi, UP and Assam.
These are key swing states that account for 101 seats; whichever alliance wins here could rule New Delhi for the next five years. And while the BJP is a remarkable Number 1 in all three states, the Congress is Number 2 in Assam and at third place in Delhi and UP.
What Congress Can Learn From BJP?
Aaah the dreaded third place in politics! Here the Congress can learn a trick from the BJP, which climbed up from a weak 3rd spot in state after state to become the unchallenged Number 1. The BJP’s strategy is screamingly obvious in hindsight: it would accept its weak position, playing second fiddle to a powerful regional force; once it became a strong Number 3, it would assiduously chip away at the partner’s vote/talent base, patiently and cleverly expanding its own footprint; and would ultimately swallow its regional ally to become the unchallenged Number 1.
If you are not convinced, here are graphic examples:
Gujarat in 1990: The BJP’s 67 MLAs supported Chimanbhai Patel’s Janata Dal to form the government. Its own Keshubhai Patel became deputy chief minister. Soon, the Janata Dal was subsumed in the BJP... and well, the BJP has totally dominated Gujarat ever since!
Goa in 1999: BJP’s Manohar Parrikar aligned with the breakaway Goa People’s Congress to gain power; Parrikar then split his partner and joined with MGP to become Goa CM; today, Parrikar is still in office, while MGP has been whittled down to three MLAs.
Haryana in 1982 and 1987: The BJP formed an alliance with Devi Lal’s Indian National Lok Dal (INLD). It then hooked up with Bansi Lal’s Haryana Vikas Party but withdrew support, getting back in bed with INLD. Today, the BJP is ruling Haryana, and INLD is in the wilderness.
Karnataka in 2006: BJP and JD(S) became partners in government; in 2008 in the famous “Operation Kamala”, it poached from both Congress and JD(S) to become the ruling party. It has the highest number of MPs from Karnataka in the current Lok Sabha.
Assam from 2001 to 2016: The BJP piggy-backed on Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) to grow from zero to 7 MPs. Today, it’s ruling Assam while AGP is in the boondocks.
Maharashtra since 1995: The BJP had been allied with Shiv Sena but they split before the 2014 Assembly polls in which the BJP defeated the Sena. Today, it’s calling the shots in the state.
Odisha from 1998 to 2009: The BJP locked in with the Biju Janta Dal (BJD) to grow in the state. Once the BJD ditched it, the BJP poached from all around to become the principal challenger.
It’s a tried-and-tested recipe for the Congress as they begin the arduous climb out of the ditch in Delhi, UP and Assam: become the junior partner and over the next few polls, patiently and cleverly without wanting to become Number 1 in a great hurry, poach your partner’s talent and vote base slowly and strategically, to reclaim your past glory in the state.