The first principle is to admit mistakes. We all underestimated Rahul Gandhi. He has transformed his party and enhanced its electoral chances. The British Labour party lost four elections to Conservatives in the years between 1979 and 1992. We could not believe voters could like Margaret Thatcher, who stood for everything we loathed. We needed to understand what voters wanted. Tony Blair downplayed Socialism and made the party market-friendly. As a reward, Blair secured three victories in succession. Rahul has similarly learnt to take the best from the BJP and fashion a new winning ideology.
One thing is established. India now has two major parties around which smaller parties will coalesce. There is little difference between the two groups regarding economic or social policies. They are afraid of tackling deep reforms and prefer handouts — remission of farm loans, subsidies for food, reservations for jobs — to keep the popular protests under control. Either way, the prospect of sustained high growth under either party is dismal. Sensible economic policies are unwelcome. The second principle is to make the worst case assumption when deciding what to do. The BJP should resist the temptation to think that whatever the results at state level, the general elections would be different. That the Modi magic will work wonders. This will be the worst form of complacency.
Every election must be fought as a new one. The BJP should think it is fighting for its life. Else it will find itself out. It should recall that the best Atal Bihari Vajpayee could get was 182 seats and then lost the 2004 election. Modi got a hundred more seats in 2014 on the promise of inclusive development. Even so, Narendra Modi should not take a second term for granted. Never trust the Indian voter to give you an easy time.
The BJP should start the 2019 campaign with the assumption, as a projection from the state election results, that it could lose 100 seats. Its task then is to minimise this projected loss. The Congress could get 100 more seats. Not the ones the BJP loses but overall. Uttar Pradesh will not yield 73 again for the BJP, Yogi and Mandir notwithstanding. If the Congress wins 150, how many does the BJP need to form a winning NDA coalition?
That depends on how many parties would remain in the NDA. The Shiv Sena will be difficult and the JD(U) may not be much help in Bihar. The TRS will need to be wooed. The SAD has nowhere else to go. New partners will be difficult to recruit if the BJP looks like a defender and not a surefire winner.
Beware of fake numbers. Modi got carried away by the idea that Rs 15 lakh could be put in every Indian’s bank account if he got black money back from abroad. Simple arithmetic should have told him this was fantasy. Similarly it is being said 100 crore Indians (Hindus) demand a temple in Ayodhya. Maybe a small percentage of upper castes in Hindi heartland at most, not 100 crore. Raising incomes is better than any number of temples.
The CM choices in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh show that Rahul Gandhi is not yet fully in charge. The old failures refuse to go away. The past is the enemy of the future. It will make winning in 2019 hard. The Congress beware.