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Posted at: Mar 11, 2018, 1:18 AM; last updated: Mar 11, 2018, 9:44 AM (IST)
Saba  Naqvi
Saba Naqvi

The BJP’s monumental success

Saba Naqvi
But green shoots emerge in Rajasthan for the Opposition Congress
The BJP’s monumental success
Tribune file photo

Saba Naqvi

The new national headquarters of the BJP is a monument to its successful enterprise in the country. First, all credit to the party for being the first to comply with the Supreme Court order that political party offices should shift out of Delhi’s Lutyen’s zone (the Congress is reportedly too broke to speed up construction). The BJP completed its construction on the 1.7 lakh sq ft plot in a record one-and-a-half years and party president Amit Shah has declared that the new office is bigger than the office of any political party in the world. That’s hard to confirm, but it’s like a smooth, shiny headquarters of a mega corporation. The media briefing room matches the best auditorium in Delhi and the many women rest rooms are as good as any in upmarket hotels (a real change from most party offices in the Lutyen’s zone). 

The first thing one sees on entering the compound is a large picture of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah next to a large map of India. On the map the party’s geographical spread is coloured saffron and the only strip left white is the stretch along the coast from Karnataka and Kerala to Bengal in the East. It must be one of the fun jobs in the BJP to paint a splash of saffron on another stretch! I see that map as the statement of intent of the Modi-Shah led BJP: there are new territories left to conquer, though the job has mostly been done. 

Yes, there have been green shoots for the Opposition such as the recent Congress performance in the Rajasthan by-elections and local body polls. The BSP is suddenly supporting SP candidates in the UP by-elections while another is taking place in Bihar on a seat held by the RJD. Simultaneously, NDA members are acting up: the Shiv Sena has said it will go it alone in 2019 (a statement that should be taken with a pinch of salt at this point) and the TDP has pulled out its ministers from the Central government. 

Anything is of course possible, but the BJP has a few things going for it besides a strong leader at the helm with an appetite for power and the services of the largest cadre organisation in the world. It has money, lots of it, and the cash does not get pilfered down the line as apparently happens with other parties, regional and national, that operate with funding from business (hence the phrase crony capitalism).

In 2014, according to figures filed with the Election Commission, the BJP spent Rs 712 crore on the campaign. It was by far the most expensive campaign in the country’s history. The irony was that after a decade in power, the Congress, mid-campaign, stopped sending funds to candidates that were expected to lose. I recall the veteran Congressman and former Tribal Affairs minister Kishore Chandra Deo being furious with manner MLAs in Andhra Pradesh (where elections happen simultaneously with the Lok Sabha) failed to get the promised amounts, a breach of trust between the party and its candidates. 

Having ruled over India for most of its history and presided over the opening up of the Indian economy, the only explanation for the Congress being broke is that fund collection was done in a manner in which leaders down the line pilfered small fortunes. Either that or they have parked the money somewhere where the party only gets it in special circumstances. Opaqueness over political funding is, I believe, the fundamental reason democracy appears to be hollowing out and mega swindles and scams keep happening. 

The Congress approach is that candidates should raise resources and those seen as likely to win would get some help from the headquarters. This approach has certainly contributed to their decline as Opposition forces in Odisha, Bengal, Tripura besides Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Broadly, they ditch losers while the BJP, with a more centralised fund collection than during the Vajpayee age, puts the money where its mouth is, in this case its expansion plans.   

The regional parties have been reeling since 2014 as their avenues for raising funds have shrunk (besides demonetisation effects). For many smaller parties, politics is also a way to extract money from a system in which they hope to have bargaining power. Since the BJP also has a simple majority in Parliament, the bargaining power of allies has gone. 

As we head towards the next general elections, watch the politics but also watch the money. It’s a deciding factor for why the Congress with larger numbers in Goa and more recently Meghalaya, was beaten at the game of government formation. At present, several significant players also have the spectre of law enforcement agencies and income tax authorities being used against them. This includes the DMK in Tamil Nadu (to which the BJP has made interesting gestures recently) and the BSP. Also note that the forces which defeated the BJP in state elections after the 2014 national win are in jail (Lalu Prasad Yadav) or with their backs to the wall (AAP).

Of course, money alone cannot determine political outcomes. But in situations where mandates are not clear, it does decide who comes to power. 


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