Saturday, April 6, 2013

Now For something completely different: Election Strategy


 In an earlier note[1] I had forecast that the 2014 election campaign would be fought between a Rahul led Congress and a Modi led BJP.  Rahul Gandhi’s speech has given us the first hint of the Rahul-Congress election platform and strategy. The election platform is basically the congress development strategy of “Inclusive growth” developed over the last 8 years, modified (tweaked?) by the need to restore growth to its 8% potential and leavened with Shri Rahul Gandhi’s personal experience of reaching out to the common people and reviving the Congress party. By leaving the issue of a future Congress PM open (Rahul-? diarchy), the strategy is also designed to keep the election from becoming a Presidential style Rahul vs. Modi election.  
     The election platform of the Modi led BJP is also reasonably clear, based as it is on governance and his experience of maintaining fast economic growth and job creation in Gujarat and the provision of Public Goods and services through his administrative abilities.  At the same time he is likely to leave it to his social critics to arouse the BJP’s Hindutva base by criticizing his leadership of Gujarat during the 2002 riots, with perhaps some help from RSS affiliates.  These strategies will be designed to subtly polarize the voters and attract them towards the two National parties and away from State parties that depend heavily on cast, creed and regionalism.

Election Strategy

      Consider a grading based on the each parties program (Cong/BJP) and the ability of the potential leader (Rahul/Modi) to achieve results (positive & negative).  Three dimensions are likely to figure in the election discourse: Social inclusion, Economic Growth & Development and Domestic & National security (plus a net/overall grade).  Putting oneself into the hypothetical persona of neutral analyst with a nationalist, liberal perspective, the tentative scores for the two national parties are, (i) Rahul led Congress: A, B+ and B on the three dimensions with a net score of  B+ and (ii) Modi led BJP: C+, A and A- with a net of B+.  Any ranking can be disputed by committed supporters, particularly as it relates to likely future performance. Our purpose is however the very limited one of analyzing potential election strategies.  Two points emerge from this exercise: One that on basis of net score it may be difficult for voters to choose between the two National parties, so traditional supporters of each are likely to vote for their historically favored party, even if they had drifted away in the last two elections. Two that new, independent, undecided voters are likely to vote for the party whose score is higher on the dimension that is more important to them.  Those who care very strongly about social liberalism are likely to gravitate to the Rahul Congress, while those who care strongly about liberal economic policy outcomes are likely to drift to the BJP.  Those who care more about caste and region, will likely vote for the State parties.  On balance the urban vote is likely to shift back from Congress to BJP, while the rural vote share of the Congress could increase to partially offset this.  The challenge for both parties will be to win back the younger, more mobile voters from among those whose families switched to the State parties during the last 10-15 years.

Post-Poll BJP

        The National party which gets significantly higher number of seats along with its limited pre-election partners will have a better chance of forming the government.  Analysts have said that an ambiguous result will favor the Congress, given the reluctance of parties like JD(U), BJD and TDP to join a government with Modi as PM.  My analysis suggests that the BJP-NDA may solve this conundrum by making L K Advani PM, Narendra Modi as Deputy PM in charge of the economy and perhaps Nitish Kumar as DPM for social policy.  This may have the collateral benefit of allaying fears within the BJP and the RSS of Modi’s “dictatorial” tendencies.

Pre-Poll Congress

     Does this new post-election scenario, require new thinking on the part of the Rahul Congress?  For one it requires a complete extirpation of any residual complacency in the Congress with respect to economic reforms and economic growth.  The government, fully and whole heartedly supported by the party, must get down in the trenches to carry out every possible governance and economic reform that can revive economic growth within the next twelve months.  Two, they must move to the center on social laws, expenditures and programs.  There is an impression among the Urban middle class that social policy has been driven to an extreme by philosophers, poets and dreamers, without regard to scientific analysis and much understanding of the severe limitations imposed by the overburdened, broken and corrupt bureaucratic system that has to implement this policy.  The emerging middle class is unlikely to vote on the basis of promises and programs that transfer 70% to 85% of money to administrators and politicians.


       The economic growth achievements of Narendra Modi can only be countered by the growth achievements of the Congress-UPA government.  The Congress cannot assume that even if it wins fewer seats than the BJP, most potential post-pol allies of the BJP can be persuaded to abandon the Modi led BJP.  They may flock to an Advani-Modi led NDA government.

No comments: