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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 22, June 1, 2024

BJP’s electoral strategy: its inner contradictions could lead to its failure in 2024 | Pritam Singh

Saturday 1 June 2024, by Pritam Singh


As the seventh phase of India’s 2024 General Election gets underway, the emerging political scene in the country is throwing signals of inner contradictions in the Modi-led BJP’s strategy that had proved electorally successful in 2014 and 2019. The key aspect of this contradiction is that what led this strategy to succeed in the past is precisely what may lead to its failure in 2024.

It is likely to appear counterintuitive to say that a success can be the cause of failure. The view that success can be the cause of failure certainly goes against the ‘common sense’ that is often paraded by using the phrase ‘nothing succeeds like success.’ In this common-sense view, success breeds more success because success is supposed to enrich experiences and knowledge about the modes of achieving success. However, looking dialectically, the relationship between success and failure can be seen as a critique of this linear view of the relationship between success and failure. This dialectical view would suggest that a period of continuing success in human endeavours can become the cause of failure because the failures have an inbuilt mechanism to signal certain flaws that need correction, and the absence of such failures can remove this inbuilt correcting mechanism. This can eventually result in a massively accumulated failure.

There are signs that BJP’s past electoral successes are heading in the direction of a massive electoral failure.

Three key elements of BJP’s electoral strategy that had proved successful in the past are:1. Massive polarisation of Hindu opinions primarily centred on upper caste segments of the vastly populated North Indian Hindi speaking region and culturally the closest region to the Hindi speaking region (Gujarat and, to a lesser extent, Maharashtra) against the Muslims, 2. Highly centralised mode of governance that gave the appearance of a very ordered way of governing the country especially in contrast with the policy paralysis that seemed to afflict the last few years of UPA governance during its 2009-2014 tenure, and 3. Focus on Prime Minister Modi as a strong and decisive leader.

An analysis of these three elements can give us a clue about the dynamics of past electoral successes generating a possible failure this time. The two successive General Election wins in 2014 and 2019 based on the first of these three key elements of BJP’s successful electoral strategy namely the mobilisation of the North Indian Hindi speaking region has over time led to a slowly, gradually, and more recently accelerated alienation from BJP of the non-Hindi regions. This alienation is reaching the point that it is emerging that the non-Hindi regions of India might become BJP mukt regions. The upper caste focussed dimension of that key element of electoral strategy has over time led to growing Dalit self-consciousness and the sharpening of alienation of Dalits and backward castes from the BJP even in the North Indian regions. This is becoming especially evident in Bihar but also in the key state of UP.

The dimension of polarisation against the Muslims in the BJP’s electoral strategy over a period of its ten-year rule at the Centre has led to such complete opposition of Muslims to the BJP that its scale and intensity could not be imagined before. The systemic hatred against the entire Muslim population articulated through words and executed through actions such as attacks on Muslim individuals and groups, places of worship, sites of economic activities and modes of political articulation have shocked many sections of the Hindu population too to the extent that they dread the dangerous social and economic implications of BJP’s politico-ideological agenda. These sections of the Hindu population are increasingly overcoming their earlier ambiguities about BJP’s vision of India and moving towards opposition to BJP. The economic hardships of vast sections of India’s Hindu population especially youth unemployment created by the jobless economic growth strategy pursued by the BJP regime is alerting these sections to the flawed nature of the anti-Muslim focus of BJP strategy as a diversion from dealing with economic issues that impact the less well-off sections of all communities including upper caste Hindus. The reports emerging from alternative media do suggest that even upper caste Hindus, especially in rural areas but also the lower middle-class sections in urban areas, are moving away from supporting the BJP.

The persistence and intensity of attacks on Muslims has made even other religious minorities feel unsafe in a way that these minorities had not felt before except the Sikhs who had felt massively persecuted after the 1984 Bluestar operation in Punjab and Delhi carnage. Since the BJP came to power at the Centre, the Sikhs have been experiencing a new kind of fear of BJP/RSS trying penetration into Sikh religious institutions to Brahmanise Sikhism and weakening the egalitarian ethos of their faith. BJP’s attempt to seek defections of some Sikh leaders to its fold not only erodes the credibility of the defectors, but it also further accentuates fears among the Sikhs about BJP/RSS trying to infiltrate among the Sikhs to weaken the Sikh institutions.
This may lead to the BJP having the worst ever election outcome in Punjab, Chandigarh and the constituencies in other states with substantial Sikh voters. The Christians’ sense of insecurity in India, especially after the Manipur violence, will play a critical factor in BJP losing elections in Northeast India and other areas such as some districts of Kerala which have a substantial Christian population. The shared experience of persecution which is behind the new level of emerging solidarities between all religious minorities against BJP governance is a direct outcome of the threatening consequences for religious minorities of the electoral successes BJP had secured in 2014 and even more ominously again in 2019.

The second element of BJP’s electorally successful strategy of centralisation is leading to dysfunctionalism in governance. Over-centralisation of all human organisational structures gives the appearance of decisiveness and efficiency in decision making but it is the sure recipe for disaster. The celebrated economist Joseph Schumpeter (1883-1950) had argued that capitalism as an economic system through the successful operation of economies of scale gives birth to huge monopolies in all areas of economic activities, but the same success leads to bureaucratisation and the death of entrepreneurial innovation. This declining innovation, which he argued was the original source of dynamism of capitalism, becomes the source of capitalism’s demise. Karl Marx had put it even more strongly the dialectical link between capitalism’s success and the conditions for its eventual failure when he theorised that expanding capitalism by creating the proletariat creates its own gravediggers.

The dysfunctional consequences of overcentralisation under Modi mode of governance are leading to disastrous policy decisions such as those on demonetisation and GST. This disastrous overcentralisation was most obvious in the introduction of the three pro-agrobusiness farming laws in 2020 with hurried and cursory consultation with the states and without any consent from the farmers organisations (Singh 2020). The states in whose constitutional domain falls agriculture and the farmers who are the most important stakeholders in the farming sector were outraged. The farmers’ outrage manifested itself in the farmers’ protest so powerful that it forced the government to a humiliating surrender in withdrawing those laws. The introduction and eventual withdrawal of those flawed agricultural marketing laws stand out as the most glaring examples of the dysfunctional nature of overcentralisation in decision making under the Modi regime.

BJP’s overcentralisation agenda seen as the key to turning India into a homogenous Hindu entity has so threatened regional identifies in the states that even past regional allies of BJP e.g. Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, Akali Dal in Punjab and JJP in Haryana have now turned against it, and in each of these situations, there were specific regional factors that precipitated their parting of ways from the BJP.

The third element of BJP’s successful electoral strategy in the past of concentrated focus on Prime Minister Modi is now turning into a source of several overlapping inner contradictions centred around personalities, ideology, and group affinities. One of these inner contradictions is: the Gujarat faction led by PM Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah supported by Gujarat-origin business tycoons that aims at Gujarati business dominance in India’s capitalist governance versus the non-Gujarat factions within the BJP that resist that dominance. The non-Gujarati factions have not coalesced into one coherent group in the same way as the Gujarati faction is but that does not lessen the discontentment of this faction with the existing excessive control of government power by the Gujarat faction. The other inner tension partially reflecting this Gujarati-non-Gujarati clash is the conflict between PM Modi and the current UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath. This conflict has overtones of regional, ideological and personality clashes. Though PM Modi has also risen from the ranks of RSS (led currently by Mohan Bhagwat), but fissures have been developing between the two over power balance in government and party, economic policies (e.g. on farming and farmers movement, swadeshi versus world trade) and ideological stances on using Hindutva as central to the mode of electioneering. Modi-RSS tension gets further amplified by RSS veering around to support Yogi Adityanath.

These inner tensions whose root cause is excessive dominance of Modi in the party and government including government-business relations are manifesting themselves in organisational weakness in electioneering where many alternative media reports suggest that there is a visible lack of motivation and a sense of loss of agency from different layers of leadership and cadre. This is an age-old problem of overcentralisation in organisations generating demoralisation, apathy, alienation, and disinterestedness among the lower levels of the organisational structure.

The unravelling of the BJP’s electoral strategy that is emerging now is an offshoot of its past successes. It would not be a surprise if it eventually results in BJP’s failure in winning the 2024 General Election.

The only caveat, and a critical one, that needs to be mentioned is that the above analysis indicating a possible electoral defeat for the BJP in the 2024 general election has not considered the misuse of EVMs. That misuse can invalidate any electoral arithmetic. If that happens, the single most political battle for the democratic forces in India (including a tactical alliance with factions within the BJP opposed to Modi dominance) would be to launch a nationwide mobilisation against the use of EVMs in India’s election system.


Singh, Pritam (2020). BJP’s Farming Policies: Deepening Agrobusiness Capitalism and Centralisation. EPW, 55 (41), October 10.

(Author: Pritam Singh is Professor Emeritus in Economics at Oxford Brookes Business School, Oxford and the author of Federalism, Nationalism and Development)

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