Ajay Vaishnav / Zee Research Group
Has the recent Surajkund conclave resurrected ‘Brand BJP’ among voters? The question is pertinent as the saffron party is making attempts to pitch itself as the UPA’s alternative for next General Elections.
In the last few months, the BJP has made its way back to political centre stage – a space earlier ceded to civil society groups led by anti-graft Gandhian crusader Anna Hazare. Given the elections are akin to a marketplace where competing brands (read political parties) vie for consumer attention (read voters), should the BJP have aggressively marketed its brand value. Should it have launched fresh set of offensives to corner the scam-ridden UPA?
In the 15th Lok Sabha and as recently as the last Monsoon Session, BJP has used disruption inside Parliament as a strategy to put the UPA on the mat. However, at Surajkund, barring a few jibes directed at the Prime Minister and Congress president, BJP hasn’t said much against graft. Is the message from ‘the party with difference’ forthcoming?
KG Suresh, a close observer of Sangh Parivar politics, thinks that the message coming from Surajkund is positive in many respects. “The most important differentiator was participation in a controversy free environment. Most senior leaders were present. The party amending the Constitution to give Nitin Gadkari and state and district unit chiefs to get a second term signifies continuity. Modi factor wasn’t overemphasised and achievements of other chief ministers like Shivraj Singh of Madhya Pradesh were showcased.”
But, not many share Suresh’s optimism. Santosh Desai, MD & CEO of Future Brands, thinks differently. He is of the view that Surajkund conclave has left much to be desired in conveying the party message. “BJP’s approach is at best reactionary and lacks any clear-cut stand on most issues. It senses an opportunity against the UPA but hasn’t articulated its positions on different issues very well.”
BJP’s inconsistent approach towards economic reforms has particularly handed over an issue on platter to its detractors. The party has joined other parties in opposing the UPA move to allow 51 percent FDI in multi-brand retail despite promising 26 percent FDI in multi-brand retail sector in its 2004 manifesto.
A middle class voter may ask what the party wants to achieve by opposing the entry of multi-national retail giants, which may bring more jobs to the economy and reining in supply side inflation. Or by sticking out its neck in favour of domestic traders lobby, isn’t the BJP harking back to the era when Swadeshi lobby was strong within its ranks.
Suresh concurs that the party is going back to its moorings. “The opposition to FDI in multi-brand retail is to retain its core constituency. Simultaneously, the stance is congruous to Sangh’s ideas. Moreover, the BJP wants to expose Congress’ reforms bogey as a ploy to divert attention from mega scams and poor fiscal governance,” he stressed.
Greater ideological clarity is required on BJP’s part, thinks Desai. “It is a right-wing party but opposes market reforms. That’s probably because the party is in opposition mode. Their efforts are directed at differentiating themselves from the UPA, which even though not a terrible message, fails to give a clear picture.”
The key challenge remains though. How does BJP improve its brand perceptibility among voters? Will a strong and clutter-free leader like Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi better help the party’s cause?
Desai places his bets on rebuilding the party rather than on an individual. “Modi as leader will definitely help the party as it will resolve the leadership question. But it will create its own set of issues as he is a polarising figure and may repel many allies. In the past, BJP overdepended on Vajapayee’s leadership. After Modi, the problem will again come up. The party should invest in building itself as a brand that values inner party democracy, transparency and merit. BJP’s future lies in projecting itself as ‘the party with difference’ in real sense.”
Dileep Padgaonkar, senior journalist, too wrote in his blog: “What does the BJP propose to do to stimulate growth, invite foreign investment, cut down wasteful expenditure, encourage savings, generate jobs, control runaway inflation and, not least, provide transparent, accountable and efficient governance?”
Suresh says that BJP has a responsibility to oppose the Congress-led UPA. He also thinks the party will do well to heed patriarch LK Advani’s suggestion on ‘zero tolerance’ towards corruption and ‘imaginative re-projection of party’s commitment to secularism’. “Congress is master in shifting the political agenda. It would do well to put its house in order, speak in one voice, remain grounded and continue relentlessly its crusade against inflation and corruption.”