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BJP's #BiharResult postmortem report: don't blame Modi, Shah, RSS

Panini Anand | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 8:23 IST

The postmortem

  • The BJP met Monday to discuss the Bihar poll defeat
  • Both Narendra Modi and Amit Shah were visibly uneasy
  • The consensus: \'defeat is our collective responsibility\'

The stirrings

  • Leaders ask: is Amit Shah the right person to lead the party?
  • Modi, Shah are using the same poll tactics since \'14, it isn\'t working
  • Will Modi\'s rivals and sidelined elders force a change of guard?

When Narendra Modi arrived at the BJP office to conduct the postmortem of the Bihar verdict, his body language betrayed his unease. It was rare to see the media-savvy prime minister shy away from the battery of cameras set up outside.

The party president Amit Shah received Modi. They exchanged forced smiles that quickly faded.

They were the BJP's, indeed the NDA's, most prominent faces in the Bihar campaign. Not surprisingly, they are being primarily blamed for the defeat, even though the party's leaders won't admit so publicly.

Neither of them made any statement after the meeting of the parliamentary board. Amit Shah had addressed all major press conferences related to the Bihar election but on Monday, Arun Jaitley was sent to face the media.

Jaitley had this to say: "As far as accountability is concerned, the party collectively wins and collectively loses."

As far as accountability is concerned, the party collectively wins, collectively loses: @arunjaitley

Murmurs of discontent

So, does that mean there is no discontent within the party over the defeat? From from it.

"After our great mandate of 2014, this is not something we should be reduced to. We need an honest review and analysis of the reasons behind the poor performance. This is the second such defeat," says a senior BJP leader. "Though we won four states in the last one year which is a big achievement."

Some party's leaders have made the RSS the target of their ire, and publicly. Hukumdeo Narayan Yadav blamed Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat's statement on reservations as a major reason for the defeat. Sources in the RSS though dismissed his criticism, saying Yadav was from socialist, not Sangh, roots and his comments were intended to shield the government.

To shield Modi and Amit Shah, is the BJP trying to state BJP leaders for 'taking wrong decisions'?

To curb further such criticism, the RSS asked the BJP to send a message to the rank and file "not to blame the RSS". The directive was apparently conveyed to Shah when he went for a "customary" meeting with Bhagwat in Delhi Monday.

It was quickly adopted as the party's position. Indeed, at the press conference, Jaitley specified that Bhagwat's statement "made no difference" to the result.

Instead, attempts are now being made to blame certain state BJP leaders for not giving the "right feedback and taking wrong decisions". This proposition won't be easy to sell, however. It's no secret that the entire Bihar election was micromanaged by Shah and Modi was the chief campaigner. If any individual leaders are to blame, they are top of the list.

On shaky ground

It won't be surprising, therefore, if leaders start registering their discontent within party forums and in public. That would pose a challenge to Shah, whose term as party chief ends in about three months.

"Elections will be conducted in 15 states to elect the party president. Its too early to say if there will be a change of guard," says a party leader.

That is far from the only problem facing Modi and Shah. Elections are due in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Kerala, Assam and Puducherry over the next seven months or so. That doesn't leave much time for the BJP brass to recalibrate its poll strategy.

The question many leaders are asking is, "Will we win these elections with the same man leading the party and managing the polls?"

"Amit Shah has been repeating the same strategy in all polls since 2014. It clearly isn't working. We need to think of new ways to manage the upcoming elections," says a party leader.

The Bihar defeat may also spur Modi and Shah's rivals in the party as well as the sidelined elders to demand a change of guard. Some are already talking about Amit Shah "going back to Gujarat or into the Modi cabinet".

Keep an eye out for the cabinet reshuffle, likely next month.

First published: 10 November 2015, 12:34 IST
Panini Anand @paninianand

Senior Assistant Editor at Catch, Panini is a poet, singer, cook, painter, commentator, traveller and photographer who has worked as reporter, producer and editor for organizations including BBC, Outlook and Rajya Sabha TV. An IIMC-New Delhi alumni who comes from Rae Bareli of UP, Panini is fond of the Ghats of Varanasi, Hindustani classical music, Awadhi biryani, Bob Marley and Pink Floyd, political talks and heritage walks. He has closely observed the mainstream national political parties, the Hindi belt politics along with many mass movements and campaigns in last two decades. He has experimented with many mass mediums: theatre, street plays and slum-based tabloids, wallpapers to online, TV, radio, photography and print.