On Wednesday, the MCD elections delivered yet another overwhelming electoral verdict in favour of the BJP. This thumping win, coming as it did less than two months after the UP Assembly landslide, should serve as a warning to all opposition parties in the country.
While BJP is going from strength to strength, opposition parties look bereft of ideas in their strategy rooms and completely listless on the ground. Irrespective of its political ideology, having a strong opposition is necessary for the smooth functioning of democracy.
Time to Redraw the Strategy
What makes the situation even more alarming is the fact that almost the entire opposition is looking for a solution outside. If you consider elections as a marketplace, then you can’t expect the consumer (ie the voter) to choose an inferior product just to avoid a monopoly-like situation. The onus is on the competitors to conceptualise, produce and vigorously market an alternative product that is just as good.
While making a case for change in strategy for the opposition, I am going to stay clear of:
1) the leadership crisis in the opposition and
2) a lack of ability to match the BJP, even though I have definite opinions on both. The focus of this piece is primarily on message/communication based issues.
Make a Case for Incompetence, Not Fascism
After 2002, Congress and other parties have been asking people not to vote for Modi/BJP by raising the spectre of fascist authoritarianism and failing spectacularly. Worse still, the opposition seems to believe that if it keeps at it, people will eventually buy this narrative.
The opposition needs to keep in mind that malevolence is far more difficult to prove than incompetence and the prize for proving either of the charge is exactly the same – getting power back.
I also think it is extremely naïve to assume that in electoral politics, morality would trump over self-interest.
Personal experience tells me that voters choose their self-interest over macro-morality issues, and rather than expecting a behavioural change out of voters, opposition would do well to realign their strategy.
EVM and Other Non-Issues
I hope there is someone in the opposition ranks who realises what a huge strategic blunder the whole hysteria about electronic voting machines was.
This was a bad strategy for two reasons:
1) It can be easily disproved – as the EC has – by challenging people to show how they can be tampered with.
2) The EVM tampering charge effectively refuses to acknowledge angst of those who did not vote for them.
The opposition needs to bring new voters into their fold in order to start winning. How do you expect to win over a new voter if you are not willing to admit that he didn’t vote for you, let alone make an effort to find out the reason why?
Also Read: EVMs Helped BJP Win, Not Modi Wave: AAP
Don’t Cede Nationalism
If you support the opposition, you should be scared at how easily nearly all the parties have conceded the platform of nationalism to the BJP. It is worth noticing that while the NDA government has shown the openness to adopt some of Congress’ socialist ideals, the opposition has failed to show similar flexibility on the subject of nationalism.
There are plenty of nationalists in India without strong political affinities. Today, this segment is steadily drifting towards the BJP as the opposition parties seemed content with wordplay (“constitutional patriotism”) or false equivalences (invoking cow vigilantes every time terrorism is mentioned) rather than acknowledging the anger common people have for the separatists and terrorists.
For a common man, terrorism is an emotional issue rather than a political one.
After each act of terror, you can either maintain a judicious silence and simply watch people’s anger against the government for not preventing the act, or defend the extremists, thus enraging the people even more. It is shocking how often smart people are choosing the latter option.
Sarcasm Doesn’t Work All the Time
Hillary Clinton’s spectacularly failed bid for the American presidency has a lesson for India’s opposition parties as well. One of the many reasons that contributed to the Democrat nominee’s loss was constant mocking of not only Trump, but also his supporters (remember the “basket of deplorables” remark?) by the Clinton campaign managers.
In the Indian context too, from constantly referring to the BJP supporters as bhakts in a disparaging tone to the media’s constant mocking of Hindus over the cow issue, to this absolutely tasteless tweet from an AAP leader after their loss in Delhi, the opposition seemed to have forgotten who they are fighting.
Well, Delhi voters, you voted for dengue, filthy streets, & incompetence in your MCDs. Don't blame AAP for what you get next. Blame Modi.— Krishan Partap Singh (@RaisinaSeries) April 26, 2017
Is it so difficult to understand that if you insult someone, they are even more unlikely to vote for you?ּ
Mainstream Media vs Social Media
In Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, the Joker tells Batman, “Those mob fools want you gone so that they can go back to the way things were. But I know the truth, there is no going back, you have changed things forever.’”
To draw a crude parallel, social media is the Batman who has changed things forever and there is truly no going back. Therefore, one needs to see the mainstream media vs so-called trolls fight as an older, obsolete model fighting for survival, rather than as a battle over political ideology or for gender equality. However, what is not understandable is the opposition’s willingness to lend a shoulder, allowing the media to fire this gun.
These parties need to stop thinking in terms of short-term ideological alignment and start thinking in terms of long-term winnability. Social media is here to stay and the opposition needs to begin thinking in terms of its optimum usage.
Journalists seeking curbs on social media are like trade unions attacking automation. If the opposition wishes to run this factory one day, it needs to think twice before it joins the unions in breaking the machines.
At one point of time, the left built a supportive ecosystem around our universities, media and intelligentsia as a long-term strategy to retain power even when voted out.
Unfortunately, with the advent of modern communication technology and social media, many of these power structures are slowly becoming redundant. From a communication viewpoint, the opposition needs to introspect if its message is being dictated by the same eco-system in a desperate effort to remain relevant. For now, the tail seems to be wagging the dog.
(The writer is an investment professional, author and stand-up comedian. He can be reached @freentglty. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)