Bharatiya Janata Parties

BJP is, for all practical purposes, a collection of six or seven state parties

There is a remark attributed, perhaps apocryphally, to Arun Jaitley to the effect that most Indian politics is mathematics. As a piece of political analysis, this remark is insightful. Indian politics is, in this view, not driven by ideology or charisma. It is constituted by the mundane activity of stitching together narrow interest-driven coalitions. And electoral fortunes, for the most part, do not turn on massive changes induced by immense persuasiveness of candidates. They turn on small swings, and contingent management of interests.

But if this political analysis is taken too literally, it can become spectacularly self-defeating. It can make politics a passive waiting game. As the BJP prepares for its national executive meeting, its strategy, if it has one, is to deal largely in irrational numbers. It has little presence in Uttar Pradesh; it is increasingly vulnerable in states it has ruled for a while. Since the last election, it has not expanded its presence. Elections are about the ability to project credibility. On law and order, Chhattisgarh's Maoists sent a reminder of how inept its anti-Maoist strategy has been. On corruption, Karnataka is fast turning into UP, with government officials fearing for their lives. On the economy, the BJP has chosen the strategy of avoidance. Instead of giving an alternative to old-fashioned caste politics, it has reproduced the worst versions. In a Parliament session where it could have had the government on the mat for one of the most spectacular economic mess-ups in the last two decades, it simply used up its powder for cartoons and cricket. The most polished in the BJP cannot keep its resentful illiberalism long suppressed. It is simply waiting for the Congress to make more errors to give it a lift. To make matters worse, internally, the BJP itself is faced with a series of simultaneous equations it

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