Lessons for Labour from India

The resounding victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the recent general election in India has been largely attributed to the charisma of Narendra Modi, who contested (and won) as the Prime Ministerial candidate.

This was the first election in which a Party had announced its Prime Minister since the end of the (Pandit Jawaharlal) era in 1964.

BJP’s success in May 2014 election came after two successive failures in 2004 and 2009.

Good campaign

The consensus in India is that the Party conducted its campaign systematically, not only expounding its policies and programmes but also exposing the serious lapses of the previous Congress-led coalition Government.

The BJP was at its lowest ebb of popularity ten years ago, similar to the status of the Labour Party of New Zealand since its humiliating defeat in 2008.

Labour continues to languish in opinion polls posing a major challenge to David Cunliffe and his leadership.

It can perhaps learn a few lessons from the BJP experience, although the two parties differ in their political and economic ideologies.

BJP reflection

The BJP ran its 2009 election campaign on the negativity of the incumbent United Progressive Government. The Party had five years to reflect on its dismal performance and repair its fractured leadership. Pulling itself together and finding the high public acceptance factor in Mr Modi, the Party rallied behind him and promoted a well-constructed and sustained campaign. Reminding itself of the perils of their past, BJP leaders were aware that people wanted a change; a change for the better.

Congress lapses

The Congress Party was clearly ignorant of (or indifferent to) the feelings of the common people, and their needs for basic sustenance. Corruption had eaten into the vitals of the Indian society, lawlessness was on the rise and quality leadership was conspicuous by its absence. The patience of ordinary Indians was mistaken as contentment while their anger was misread as transitory disillusionment.

The ‘Young India,’ with 100 million first-time voters, wanted jobs, better living conditions, affordable housing and infrastructure facilities and improved law and order.

In short, they wanted a radical change.

BJP and Mr Modi were seen as instruments of that much-needed change.

The Labour Party in New Zealand would do well to take a leaf out of the BJP Chapter and seek orderliness in its affairs, followed by sound policies and programmes.

It has to understand the mood of the people, rather than harping on its old ideologies.

Hard questions

What are the changing aspirations of New Zealanders? Do they still need a welfare state or an economy in which they could be gainfully employed?

How can the country move forward with all able-bodied people doing their best for the better performance of the economy?

What are the best means of keeping prices of essential goods and services at affordable levels and how can public-private partnerships be more effective?

These are just a few questions that the Labour Party leadership should consider in their efforts to win in the general election due to be held on September 20, 2014.

Winning post

It is also important to note that in parliamentary democracy, which follows either the Mixed Member Proportion system as New Zealand does or the First Past Post System practiced in India, a marginal swing of votes in an election can determine the fortunes or fates of political parties.

The BJP crossed the threshold of a simple majority on its own with 30% of the votes cast and gained a larger share in the 545-member Lower House of Parliament. People had the benefit of knowing its allied before they went to the polling booths.

The Labour Party in New Zealand would also do well to follow this path, by getting to terms with its allies and put up a joint and formidable opposition.

Balaji Chandramohan is our Correspondent based in Delhi. He is a graduate of Journalism from Waikato University and has a sound knowledge of New Zealand politics.

Email: mohanbalaji2003@gmail.com

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