New Delhi: There is a paradox that is becoming apparent in the life of the Bharatiya Janata Party. When it has been strong in the states (Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh), it has been weak to non-existent at the Centre. And when it has been strong at the Centre, it has become weak in the states. The BJP has won a majority in the Centre for the first time in its existence. But it is beginning to appear infirm in the states, or at least not growing outside the catchment areas of MP, Rajasthan and so on. It has crashed to a defeat in Bihar. The BJP’s future lies in reconciling these two contradictory situations, but it is not evident that anyone is thinking in this direction.

The Bihar defeat had its local reasons surely, and they have been expounded in the media. The coalition of Laloo Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar became a redoubtable force, and there can be no solace that their basic divergence will surface sooner than later. It will be Bihar’s agony, and that is bad as it is. Nevertheless, it does not detract from the BJP’s own misdirection. The second proximate issue espoused for the BJP’s fall is the RSS chief’s anti-reservation statement. Perhaps it was deliberate, and would only expose the critical fault-lines in the party. The third issue is undeniably the beef issue. It is true that Laloo first brought it up in the campaign as a votebank ploy. But the BJP could have easily (and honourably) deflected it by snubbing him and insisting that only economic growth and development mattered to the party. Lastly, it hasn’t helped that the BJP government at the Centre has insensitive ministers (Mahesh Sharma, V. K. Singh) who must be sacked for their intemperate vocalizations.

Without minimizing any of these issues, the point is still this. The BJP has a structural problem. How can the party be strong at the Centre as well as in the states and keep growing? The answer lies in inner-party federalism. Unfortunately under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, this process of federalization has come to a complete halt. Look at the chief minister of Haryana who was Modi’s choice. He was picked from nowhere and does not even truly belong to Haryana. This runs against the grain of democratic politics. Democratic politics is about representation. People want someone of their own, someone they identify with, to represent them in the legislature. This is not an unfair demand. They will not accept outsiders for long. In Bihar, this instinct played out disastrously for the BJP instigated by its opponents. The faces of the BJP in Bihar were Modi and Amit Shah (that overweight hippopotamus). How can people be expected to accept the same leaders at the Centre and in the state (even at a remove)? Life is about variety. How can political choices be measured differently?

The problem for the BJP, however, goes deeper than immediate election losses, bad as they are. It concerns the future. The BJP has to return to the decentralization of the party that was amply visible when A. B. Vajpayee and L. K. Advani led it. Vajpayee’s democratic instincts were so robust that it was second nature to him to encourage the growth of dozens of second-rung leaders at the same time. Nitish Kumar was his minister and so too Mamata Bannerjee. He ran India’s most diverse coalition government and it exhibited more cohesion of purpose than Modi’s government does. Modi’s rule has been reduced to three people: he himself, Amit Shah, and Arun Jaitley. This is proving fatal for the BJP.

What is the way out? Modi must focus more on the prime ministry and ensure that the manifesto of the 2014 election campaign is implemented to the full. A perception has seized the public that Jaitley is somehow stymieing strong policy measures to return overseas black money to the country. This may be entirely a false perception but it is the duty of the Prime Minister to correct it. It hits at the core of his campaign to run a clean government. Secondly, Amit Shah has failed as the BJP president. The party is not growing under him. Someone with deep political understanding and a team player like Rajnath Singh would be preferred. The issue is not who the BJP president should be but who is best suited to nurture political talents like Shivraj Singh Chauhan, Raman Singh and Vasundhra Raje. That is the only way the BJP will grow simultaneously at the Centre and in the states.

India is too big and complex to be run by one man and his clones. The country has not rejected the one-family dynasty of the Congress for nothing.