The BJP seems to have internalised the advice of the great Prussian military thinker and strategist, Carl von Clausewitz: “The backbone of surprise is fusing speed with secrecy.” It catches its opponents off guard in every election, however small, with Clausewitzian cunning. This explains why the Congress has been left high and dry in Meghalaya despite emerging as the single largest party. Instead of making a spirited bid to form the government, its leaders folded up their tents and came back to Delhi while the Conrad Sangma-led National People’s Party is all set to assume office with the BJP as a partner.
This habit of being always the bridesmaid, never the bride, is now becoming the signature style of the Congress. We saw it in Manipur where, with 28 seats, it was the single largest party but gave way tamely as an agile BJP stitched up a coalition before the Congress even got off the starting blocks. Again, in the Goa assembly elections, it was the single largest party with 17 seats to the BJP’s 13, only to be outwitted by the latter. Here the Congress dithered over who should be the leader to form the government even as the BJP rushed past it to stake its claim.
In an era in which canny alliance-making is the key to forming governments, the Congress needs to stop behaving like a deer caught in the headlights. The BJP manages to anticipate the winning formula with military precision. The Congress simply seems unable to cash in on its advantages, losing its grip in state after state.
At the moment, it seems to be content to notch up small victories in bypolls without seemingly preparing for the big fight ahead in 2019. The Congress was the country’s original pan-India party. It has to think big, cash in on its brand recognition and revitalise its extensive rank and file. It has to get used to the fact that it is no longer primus inter pares; it has to be a team player with those with whom it may not necessarily share a common ideology. As Clausewitz said, “It is better to act quickly and err than to hesitate until the time of action is past.” The BJP, so far, has acted quickly and without erring.