Election watch

After losses in Delhi and Bihar, BJP decides not to contest elections in Modi’s name

Beginning in Assam next year, the saffron party will declare its chief ministerial candidates well in advance.

After assiduously using Naredra Modi's charisma as its main weapon in each state election over the past two years, the Bharatiya Janata Party is finally abandoning this strategy. The turnaround, engendered by the consecutive defeats in Delhi and Bihar, will be reflected first in Assam, which goes to polls next year, party insiders say.

The new strategy – or the return to the pre-Modi era practice – will continue even after the Assam elections, party officials said. “Although Delhi showed the first signs of fatigue with the Modi-centric strategy, Bihar results confirmed this,” a senior BJP leader said, requesting anonymity. “Now the situation is such that the party would have to suffer if it continues to seek votes in the name of the prime minister.”

Several states, including Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Punjab, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh, go to polls in the next year and a half. Of these, the BJP has little or no chances in Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and in Punjab it contests as a junior partner of the Shiromani Akali Dal.

Since the remaining three states – Assam, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh – are crucial for the party, the BJP appears in no mood to take the risk of projecting Modi as its electoral face.

The first steps

The first step in this direction was taken over a month ago when the BJP decided to appoint Union Minister of State for Sports and Youth Welfare Sarbananda Sonowal as the new president of the party unit in Assam as well as the chairman of the state election committee. Party insiders say Sonowal will be projected as BJP’s chief ministerial candidate well in advance.

Sonowal was the Assam unit chief at the time of the Lok Sabha elections, in which the BJP won seven of the state’s 14 seats. Soon after the general elections, though, he gave up the state post and joined the Narendra Modi government at the Centre.

The sweeping victory in the general elections, which the BJP fought around Modi, started a trend that continued in Maharashtra, Haryana and Bihar. In these states, the saffron party announced no chief ministerial candidate, instead seeking votes in the name of Modi. Now that trend will end.

According to insiders, it is this changed electoral approach that has delayed the identification of new state unit presidents in Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh, where elections are due in early 2017.

“In Uttar Pradesh, the moot question before the central leadership is whether the new party chief should be from an upper caste or from OBC [other backward classes],” said a BJP leader. “In Uttarakhand, the effort is being made to identify someone who is acceptable to all factions.”

In both these states, the next party president is likely to be projected as the chief ministerial candidate, insiders said.

New challenge

The shift is being seen in the BJP as further proof that Modi, a leader who revels in electoral jousts, may no longer be the dependable vote-getter he was once portrayed to be.

The first indication of the dwindling confidence in his electoral abilities had come soon after the Bihar results were declared on November 8. In Ratlam-Jhabua Lok Sabha constituency, where campaign for a by-election was in full swing then, the Bihar outcome had an unusual impact – it made local BJP leaders so nervous that they removed several posters and hoardings featuring Modi they had put up before November 8. Though the tactic did not work, and the party lost the seat to Congress anyway, it did indicate nervousness in the ranks on the question of seeking vote in the name of Modi.

Party leaders say the new strategy may create a new challenge for Modi – if it works, it would be difficult for him to regain his erstwhile status of being his party’s most precious political asset.

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.