The BJP is on a winning streak with two more states in its kitty. Now, the saffron party either directly rules over or shares the power with its allies in 19 Indian states. The win in Gujarat (the sixth in a row) and the decisive victory in Himachal Pradesh mark a paradigm shift in Indian politics.
These wins not only intensify the dominance of the Modi-led BJP, they also signify the roadblocks in the path of other major political parties to retain power in their respective bastions. These include the ones in the way of the reviving Congress, which is exerting itself to remain relevant in the larger electoral picture.
The poll victories seem to partially exonerate the reform agendas of the ruling party, which were under the spotlight, following the poorly-thought demonetisation and the hastily-introduced GST reforms. The reforms caused, as many believed, unnecessary hardships and brought the poor to their knees, as they found it extremely difficult to go about their lives. But, all these difficulties turned futile, as the electorates remained loyal to the BJP and handed it back-to-back victories.
BJP is a party backed and patronised by the Sangh Parivar, with an extensive reach and a widespread network of its shakhas (branches) spanning the length and the breadth of the country. This is the primary reason which helps the party to have a dominant presence even in the remote corners of the country.
The BJP simply follows the path laid down by its patrons. In my opinion, it seems to survive on Hindu majoritarian rhetoric, and thrives on its divisive innuendos, falsehood and fear-mongering. It also stokes religious sentiments often, and falls back to its communal tactics and polarisation of the electorates.
In urban areas, the BJP often projects the slogan of vikas and an ambitious persona of PM Modi in order to appeal to the urban middle class. This is what the governing party did in Gujarat, where it successfully managed to consolidate the urban middle-class voters in its favor – thereby leading it to win 36 out of the 42 seats in the urban areas.
The party won 46 of the 55 assembly seats in Ahmedabad, Surat, Vadodara and Rajkot. Interestingly, the BJP clinched 15 of the 16 seats in Surat, despite the diamond city seeing one of the biggest protests against GST. This is because Gujarat is one of the most urbanised states in India, where the influential middle class is ambitious and aspires for a world-class lifestyle. It was also swayed by Modi’s pitch on large infrastructure, wealth generation and the projection of India as a potential global power.
In my opinion, the BJP projects ‘development’, ‘infrastructure’ and ‘economic growth’ as tools to appeal the urban electorates. On the other hand, it seems to raise communal issues such as cow protection, the Ram Mandir, ‘love jihad’, Muslims and Pakistan (as threats to the majority) to woo rural electorates. These are the instruments the saffron party is often seen resorting to. In some cases, it blends all these issues in a bigger form: Hindus versus the ‘other’, with the former subsuming other subsidiary identities like those based on caste.
In addition to this, the saffron party can also stoop pretty low to grab power. For example, a desperate Modi engaged himself in an aggressive campaign during the second phase of Gujarat elections, where he took a jibe at the Congress’ top leadership for meeting Pakistani diplomats in New Delhi.
Similarly, Modi also raised and exploited the ‘Gujarat asmita‘ for political gains, besides lashing out at Mani Shankar’s ‘neech’ remark. He also allegedly stoked fears of Ahmed Patel being Gujarat’s chief minister, if the Congress won the state polls.
These tactics bore fruit for the BJP and may have even been a face-saver for them. However, they fell short of the 150-seat target set out by the party president, Amit Shah.
The BJP should learn a lesson from this. It should do a reality check and reconnect with the alienated electorates. It should take steps to mitigate agrarian distress and address the issue of declining incomes among the rural people, if it wants to be an enviably-formidable party.
A new approach introduced by the Congress in Gujarat yielded political dividends, as the old party displayed an exceptional performance in Modi’s home turf. It ended up with 77 seats – up from its previous tally of 61 in the last assembly elections.
The Congress managed to make inroads in the BJP’s citadel, riding on the support of three local icons: Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mevani. But, the old party failed to convince the urban electorates in its favor, despite a prominent anti-incumbency wave and rising discontent among both rural and urban electorates.
With 77 seats in its kitty and the support of three candidates including the popular Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani (who is a symbol of hope for the marginalised communities), the Congress has its task cut out to prove its caliber and raise the people-centric issues in the assembly. It can even drive the tide in its favour in the next general elections scheduled for 2019. In my opinion, it’s time that the Rahul-led party launched a country-wide campaign against the BJP’s communal politics, empty rhetoric and the growing number of hate crimes to subdue it in the next general elections.
The Congress should frame a poll strategy revolving around the real issues people face – such as the crumbling healthcare system, the near absence of quality education, growing unemployment, and jobless economic growth. The party should not waste its time in proving that it is no less of a Hindu party (compared to the BJP), as it did by making several temple visits in poll-bound Gujarat. Rather, it should win the trust of the people on the performance plank and by framing people-centric policies.
We, the electorates, can expect a better election bandwagon in the upcoming Karnataka and Tripura state elections scheduled for the next year. We would like to see political parties across the spectrum to woo the electorates on the plank of delivering promises – and not resort to appeasing either the majority or the minorities.