By Sajjan Kumar:
BJP’s incessant electoral victories since 2014 have been credited to the dynamic interplay of Modi’s charisma and Amit Shah’s brilliant election management. From being the ruling party in just seven states in 2014, today the BJP and its allies govern 21 out of 29 states, while Congress’ power is now limited to just three states and one Union Territory. Besides, the BJP’s spread has been both vertical and horizontal, wherein it has formed governments even in states where it had a nominal presence, including the Northeastern states.
The victory spree of the BJP witnessed stumbling blocks in the form of Delhi (2014) and Bihar (2015), but soon it went on to capture power in Assam by trampling the Congress, thereby establishing itself as a serious pan-India player. Thereafter, its victory march culminating in the historical mandate it got in Tripura allowed the party to become a matter of envy for the others. It’s no surprise that the BJP seemed to pose an existential threat to all other parties. The saffron party seemed invincible – and the interplay of Modi’s charisma and Shah genius – along with another star campaigner and Hindutva icon, Yogi Adityanath – allowed it to gain foothold in any state.
However, the core state responsible for BJP’s rise to power (Uttar Pradesh – the den of Yogi Adityanath) witnessed a resounding setback when it lost in the by-election to two Lok Sabha seats, Gorakhpur and Phulpur (the former being the home constituency of the UP CM) since 1998.
[Update: The BJP also lost in the Kairana by-election a few days back.]
The electoral setback was immediately attributed to the desperate alliance by the opposition parties, namely SP and BSP. The BJP party president even used an imagery of animals (depicting the unity between Opposition parties), who come under the shelter of a banyan tree when a flood (Modi-led BJP) threatens them.
True! But he forgot to take cognisance of two major factors.
1. The coming-together of the BSP and the SP (after a hiatus of 23 years, in the aftermath of ugly ‘guest-house incident’ on June 2, 1995 – when SP goons attacked Mayawati to avenge her withdrawal of support from Mualayam Singh Yadav’s government) was in complete defiance of the social power configuration and the corresponding political dynamics of the state. After all, that incident revealed the emerging social chasm between the dominant OBCs and the aspirational and assertive Dalits – a factor she used to the hilt in 2007 by trouncing Yadav satraps. Furthermore, in the past, efforts to bring the BSP onto a common anti-BJP platform by leaders like Rahul Gandhi, Akhilesh Yadav and Laloo Yadav didn’t succeed, as the taciturn Dalit leader had in mind the social power configuration and the horrible memory of the ‘guest-house incident’.
However, the fact that Mayawati, whose party doesn’t contest by-elections as a principle, agreed to support the SP candidate was a complete reversal of the state’s socio-political ‘common sense’.
The unity was achieved not merely by the BJP’s incessant victory march, but also by Amit Shah’s aggressive call for an ‘Opposition-mukt Bharat’.
Shah’s clarion call (that started with ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’ after the 2014 victory), added more and more targets in its basket – ‘Communist-mukt Tripura and Kerala’, ‘Trinamool-mukt Bengal’, etc. Ultimately, it left out none and made its electoral battles a cry for having an ‘Opposition-mukt Bharat’. This then created a common ground for the Opposition to unite – a task that was not possible by the Congress’ leadership alone.
2. Something that the BJP and Amit Shah may have forgotten in its victory-spree is the necessity of regional parties and forging alliances with them. This seems to have become an essential feature of governments post 1989, given the multiplicity of social constituencies and fault-lines existing across India. These are well represented by the multiplicity of regional parties in India.
It may have been understandable for the BJP to go into the polemics of decimating prime opposition parties like the Congress and the Left. But when the regional parties also started feeling the heat, the stated ‘neutrality’ that these parties usually have towards the BJP and the Congress was undone. This led the parties to move towards the Congress’ side – a trend the BJP leadership seems to have gifted to its prime rival.
Take, for instance, the fact that it unnecessarily antagonised its ally TDP in Andhra Pradesh by issuing provocative statements over the latter’s demand for a ‘special category‘ status for the state. In Bengal, Mamata Banerjee was targeted over the board. Even in Odisha, where the political culture is relatively decent (indicated by the absence of a murky exchange of name-calling by the political rivals), the BJP president calling Naveen Patnaik a ‘phata transformer’ recently has not gone down well with a majority of the electorates. The BJP seems to have forgotten the fact that many of its victories spree in the north and in the Hindi heartland was the outcome of meticulous alliances with regional parties.
Political genius lies not only in devising strategies to ensure victory for one’s party, but also in preventing the possibility of a consolidation of rival parties. In the previous regimes of NDA I and UPA I and II, while their respective political strategists lacked the aggression and determination that Amit Shah has demonstrated in his political acumen, they at least ensured that their rivals remain a divided house – a task BJP under the Modi-Shah duo have failed to ensure.
As a final analysis, it would seem that the aggressive political strategies of Amit Shah against BJP’s rival parties is creating a conducive ambience for the coming-together of regional parties in 2019. These alliances have made the BJP’s electoral gains a ‘zero sum game’ in the long term – a trend unambiguously revealed by the electoral outcomes in the by-elections, particularly in the populous states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
The author has a Ph.D from the Centre for Political Studies. He is associated with Peoples Pulse, a Hyderabad-based research organisation.