The results of Assembly elections in the five states of Punjab, Goa, Manipur, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh have once again stunned political observers and exit poll pundits. The BJP was widely perceived to be having an edge over its contenders in both Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, but nobody could predict the kind of sweeping victory the party has won in the two states. In Punjab, where the AAP was expected to be an equal claimant to power as the Congress, it was the latter which notched up a decisive victory giving a rude shock to the AAP’s ambitious expansion plans. In Goa too, the Congress re-emerged as the single largest party with five of the eight BJP ministers including the CM losing the elections and the BJP tally dropping from 28 to 13, but making a complete mockery of the anti-BJP mandate, the BJP has imposed Manohar Parrikar as the CM. Even in Manipur, where the BJP emerged as the second largest party, the Governor has invited the BJP to form the government.
While Assembly elections usually have their respective state-specific contexts, the UP elections were destined to have a major ramification for the national balance of forces. In 2014, the victorious Modi campaign had won more than a hundred seats from UP, Bihar and Delhi. In the subsequent Assembly elections, the BJP fared badly in both Delhi and Bihar. A poor result in UP would have meant a major setback for the BJP. Moreover, coming in the wake of the dramatic demonetization move of the Modi government, the UP elections virtually also became a mid-term referendum for the Modi dispensation. There can now be no denying the fact that Modi has managed to pull off an astounding win in UP delivering a crushing blow to the Congress as well as powerful regional parties like the SP and BSP ahead of the 2019 elections. It is therefore important for every defender of democracy to make a sober analysis of the UP outcome to understand the dynamic and confront the BJP game plan.
Given the triangular nature of electoral contests in most UP seats, many political observers and most exit polls had predicted a hung Assembly with the BJP coming close to the majority mark. But to put things in perspective, we should remember that after a series of fractured mandates, hung assemblies and unstable coalitions, the pattern in UP has settled in favour of clear majorities since 2007 with the BSP and SP completing full five-year terms. Having swept the polls in 2014, the BJP was already in the most advantageous position as the most likely claimant for power. Moreover, the defeat in Bihar had taught the BJP a major lesson where it could not match the extended social reach of the RJD-JDU-Congress combine. It therefore tried to replicate the social engineering success of the BJP-JDU combination with a clear focus on ‘Mahadalits’ and EBCs (the non-Jatav Dalits and non-Yadav OBCs), both independently in its own party profile and projection and through its alliance with parties like the Apna Dal and the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party.
This so-called ‘inclusive’ social coalition projected by the BJP however glaringly left out the sizable Muslim community. In fact, the coalition was cemented through a shrill communal campaign led from the front by the Prime Minister himself. Those who berate the SP and the BSP for their narrow identity-based politics often conveniently overlook this specific manner in which the BJP plays its caste and community cards camouflaging it as ‘nationalism’ and now increasingly as empowerment of the poor.
The SP election campaign, dogged by a fierce internal feud that almost threatened to split the party, was no match for the high-voltage BJP blitzkrieg and the SP’s claim of ‘development’ sounded like a tired UP edition of the failed ‘India Shining’ propaganda of the Vajpayee era. Showcasing a partially completed metro rail network in Lucknow or a hastily inaugurated Lucknow-Agra expressway as symbols of development and letting the election campaign revolve around a hollow ‘Kaam Bolta Hai’ (the work done by the government speaks for itself) claim struck little chord with the electorate in a state where vast regions reeled under drought, poor infrastructure and lack of basic services and amenities.
The big gains made by the Modi regime in this round of Assembly elections will undoubtedly embolden the Sangh brigade to intensify its fascist offensive by all means at its disposal. For the forces of democracy, this clearly calls for greater mobilization and preparedness to resist. The BJP will of course try and cite the election results as an overwhelming popular endorsement of the demonetization disaster. But then, if the outcome in Uttarakhand and UP is cited as an endorsement for demonetization, by the same token, the results in Punjab and Goa must be seen as an emphatic rejection of the move. If the people in UP and Uttarakhand have voted for the BJP despite demonetization, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that the compelling mood for a change of government in these two states prevailed over the discomfort and pain caused by demonetization.
Indeed, if the people appear to have tolerated the disruption caused by demonetization, it is with the hope that this would indeed curb black money and punish the corrupt rich. Modi’s new-found pro-poor rhetoric, schemes promising an improvement in the appalling living conditions of the poor and the narrative of financial inclusion and digital empowerment have also created an impact. We must now pay serious attention to the task of challenging the new-found pro-poor pretensions of the Modi regime with effective mobilization of the working people for the fulfillment of their rights and aspirations.