Sunday’s results show that the electorate does not really worry about BJP ordering raids on political rivals or jailing civil rights activists; Moitra, Kejriwal could be first casualties of BJP’s victories
BJP supporters celebrate the party’s lead in MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, in Jabalpur, on Sunday. Pic/PTI
Hahaha! The Congress had hoped its performance in the four State Assembly elections—Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Telangana—would help create a powerful narrative against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and compel Opposition leaders to acquiesce to its claim on the leadership of the I.N.D.I.A alliance in the months before the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. The results, announced yesterday, have shattered its hopes.
Defeatism will now beset the Opposition and its supporters. The aura of Modi’s invincibility will deepen even further. This will persuade even a larger segment of voters than before to vote for the BJP, based on the perception that its victory is inevitable in 2024. Inexplicably, a substantial number of Indians think their votes are wasted when cast for a party perceived not to win.
The Opposition, as of now, appears doomed to lose in 2024, so comprehensive has been the BJP’s victory in the three states of the Hindi heartland. Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh—where the BJP has struck deep roots—together account for 145 Lok Sabha seats, giving the party a huge advantage even before the 2024 electoral race is to begin.
No one in the Opposition can match Modi’s popularity. There are other impending events in the future that will enhance his and the BJP’s Hindutva credentials. There is the Ram temple to be inaugurated in Ayodhya, which will receive blanket media coverage. The Archaeological Survey of India will submit its report on the Gyanvapi mosque in Varanasi. The ASI will not surprise anyone in case it discovers a structure with Hindu features below Gyanvapi; as it will also not in case the Supreme Court reads down Art 370 later this month.
To these, add the provision of free food grain to nearly 80 crore people, and the messaging around it. Already ready is the Rohini Commission’s report on the sub-categorisation of the Other Backward Classes, involving the splitting up of 27 per cent reservation and their distribution among the newly created three categories of OBCs. Its implementation could rule out the belated consolidation of the OBCs, although the BJP may not roil political waters when it is slated to win in 2024, anyway.
Media analysts, on the basis of the four Assembly election results, will conclude that the demand for a caste Census has no resonance among voters, for the Congress was vanquished comprehensively despite its leader Rahul Gandhi’s repeated promises of introducing it.
The fact is, the census promise will have credibility only when a prominent OBC leader articulates it, not Gandhi. Its meaning, anyway, has to be expanded beyond assurances that jobs in the government sector will be in proportion to each category of castes—Dalits and Adivasis, the OBCs and upper castes. This is because the potential beneficiaries of reservation know government jobs are shrinking, and would therefore help few. Will the Opposition dare to expand reservation to the private sector? Do they have an imagination for devising socio-economic schemes to benefit caste groups found relatively poorer than those counted as elite?
The only weapon to counter Hindutva remains caste. But caste politics needs to be reflected in the leadership structure of the Opposition, its conduct and in ideology. This is in sharp contrast to Kamal Nath and Bhupesh Baghel playing the soft Hindutva card, which only vindicates the BJP’s strong suit on this count. Remember the insulting tone Kamal Nath adopted to dismiss the claims of Akhilesh Yadav for a meagre number of seats for his party in Madhya Pradesh? Nath referred to him as “Akhilesh-Vakhilesh.” Really, why would OBCs believe in the moon the Congress promises them?
The Congress’s showing in Telangana will have many think the BJP is locked out from south India. Yes, it is ostensibly too late for the party to make deep inroads in the south on its own. But add a caveat or two: the Congress’s victory in Karnataka earlier this year has driven the Janata Dal (S) into the BJP’s arms. Might not the anxious Bharat Rashtra Samithi do the same? Might not the inevitability of Modi returning to power next year prompt voters of south India to vote in greater proportion for the BJP than what the current trends in Karnataka and Telangana indicate? Do not, therefore, rule out the National Democratic Alliance expanding and the BJP performing better there than expected.
Political domination feeds on the defeatism of the Opposition and segues into authoritarianism. Think Indira Gandhi. Think Modi as well. The results of Sunday show the electorate does not worry much about the BJP ordering raids on its political rivals and incarcerating them, its control over the national media and stifling of free speech, and its packing off to jail civil rights activists.
This trend will become stronger in the months to come. Trinamool MP Mahua Moitra will become the first casualty of the BJP’s victories: she will be expelled from the Lok Sabha this week. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal will be the next Aam Aadmi Party leader to go to jail. I hope I am wrong, for, otherwise, it will mean electoral, not democratic, politics engages Indians—surely not something for us to cheer.
The writer is a senior journalist.
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