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Mainstream, VOL LX No 13, New Delhi, March 19, 2022

Results of the Assembly elections in five States: what the future holds for us? | P S Jayaramu

Friday 18 March 2022

by P.S. Jayaramu

13th March 2022

Results of the five state assembly elections have attracted the attention of the entire country. Supremely satisfied with the party coming back to power in four States, while addressing party workers, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that it is a foregone conclusion that the 2024 Lok Sabha election results would be in favour of the BJP, forgetting the fact that the Indian voters have, in the past, voted differently in national and state elections. Be that as it may, let me focus my focus is on the elections and their outcome.

Uttar Pradesh elections:

Needless to say, the UP elections caught the attention of the entire country. The poll tussle was essentially bipolar, between the BJP and the Samajawadi Party, both of which had allied with smaller parties. The prime objective of the BJP and prime minister Modi was to bring the Yogi Adithyanath’s government back to power. Worried over criticisms of Yogi’s autocratic functioning and the crossing over of a few senior leaders to the Samajwadi Party, Modi put himself at the centre stage of campaigning as the Party’s mascot. However, as the campaign heat picked up, Yogi too addressed voters throughout the State.

It is worth noting note that the BJP projected two kinds of issues during the campaign. First, Yogi largely stuck to the Hindutva card, running down the minorities with his controversial 80:20 statement and the so-called sense of security his government has given to women. Second, Prime minister Modi’s focus was, however, largely on the benefits conferred on the electorate through schemes like supply of cooking gas, electricity to rural homes, direct transfer of cash to farmers and free ration to the poor during the Covid pandemic, a scheme continued till the end of March 2022.

Though the Party distributed tickets largely on caste lines, the effort was to create and corner the votes of the beneficiary class, ( ‘labharthees’ as it called them) to come back to power. Results show that voters cutting across caste lines—brahmins, Rajputs, Vaishyas, various groups among the OBCs, SCs voted for the BJP. As the CSDC study reveals, 12% of Yadavs and 8% of Muslims too voted for the BJP. The strategy of deriving electoral dividends from the social coalition, subsuming within it the ‘beneficiary coalition’ helped the Party to beat the anti-incumbency syndrome and ride back to power. History has been created, as the UP electorate had not returned the incumbent to power for over thirty years. The BJP, along with its coalition partners, has won 273 seats with an vote share of 44%. The Party has won handsomely in all the four regions of the State.

While due credit is to be given to the BJP for its return to power, it can not be denied that the Party and its leadership, specially Yogi Adityanath, openly resorted to communal/ Hindu polarisation in a no-holds barred way. Even in his victory speech to thank party karyakarthas and the prime minister, Yogi stuck to the communal chord and ended his speech by raising the slogan of ‘Jai Sriram’, not Jai hind!

The second pole in the bipolar contest for power was led by the Samajwadi Party, headed by its President Akhilesh Yadav. Though Akhilesh raised hopes of wresting power from the BJP,( the media too projected him in a big way), at the end of the day, he could not get over his Muslim-Yadav (MY) tag . The fact that he entered the scene only a few months before the elections were announced and that he did not show himself up during the Covid pandemic to provide succour to the ordinary masses, notwithstanding the crowds he pulled during his campaign trails, contributed to the failure of his desire to wrest power. The SP has, no doubt, improved its performance compared to 2017; the Party and its allies have bagged 125 seats, with 37% vote share. The Party obtained 83% of yadav and 79% of muslim votes.

The most shocking performance has come from the Congress Party which contested in all the 403 constituencies. Priyanca Vadra Gandhi who sphereheaded the Party’s election campaign addressed 200 plus rallies, but the Party miserably failed to connect itself with the State’s electorate. It won just 2 seats with 0.2% of votes. What a fall for the grand old party which once ruled UP producing many Chief ministers. Similar has been the fate of the Bahujan Samajwadi Party ( BSP) which once ruled the State. With just 1 seat under its belt, though it secured 13% of votes, the Party has ceased to be a player in the politics of the State. Mayawati has to do deep introspection. No wonder, Narendra Modi has delivered a piece of advice to his rival parties to think beyond the caste calculus in their efforts to be successful in electoral politics. It is time BJP’s adversaries take politics as a serious full time activity, construct and work on a counter narrative to that of the BJP if they have to play any meaningful role in future elections.

The BJP has won majority in Manipur and Uttarakhand, despite changing its chief minister thrice there and in Goa, where it will form government with the support of perhaps the MGP and a few independents. All in all, the BJP has won and retained power in four States, from west to east. As for Punjab, it was not a serious player, despite its recent understanding with Capt. Amarinder Singh.

Punjab’s outcome:

The Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party were the major poles in the Punjab assembly elections, with Akali Dal, BJP and others being in the electoral field only as marginal players. Akali dal and Congress stalwarts, including chief minister Channi lost the polls. The Aam Aadmi Party ( AAP) which was preparing itself quietly for the last five years has created history by its landslide victory bagging 92 seats ( 42% vote share) in an Assembly consisting of 117 members. It has come to power on the basis of a successful selling of its Delhi/Kejriwal model of governance with focus on improving education and health care. It has also spoken seriously about its plans to end unemployment and the drug problem in the State. More than anything else, this time round, the State’s electorate had made up their mind to go for a change ( badlav, as they called it), feeling let down by both the Congress and the Akalis to whom they had entrusted power in the past.

The Congress Party committed harakiri by the thoughtless manner in which it conducted itself a few months before the polls by making Navot jot Singh Sidhu, a maverick, as Party President, removing Capt. Amarinder Singh from the post of chief minister and installing Rajendra singh Channi, hoping his dalit background would bring the party back to power. However, his controversial links with the sand mafia and open differences between Sidhu and Channi harmed the party to no end. The Gandhi scions who indulged in an adhoc handling of party matters contributed in a big way for the failure of the Party at the hustings. The Party which was in power ended up getting only 18 seats( 23% vote share). The Gandhis will have to do a lot of explaining within the Party, for their share in the electoral debacle. It is time the Party elects a non-Gandhian as its President- why not Sachin Pilot, who is young and articulate- to reinvent itself.

Broad conclusions:

1. The central conclusion that can be drawn from the outcome of the assembly polls is the undisputed rise of the BJP as the single most dominant Party in Indian politics. It is somewhat similar to the one-party dominance system which India witnessed under the Congress Party for decades, ‘OPD system’ as Prof. Rajni Kothari described it then.

2. The mainstream Indian voters, young and old, including women, are not attracted by Secularism and Constitutional values. This is indeed a sad and worrying phenomenon. How to reverse the trend and make the people accept the Idea of India, as enshrined in the Constitution, is the biggest challenge.

3. Unless the Opposition Parties come together on a common platform within a composite ideological framework, rooted in our constitutional ethos, backed by an impressive and workable alternative narrative to that of the BJP, with leaders setting aside their egos and personal political ambitions, it will be difficult, even impossible, to challenge BJP’s ideological hegemony in Indian politics.

(The author is a former Professor of Political Science, Bangalore University and former Senior Fellow, ICSSR, New Delhi)

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