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Home > 2022 > BJP’s Electoral Ascendancy: Politics of Populism | Nayakara Veeresha

Mainstream, VOL LX No 16, New Delhi, April 9, 2022

BJP’s Electoral Ascendancy: Politics of Populism | Nayakara Veeresha

Friday 8 April 2022

by Nayakara Veeresha *

Abstract

The Bharatiya Janata Party (hereafter BJP) has returned to power in the recently concluded assembly elections in four out of five states. The political analysts and the post poll surveys have indicated that the BJP’s electoral mandate was given for the development, governance and welfare. No doubt, the policies of social welfare and target based programmes of the BJP have played a key role in grabbing the voter’s attention; however the point of concern is to what extent the attention have translated into votes. In this context, using alphabets from A to Z here an attempt is made to understand the BJP’s electoral ascendancy in the four states. The analysis indicates that the BJP’s electoral dividend is owing to the politics of populism rather than the popular mandate as argued in the current discourse and political analysis. The deep run nexus between the populism and politics is dangerous to the health of polity and society. The hegemonic politics of freebies has kept the voter within the ambit of political business cycle. The solution to the politics of populism lies in building the consciousness of “We the Citizens” from the “We the People”.

Keywords: Citizen, Elections, Politics, Populism

Introduction 

The Bharatiya Janata Party (hereafter BJP) has returned to power in the recently concluded assembly elections in four out of five states. The BJP triumphed in Goa, Manipur, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh (hereafter UP) states whereas the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has gained victory in the state of Punjab. Hailing the victory especially in the state of Uttar Pradesh, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said that the verdict has “decided the results of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections”. The political analysts and the post poll surveys have indicated that the BJP’s electoral mandate was given for the development, governance and welfare. No doubt, the policies of social welfare and target based programmes of the BJP have played a key role in grabbing the voter’s attention; however the point of concern is to what extent the attention have translated into votes. The results have thrown surprise to the democratic advocates and progressive thinkers specifically with regard to UP.

The political theory of populism of Acemoglu et. al (2013) provides an interesting proposition. According to this, the populist bias of policy is greater when the value of remaining in office is higher for the politician. On the contrary, the public choice theories argue that whenever the probability of getting into re-elected is less then there will be policy bias towards populism. In the assembly elections of 2022, both appears have worked out for the BJP. In this backdrop, here an attempt is made to understand the alphabets of BJP’s political ascendancy in the four states. All the alphabets represent the politics of populism rather than the popular mandate as argued in the current discourse and political analysis.

Alphabets of BJP’s Electoral Ascendancy

Aspiration: The BJP has successfully employed the slogans such as “Atmanirbhar Bharat” “Mazboot Sarkar” to persuade the voter with aspiration.

Bharosa (Confidence): The aspirations projected in the electoral slogans were acted as catalyst in capturing the bharosa (confidence) of the voters.

Caste (Jaati): The traditional caste social base of BJP in the form of upper Hindu castes, non-Yadav OBCs, Dalits and others have kept the party’s vote share intact.

Development: The slogan of vote for Vikas i.e. development has acted as a powerful instrument especially in UP, Manipur and Uttarakhand. To illustrate, the BJP secured 57 per cent of the votes for whom development is the single largest voting issue.

Electoral bonds: The BJP is the biggest gainer of the funds received from the electoral bonds.

Freebies: The union government schemes such as Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (hereafter PM-KISAN), PMGKY has come to the rescue of the party in the context of large scale return migration amidst COVID-19 pandemic. This has attracted considerable nation and media’s attention to the populist schemes especially PM-KISAN i.e. income support of Rs.6000 to small and marginal farmer families. The scheme certainly has elements of redistributive and welfare politics though arising from a short term political gain.

Good governance: The political rhetoric of good governance and its reductionist approach only to the delivery of public services have been able to garner the voters especially the first time electors and youth.

Hindu-hindutva-hinduism: This has been the biggest ideological basis and the national project.

Identities: such as caste (jaati), gender and religion have played an important role though in a subtle yet in assertive manner.

Jaati: as individual and social identity and its dialectic interaction with the politics has ensured the BJP’s societal base and its vote share. The politics of reservation especially the OBCs has expanded the social and electoral dividends.

Kissan (farmer) issues: The political effect of farmer’s agitation and the subsequent withdrawal of farm laws, 2020 were insignificant nullified by the schemes such as PMKISSAN.

Law and order: In spite of the incidents such as Lakhimpur in UP, farmer’s agitation and subsequent deaths in Delhi and Punjab, the encounter killings, debates on the repeal of AFSPA and turf with China’s intrusion, the BJP has prevailed over all these critical issues of national security.

Media and marketing: The marketing strategies used by the BJP to project the achievements of the union and state governments both at domestic and international platforms has been able to capture the perception of the voters in a substantial way.

Nation-nationalism: The concept of “One Nation in particular “Hindu-Nation” in a diversified and plural country like ours is deeply problematic in nature and dynamics. The idea and concept of “Hindu Nationalism” is implicit in all the BJP’s electoral campaigns. The BJP’s pursuance of the same indicates its power of persuasiveness.

Opposition: One of the main political factors is the weak opposition especially the Congress party, its internal conflicts and the crisis of leadership have directly contributed for the expanding voter base in UP. The split of votes from BSP to BJP is also a matter of puzzle and some analysts have termed it as decline of Dalit politics in the context of UP.

Personality: The personal charm of Prime Minister of Narendra Modi, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, Union Home Minister Amit Shah seems to have worked again for the party. Most importantly the post poll survey of CSDS-Lokniti finds that the Prime Ministers image has been able to pull the voters especially in UP rather than the UP government’s performance.

Table 1: Comparative assessment of Modi and Yogi Government

- Yogi government - Modi government -
2019 2022 2019 2022
Fully satisfied 30 35 32 41
Somewhat satisfied 33 18 39 19
Somewhat dissatisfied 15 14 7 12
Fully dissatisfied  21 32 19 24

Source: The Hindu (2022)

Note: The figures are percentages and the rest did not respond.

From table 1 it is clear that though the level of fully satisfied voters have increased from 30 to 35 per cent of Yogi government; however the per cent of fully dissatisfied voters have also risen in the same period from 21 to 32. At the same time the popularity of Modi government has increased from 32 to 41 per cent. This indicates that the popularity of Narendra Modi has been able to attract the voters in a reasonable manner.

Quest: The thrust for delivering development and good governance is appreciated by the voters though it remains as contested and debatable.

Religion: Adopting Vivekananda’s vision of making India as “Vishwa Guru” in the comity of global nations, projecting the Ayodhya temple construction as a unifying factor of the nation and community yielded rich dividends for the BJP.

Slogans and satires: The electoral slogans such as “Soch Imanadar, Kaam Damdaar, Fir Ek Baar BJP Sarkar” “Farq Saaf hai” “Jo Kaha So Kiya” and sarcastic way of mocking the opposition parties especially by the Prime Minister has affected the psyche of the voters in a credible manner. The common citizen was able to connect to these than the real issues of national development.

Time: The timing of farm laws repeal, initiation of Ram temple construction, peace accords in North-Eastern states like the Bodo pact, developmental projects in the Himalayan region were started to suit the election needs.

Utopia: Ideas such as “Vishwa Guru”, “Hindu rashtra”, “Congress mukt bharat” and “Ram Rajya” have been effectively employed by the BJP leaving no stone behind to appease the voters in UP and other states.

Vision: This has been the main difference between the opposition parties and BJP. The BJp has successfully projected the political vision for the country however it may be defective or inconsonance with the Constitutional vision.

Welfare: The union and state government schemes especially the targeted programmes of women empowerment has driven the female voters to cast their votes to the BJP.

Xenophobia: The normalisation of social violence and militarisation of society needs to be seen from the perspective of masculine politics, the use of force as main instrument to usher in any kind of change in society.

Youth: Youth especially the first time voters seems to have provided the much needed electoral dividend to the BJP in particular to UP. The populist schemes in the election manifesto and accommodating the return migrant workers within the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) during first and second phase of the COVID-19 pandemic have contributed a lot for the BJP.

Zeal: The BJP’s electoral campaigns have filled with lot of enthusiasm in consonance with the personalities and its associated populism of higher leadership. The same was absent in opposition parties barring exception of Samajwadi Party in UP to some extent.

A way forward 

The rise of authoritarian regimes and their implications for democratic decline are global phenomena. This reflects the lapses in the commitment of global leadership to the values of democratic tradition, including in India. In the context of the shrinking space of democratic voices, there is an urgent necessity for strengthening citizens’ stake in the decision-making process through civil society organisations to put pressure on the governments to uphold constitutional governance and to maintain the rule of law.

It is pertinent to ask, to what extent we are exercising our voting rights in a transparent manner; in other words are we ready to vote without inclining towards identity and populist politics. The laws and institutions are only facilitating agents and the change should come within the people to vote for politics of performance from the patronage politics. The empowerment of voters is the first step to bring in the attitudinal transformation from people to citizen. It seems that the political parties are least bothered to respect the voter’s decision in the gamble of power politics. The conscious citizenship is the soul of democracy without which the foundations of democratic polity may not sustain for a longer period. The link between citizenship and democratic governance is deep and inseparable. The politics in India has caught in a crime, identity, patronage, muscle and money network. The deep run nexus between the populism and politics is dangerous to the health of polity and society. The hegemonic politics of freebies has kept the voter within the ambit of political business cycle. The solution to the politics of populism lies in building the consciousness of “We the Citizens” from the “We the People”.

(Author: PhD Student in the Centre for Political Institutions, Governance and Development at the Institute for Social and Economic Change (ISEC), Bengaluru. Email: veeresha[at]isec.ac.in, nayakaraveeresha[at]gmail.com. The views expressed are personal)

References

Acemoglu, Daron, Georgy Egorov, and Konstantin Sonin (2013), A Political Theory of Populism, The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 128 (2): 771-805

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