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Mainstream, VOL LV No 13 New Delhi March 18, 2017

Making Sense of the Poll Results

Sunday 19 March 2017

POLITICAL NOTEBOOK

The outcome of the elections to the five State Assemblies has confounded everyone—the victor and the vanquished alike. Exit polls indicated the BJP was ahead of others in UP, but the actual result—the BJP and its allies winning 324 out of 403 seats—took everyone by surprise. BJP President Amit Shah himself said the magnitude of the BJP victory in UP was ‘unexpected’. In Uttarakhand also the BJP won hands down. But the Congress victory in Punjab was comprehensive and decisive. The Aam Admi Party came a poor second. Even in the Malwa region of the State, where it was expected to fare well, it lost to the Congress.

But in Goa and Manipur, the Congress won more seats than the BJP but the BJP quickly roped in legislators of the smaller parties and independents to forestall any move by the Congress for government formation. The Congress was outwitted. In both the States, pro-BJP Governors chose to invite the BJP for Ministry-making before the Congress could stake its claim. In Manipur in particular, it was mostly the Congress defectors who won on BJP ticket. Even the new Chief Minister, N. Biren Singh, was, till the other day, a Congressman close to the outgoing Chief Minister, Okram Ibobi Singh.

The poll results in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Punjab have been questioned by BSP supremo Mayawati, AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal and some others. They have alleged tampering of the electronic voting machines, an allegation which merits a probe to dispel doubts on this score. In UP, the SP-Congress alliance with 54 seats came a distant second to the BJP while the BSP, with just 19 seats, was all but washed out. The UP result, indeed, defies all rational explanation. Those who have questioned the result have reasons to do so. Apparently, issues like demonetisation and blatantly communal propaganda carried on by the BJP had no negative effect on the electorate. Even the Muslims, for reasons yet to be explained, are supposed to have voted for the BJP.

The UP result has come as a tremendous shot in the arm for the BJP. The tendency to ride roughshod over the Opposition parties will be more pronounced as the BJP will now outnumber the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha. The Hindutva brigade, with its divisive and communal agenda, will be immensely strengthened. Those fighting the increasing onslaughts on democracy and secularism will become their prime targets.

The Opposition parties will now have to close ranks and draw up a common agenda for action. As the Bulgarian Communist leader, Georgi Dimitrov, said in the 1930s when fascists had captured power in Germany, “If you don’t hang together, then you hang separately.” The Congress, in particular, needs to undertake a critical introspection: why is it being steadily marginalised in national politics? If it has to survive and regain its past position, its immediate task will be to groom a group of relatively young and competent leaders to take the place of the tired old leaders, most of them in their seventies.

Also, the Congress High Command has to make itself more readily accessible to party workers. In Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur, for example, dissidence against the State party leadership was growing for a long time. A common complaint of the dissidents in both the States was that they were not being able to meet the High Command and put across their views. If their complaints had been timely attended to and redressed, dissidence might have been easily contained. In the event, the dissidents crossed over to the BJP which embraced them with open arms.

If the Congress has to unite and lead the democratic and secular forces against the rising tide of authoritarianism and communalism, it must first of all put its own house in order. The elders will be there to guide and advise, but the responsibility of organisation-building at the grassroots level must now be shouldered by the younger generation. It should be kept in mind that the Hindutva forces have become so strong today because their mother organisation, the RSS, has been assiduously building up one organisation after another for the past ninety years. Without organisation, the Hindutva forces cannot be faced.

March 17 B.D.G.