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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 23 New Delhi May 25, 2019

India Painted Saffron: Challenges Ahead

Sunday 26 May 2019

POLITICAL NOTEBOOK

The May 23 parliamentary election results have handed a decisive and landslide victory to the NDA coalition (which has won 355 seats). The BJP by itself has secured 300 seats. A highly divisive, communal and jingoistic propaganda by the BJP has won the hearts of the voters. India is now very clearly a majoritarian democracy. The UPA has got 90 seats and the Indian National Congress has won 51 seats. (These are the latest figures that are available and could change since the final tally is yet to come.)

This victory will fill the sails of the BJP and its hardliners with much wind. Pragya Singh Thakur, the admirer of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin besides being one of the accused in the Malegaon blast case, has emerged victorious in Bhopal with a margin of 3.37 lakh votes, defeating Digvijay Singh, the former Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh. This is normalisation of the most reactionary forces with mass public approval. (The electorate has also endorsed Giriraj Singh of the BJP, who has been one of the most foul-mouthed BJP stalwarts against secularism, by giving him a resounding victory in Bihar’s Begusarai where he defeated the CPI’s Kanhaiya Kumar by a huge margin whereas the RJD’s Tanvir Husain came third; but the vote-shares of both Kanhaiya and Tanvir together fell far short of Giriraj’s 2,75,899 votes.)

In 2014 the democrats and discerning observers from the liberal intelligentsia totally missed the Modi wave; again in 2017 there had been firm predictions that the BJP would face defeat in the UP Assembly elections (but those failed to materialise). And now once again in 2019 we have just witnessed a huge disconnect from the ground realities.

When will the secular and progressive democrats realise that they are in a minority in a society where the mass of citizens and the electorate is deeply anchored and enamoured by reactionary ideas? It is high time we recognise that the India of today has changed beyond recognition and the people who have spoken through the elections aren’t ‘pure’ as they are under the mesmerising sway of authoritarian ideas.

It goes without saying that the results are a big setback for the Opposition parties from across the country that had been keen to work out a post-poll alliance. India’s parliamentary democracy has been hugely weakened in the absence of a large Opposition in Parliament.

This election demonstrates that the march to oblivion of the official Left continues. [The CPI-M’s vote-share in West Bengal was 22.96 per cent in 2014; it has now shrunk to 6.77 per cent in this election.] Instead of having taken the lead to forge a national united front of all secular-democratic parties to counter the communal forces, the Left shunned all links with the Congress. There have been interminable theoretical debates on the Left about the character of the ruling BJP and also the spin that the Congress and BJP are two sides of the same coin. Even if they did not say so officially, the Left supporters in droves have voted for the BJP in West Bengal to defeat the TMC, which had been infected by the disease of arrogance of power. The old malaise of anti-Congressism is still alive and kicking in the CPI-M; now a one-time socialist professor politician has also decided to declare the death of the Congress.

The electoral defeat of the Congress and all secular forces is a massive blow that demands introspection and rethinking. The Congress and other parties too will need to reinvent so that a vibrant mass organisation can emerge in the foreseeable future. The CPI, which is currently on the verge of extinction, should seriously consider forging a long-term cooperation agreement with the Congress on the trade union front and for active cooperation among cadres as well as to evolve a common think-tank for strategic planning in the years ahead. If necessary the CPI should be prepared for abandoning all truck with the CPI-M which is confined to the prison-house of hardline politics, even tying the hands of the open-minded and congenial CPI General Secretary.

We are now staring at raw fascism at work at the level of the state and hence the democratic space for functioning is likely to shrink in the near future. Simultaneously social movements and NGOs, human rights groups and platforms will increasingly come under fire while the independent media will encounter greater threats as will the academia. To face such reality in the times ahead new social alliances would have to be built not to fight elections but ensure the safety of individuals and for the defence of democratic rights as also the Constitution and to harness public opinion in an anti-democratic environment.

May 23 Analyst

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