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Shrinking Mass base of BJP?
News analysis

Shrinking Mass base of BJP?

K. Gopalakrishnan

The Indian voters who decimated the opposition in the Lok Sabha polls five months back, seems to be reconsidering his political positions looking at the election results of Maharashtra and Haryana as well as in the by elections to 51 assembly constituencies in 18 states and two parliamentary constituencies. The elections were almost a mini referendum as it covered virtually all regions of the country providing at least the instincts of the aam aadmi, whose mind is not easy to assess, even to those engaged in surveying public opinion.

The results did surprise many as the reports, pre election surveys and exit polls predicted almost a repeat of the LS results: nearly a clean sweep by the NDA.  Even the meetings of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, gifted with powerful communication skills and well versed with the idiom of the masses were well attended and noted for its positive vibes from a section of the masses. Modi on his part avoided controversial economic issues, problems faced by the common man, major unemployment and the serious economic crisis. Instead he stuck to the usual emotive issues, nationalism, Article 370 and 35,   triple talaq, Common Civil Code and how the Congress failed to deal with these issues for seven decades.  Also, oft repeated in the last five and half years from virtually every platform, he spoke on the failures of Jawaharlal Nehru– too familiar– to divert attention from the burning problems of the country and common masses. To get special effect in Maharashtra, awarding the Bharat Ratna to Veer Sarvarkar was raised by him, well orchestrated by the party unit in the state, referring to his contributions in the freedom struggle while carefully avoiding his letters of apology from jail. Similarly in Haryana, he assured the people that India will stop water flowing to Pakistan and that it will be diverted to the benefit of the farmers of the region.

The state of the opposition also made many conclude that the BJP and allies will have a walkover like the recent parliamentary polls.  Rahul Gandhi, after quitting the presidentship of the party, took to the social media and addressed public meetings at places of his choice. Sonia Gandhi had genuine health reasons, but she did a wise thing by leaving Maharashtra and Haryana to Sharad Pawar and Bupinder Singh Hooda to manage elections as leaving everything to youngsters did not prove rewarding. These two leaders, well known in their areas and well-versed with the problems of the masses, both rural and urban, did a marvellous job.  Priyanka preferred to stick to UP and nearby areas. Senior veterans stuck to their states and managed on their own. Sonia’s strategy and tactics, born out of health compulsions and general indifference of frustrated party colleagues, proved effective. But during campaigning, no one expected much from the opposition which had no well thought out strategy compared to the two parivar political pundits – the Modi-Shah duo.

It looked as though Modiji would repeat his LS election performance again and that the aam aadmi had ignored his own existential problems, stresses and strains, totally bowled over by the political spin bowling of Modiji and his spin doctors. Some in political circles, NDA included, even discussed the dangers of voters failing to exercise their rights prudently in the interests of society, faced with a serious economic crisis and expressed concern at the growing authoritarian streak and weakening of collective leadership in the NDA and government.

The results indicate that there is a shift in the thinking of the Indian voter. He seems to be influenced by his own struggles and sufferings due to the economic crisis and concerned about the inability of the Centre to deal with the problem effectively.  What is worse, none in New Delhi is willing to consult those within the country, economists, former finance ministers, economic planners and experts in various fields, for fear of annoying the top saffron duo. Decision makers resorted to draw from the RBI, disinvestments, etc. almost like heads of families in India selling off family silver when faced with a crisis like natural calamities to feed the family members.

All these contributed to the building up of silent but patient public anger waiting for an opportunity to strike. Elections gave an opportunity to strike peacefully and silently but administer an effective warning. The results in the Maharashtra and Haryana country sides reflect rural distress. Chances are that if the BJP fails to tackle the problems of the common man and take urgent steps to improve the economic situation, it may have to face a difficult situation in the coming elections. One may even witness some taking to the road and agitations by the enlivened opposition parties if immediate relief measures are not provided to the common man. The results have boosted the morale of the opposition and a confidence that by joining hands together and putting in a little more effort in campaigning, the NDA can be defeated. The invincibility of the Modi-Shah combine is no more in the political atmosphere.

In fact, not just a shift in thinking alone, anger too.  The fact that as many as 8 Haryana ministers lost indicates the public anger that has built up and the high degree of anti-incumbency. In Maharashtra BJP’s senior leader Pankaje Munde lost to NCP’s Dhanajay Munde in Parli, Maharashtra. Similarly NCP’s Srinivas Dadasaheb Patil emerged victorious against BJP’s Udayaraje Pratapsinhamaharaj Bhonsale in Satara Parliamentary constituency – to name a few major upsets. The list is long.

But one calculation of the BJP which totally went wrong was that its aim to tarnish the image of opponents through raids, corruption charges, allegations of assets disproportionate to income and cash and gold holdings, etc. did not work as most of the leaders charged, have won. On the other hand, those got the advantage of sympathy factor. In the two parliamentary constituencies the NDA and the opposition shared one seat each.  Of the 51 assembly constituencies the BJP and allies together won in 26. The Congress won in 12 seats.  To the Haryana and Maharashtra assemblies the BJP-Shiv Sena combine managed a majority but the results were far below expectations. Compared to the earlier election NCP-Congress performed better in Maharashtra and Congress in Haryana. The surprise results were Owaisi’s AIMIM which won an assembly seat in Bihar, its first victory in the state, and AIADMK, BJP ally in Tamil Nadu defeated DMK-Congress combine in the two seats where elections were held.  This is a stern warning to DMK and allies which expected a walkover in the state. A shocking result was from Congress strong hold, Kerala, where the party conceded two seats to the Left Front and wrested one from the Left. Petty quarrels and feuds, backed by group leaders were the causes. The rest of the results were on expected lines except the poor performance of JD (U) in Bihar.

Another notable aspect is that caste, regional and family considerations continued to influence votes more than the political and policy issues, particularly in Maharashtra and Haryana. In spite of opposition being in a shattered condition, due to these and other reasons their candidates performed better than expected and the Vipaksh Mukht Bharat continued to be an uneasy dream to achieve. To sum, in these two states after the elections, the Opposition is stronger and many stalwarts have been elected to the Assembly making discussions more meaningful and the government under better scrutiny.