THE BJP has scored a stunning victory in the recent round of assembly elections. In Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, it has managed to maintain its 2014 performance. In the 2014 general elections, it had polled 42.3 percent of the vote in Uttar Pradesh and 55.3 percent in Uttarakhand. In these assembly elections, it polled 39.7 percent in UP and 46.5 percent in Uttarakhand. The BJP, however, faced a miserable defeat in Punjab where the Congress party succeeded in dislodging the Akali Dal-BJP alliance government by a big margin. Though the Congress party emerged as a single largest party in Goa and Manipur, but falling short of a majority, the BJP managed to form the governments in these two states. The BJP employed a lethal cocktail of intimidation, appeasement through corruption and lure of cabinet rank positions and immense money power with devastating effect, to shore up a majority negating the people’s verdict in these states.
The BJP’s claims that this victory is an endorsement of demonetisation and its record of good governance are completely untenable given its performance in Punjab, Goa and Manipur. Its victories in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand are due to many factors, mainly, an effective combination of communal polarisation and caste-based social engineering.
The BJP today does not have a single MP in the Lok Sabha who is a Muslim. In Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, the BJP did not field a single Muslim candidate. The underlying message is clear: a message that it conveyed in 2014 through its campaign on the so-called successful “Gujarat model”. Notwithstanding the dubious claims of this model, most of the claims have been shown to be patently false, the diabolic message conveyed was that the successes in Gujarat were due to sanitising the state of the Muslims, following the 2002 communal genocide – an insidious propaganda technique for sharpening communal polarisation.
With PM Modi’s barbed references to kabaristan and shamshanghat, Eid and Diwali, this sinister communal campaign was unleashed. The BJP president added on to this by clubbing the Congress-Samajwadi Party and the BSP as champions of Muslim appeasement through the coinage of a new vocabulary – kasab. This immediately projected the BJP’s principal opposition parties as those having strong links with cross border terrorism sponsored by Pakistan. In contrast, the BJP tom-tomed its anti-Pakistan, hence anti-Muslim, credentials by claiming the successes of its `surgical strikes’. (Such claims have been shown to be false by the fact that double the number of our brave jawans lost their lives due to terrorist attacks in the three months after `surgical strikes’ than in the three months prior.)
Such a communal campaign works effectively only in states that have a sizable Muslim population. This explains why it could not work such magic in the other three states. The RSS rumour mill churned out the chant of `a Muslim government is coming’ to rally the people against the secular parties in Uttar Pradesh.
Both the SP-Congress and the BSP formations fell into the trap of this narrative, rather than providing a counter narrative. The BSP supremo continuously reminded the people that they had fielded a hundred Muslim candidates and appealed to the minority community to not vote for the SP-Congress combine as her pro-Muslim credentials were more `credible’.
Simultaneously, the BJP’s electoral strategy perfected a social engineering of seeking to mobilise the non-Yadav OBCs and the non-Jatav SCs, against the predominantly Yadav-oriented SP and the BSP whose major support base is among the Jatavs.
The lack of a counter narrative by the secular opposition formation added to the BJP’s successes. It is now being argued by a large section that a `mahajot’ in Uttar Pradesh like the one that emerged in the Bihar assembly elections would have surely halted the BJP. They go on to demonstrate that if the votes polled by the candidates of the SP, Congress, BSP and RLD are pooled together, then this `mahajot’ would have won 313 assembly seats leaving only 90 for the BJP.
Unfortunately, politics is not arithmetic. An alternative to the BJP’s communal project can only emerge through a counter narrative opposed to that projected by the BJP and PM Modi. The probabilities for mounting such a pro-people alternative narrative existed, particularly in the aftermath of demonetisation that imposed unprecedented economic miseries on the vast sections of the poor and the marginalised. As it is obvious by now, the demonetisation completely shattered the informal economy which contributes over 40 percent of our country’s GDP and generates over 80 percent of our jobs. Rural life in Uttar Pradesh was and continues to be in shambles. Kisans were selling their produce in distress due to lack of currency notes at prices less than half of the government announced minimum support price. Instead of reaching out to these sections and drawing them into popular mobilisations against the BJP’s economic policies and the PM’s demonetisation, both the SP-Congress and the BSP fell into the trap of the BJP’s narrative. This further facilitated the BJP campaign that demonetisation was anti-rich and pro-poor! The opposite is the reality. This attitude of these parties was clear even earlier during the winter session of the parliament. Sixteen opposition parties in parliament have come together to oppose this demonetisation. At the insistence of the Left parties, a joint call was given for nation-wide hartal on November 28, 2016. The major secular opposition parties, at best, paid lip service to this call but refused to actively mobilise the people’s discontent. This failure resulted in the BJP’s narrative becoming the dominant narrative. The bourgeois opposition parties fell into the trap of this narrative and became pre-occupied with seeking to mobilise identity and caste based sections of people for electoral support.
Ably aided by the BJP drum-beaters in the bourgeois media and an unprecedented display of money power, the BJP narrative was the only narrative before the people. It was the Left parties alone who were seeking to establish the alternative narrative. However, unlike in Kerala and other states where the Left has a strong political presence, in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, the BJP gained in the absence of an effective alternate narrative.
These elections also thoroughly exposed the BJP’s so-called concern to combat political corruption by parties during elections. The display of money power by the BJP was, indeed, unprecedented. This has reportedly played a major role in the BJP cobbling up a majority in Goa and Manipur despite not emerging as the single largest party there.
The urgency to initiate deep-rooted electoral reforms to curb the use of money power has assumed an immediacy. The strength of the counter narrative to the BJP and PM Modi’s narrative is the most reliable foundation for uniting the Left and democratic forces in our country to stand as a bulwark against the sharpened communal offensive being unleashed by the BJP and to safeguard the secular democratic foundations of the Indian Republic.
In the final analysis, it is only through the strength of the popular people’s struggles that this communal monster can be defeated.