August 31, 2014

By-election Results Signify a Trend of Waning Modi “Euphoria”

EIGHT days before it completes its first hundred days, the Modi government and the RSS/BJP suffered a major setback in the recently held by-elections in Bihar, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab. Out of a total of 18 seats, the BJP could only win ten this time. In comparison to the leads that the BJP and allies registered in the 2014 general elections, when they had eight out of the ten seats that went to polls in the by-elections in Bihar, they could win only four seats. And, that too, with very narrow margins. For instance, it won the Banka seat by a wafer thin margin of 711 votes. On the contrary, the JD(U) won the Parbatta seat with a margin of nearly 57,000 votes. Of the three seats in Madhya Pradesh, the BJP lost one of its sitting seats and in Karnataka, it lost one sitting seat. This marks a significant trend of reversal from the patterns seen in the general elections and the waning of the Modi “euphoria”. Smarting under the impact of such a decisive shift in the people’s choices, major media groups, though conceding this trend, are bending over backwards to say that it is “too early to come to any conclusion on people’s choices” or “much should not be read into these results” etc. This is not surprising. After all, India Inc. and the corporate media functioned as the main cheer leaders for generating the so-called Modi “tsunami”. They are simply not willing to stomach the reality of such a result so soon after the general elections. The editorial of one venerable national daily says: “By-election results are straws in the political wind” (The Times of India, August 26, 2014). This is followed by yet another lead editorial the next day that says: “Greek storyteller Aesop cautioned against prematurely seeing larger patterns in single occurrences, arguing, `A single swallow does not a summer make, nor does one fine day’. Similarly, reading an indictment of the Modi government’s first months in the 10-8 by-election score-line between Congress and allies on one hand, and BJP and allies on the other, would be hasty”. Another esteemed national daily begins its lead editorial saying: “Too much should not be read into the good showing by the RJD-JD(U)-Congress combine in the Bihar by-polls, though it’s a bit surprising that five of the six constituencies that it has won fall in the Lok Sabha seats which the BJP-LJP had swept during the April-May polls. However, it again proves the point that electoral arithmetic and caste consolidation can make or mar the fortunes of a party in Indian elections.” (The Hindustan Times, August 26, 2014). Likewise, The Times of India (August 27, 2014) says: “The JD(U)-RJD alliance gamble still has to prove it has a coherent governance narrative beyond cynical caste arithmetic”. Can these results be dismissed in such a cynical manner? Remember that earlier in the by-elections in Uttarakhand, the BJP drew a blank and lost all the three seats that went to polls. Even in Bihar, voting figures show that there has been a substantial erosion in the RSS/BJP alliance’s vote share. In the April/May general elections, their vote share was 45.3 percent in these ten segments. In these by-elections, this has come down to 37.3 percent, a significant negative swing away from the BJP of 8 percentage points. In contrast, the combined vote share of the RJD-JD(U) and Congress has increased from 40.3 percent to 44.9 percent, a positive swing of 4.6 percentage points. The BJP-LJP led in nine out of the ten segments in the 2014 general elections. Now they had to settle for just four in these by-elections. Even in the assembly elections four years ago, the BJP and its allies had won seven of these ten seats with BJP alone winning six of these. These ten seats are in areas where the BJP has been traditionally strong having contested eight of these in the 2010 assembly elections. Hence, to dismiss these results as a mere “cynical caste arithmetic” would be self deception. Though there is still a long way for the anti-communal combination to come up as a coherent alternative, these results nevertheless are a pointer to the fact that the people have realised, much to the RSS/BJP’s discomfort, that the real agenda of the Modi government is completely different from the issues on which the election campaign was mounted. The people were led to believe that under Modi, there shall be a resurgent India – acche din aanewale hai. On the contrary, the steep hike in the prices of petroleum products and railway fares, with no visible signs of any economic turn around providing new jobs, the people’s miseries have only mounted. All the major election campaign planks were not even mentioned by the prime minister in his first ever address to the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort. There was no mention of curbing price rise, of combating corruption, of minimum government - maximum governance etc etc. On the other hand, since this government has assumed office, there has been a sharp escalation of the mounting of communal tensions as noted in these columns in the previous weeks. Even in the run-up to these elections, in Bihar, communal polarisation was sought to be whipped up for electoral gains. As crucial by-elections in Uttar Pradesh come closer, along with the elections to the state assemblies in important states like Maharashtra, Haryana, Jammu & Kashmir etc., such whipping up of communal polarisation is palpably on the rise. The latest in the series of issues centering on a majoritarian communal agenda, the RSS/BJP are whipping up polarisation over the issue of “love jihad”. This is in reference to how Muslim youth allegedly entice Hindu girls and forcibly convert them. This is, indeed, not merely a strange logic but it is simply obnoxious. It is a known fact that the BJP does not have a single Muslim member of the Lok Sabha. Its two most known political faces, both are married to women from Hindu families. Dharmendra and Hema Malini (former a BJP MP earlier and the latter now elected in 2014) reportedly converted to Islam when they married. In fact, one of the former popular and known Muslim faces of Delhi who served as an elected MP and a minister in the Janata Party cabinet after the defeat of Indira Gandhi’s emergency, Sikander Bhakt also married a girl belonging to a Hindu family. Clearly, therefore, for the RSS/BJP, the slogan of “love jihad” is one to sharpen communal polarisation and seek the communal consolidation of the Hindu vote bank. This is the practice of the worst vote bank politics. This has the propensity to seriously undermine the social harmony of India. Thus, for the sake of partisan electoral and political gains, the unity and integrity of our great country is being subjected to such a serious and frontal attack. Unless prevented, this could tragically unleash the vicious process of efforts to negate the richness of our society – social, cultural, linguistic and religious plurality – the undermining of the very `Idea of India’. These results of the recent by-elections must be seen as the pointer that reflects the people’s desire to not allow such a diabolic process wherein the RSS/BJP seek to metamorphose the secular democratic Indian Republic into the RSS political project of a rabidly intolerant fascistic `Hindu Rashtra’. Simultaneously, the RSS/BJP pursue the international finance capital dictated neo-liberal economic reforms that continuously furthers the divide between the two Indias and heaps miseries on the vast mass of our people. This is, indeed, a lethal cocktail destined to heap further miseries on the majority of our people. For the sake of India as we know of it today and for the sake to change India for the better for all our people, such diabolic designs must be defeated. (August 27, 2014)