Pointers from the Assembly Elections
THERE are three major takeaways from the recent assembly elections in the five states of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Manipur and Goa. First, the decisive victory for the BJP in Uttar Pradesh for the second successive term and its success in Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa to retain its governments.
Though the BJP and its allies got a lesser majority, their vote share has increased by 3.65 per cent to 45 per cent. There are various factors for the BJP’s striking success such as better management of caste groups and alliances; use of massive money power, social media and the official machinery. But the main aspect of rising Hindu consciousness should not be underplayed.
Over the years, substantial sections of the population, not just upper castes, have got imbued with the pan-Hindu identity. The acceptance of Hindutva couched in nationalist terms is targeted against the ‘other’ – the Muslim minorities. According to a CSDS-Lokniti survey, the BJP held sway on all sections – upper castes, other backward classes and scheduled castes (except among Muslims, Yadavs and Jatavs). The pan-Hindu project, which accommodates catering to specific caste identities, has become a workable order.
This is what thwarted the challenge for the SP-RLD, which had many things going on for it. UP is the heartland of the Hindi belt and throughout this region, a similar process has been on, though, in varying degrees. While the prolonged kisan movement in western UP and the discontent engendered by unemployment and other economic hardships had some political impact, it is evident that these were insufficient to materially change the pro-Hindu consciousness which has permeated into society.
This social reality brings out the need for sustained political and ideological work to counter the Hindutva ideology and to present an alternative social-cultural-ideological construct, which take on both the religious communal aspect and also the upper caste dominance paradigm.
This is where the Left has to play a key role. Not because it is a big force in the Hindi heartland but because it has the ideological wherewithal to construct such an alternative in which the struggle against the neo-liberal policies and for democratic-secular socio-cultural values which challenge Hindutva and manuvad, are combined. This can be the basis for other democratic and secular forces to take forward.
The second feature of this election is the abject defeat of the Congress in the five states, particularly in Punjab, which had been a state in which it was ruling with a two-thirds majority in the assembly. In other states, except Uttarakhand, the performance of Congress is worse than in the previous elections, both in terms of vote share and seats. In UP, the Congress led by Priyanka Gandhi polled a dismal 2.3 per cent of the vote and got a paltry two seats as compared to seven last time.
These election results confirm the pattern of the long term trend of decline of the Congress. Further, the BJP gains the most when the Congress is the main opponent. Though the Congress has become a skeleton of its past strength, it continues to behave as if it is the premier party of days gone-by. What else can explain the Congress contesting practically in all the seats in UP, when everyone knew that it was the SP-RLD alliance which had emerged as the main rallying force in the anti-BJP opposition.
The Congress seeks to imitate or compromise with the Hindutva ideology, while being unremittingly hostile to the main regional party in some states and the CPI(M) and LDF in Kerala. The Congress party seems caught in an unending conundrum of how to create a new effective leadership without breaking with its total reliance on the Gandhi family.
Constituting an effective opposition force to the BJP in such a situation requires a state by state mobilisation of the anti-BJP forces, in which the regional parties will play an important role.
The third feature of these elections is the remarkable victory of the AAP in Punjab. The party has replicated its sweeping success in Delhi, but in a state which is a full-fledged one unlike the truncated statehood of Delhi. The electoral pattern of victory shows the AAP getting the bulk of the votes of Sikhs and the Hindus and the various sub-categories amongst them. The formation of the AAP government in Punjab can, as a first step, provide the impetus for the various opposition run state governments to come together for a concerted effort to defend federalism and states’ rights.
(March 16, 2022)