Monday, 27 March, 2023
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Wrong to assume Modi govt can be defeated after BJP’s performance in Jharkhand

State battles are no substitute for taking on the Modi regime at the level of national politics.

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There are two ways of misreading Jharkhand elections. The first mistake was made by the BJP before the election: the assumption that the 2019 Lok Sabha victory would automatically translate into a triumph in assembly elections. This led to hubris, loss of allies and loss of elections for the BJP. The second mistake is the one that the non-BJP parties are likely to make post the election results: the assumption that the BJP’s loss in assembly election will build up to the BJP’s eventual defeat in the next Lok Sabha election. This assumption leads to complacency, and can be fatal for the opposition.

It was natural for the BJP to make the assumption that it did after its spectacular success in the Lok Sabha elections, where it won 303 seats. After all, the BJP led in 63 out of 81 assembly constituencies in Jharkhand. In terms of vote share, it was head and shoulders ahead of any opposition party.

Also read: Modi lost Jharkhand because his priorities have changed – from vikas purush to Hindu saviour

Failure of the BJP

Previously a victory of this scale in the Lok Sabha election would have rendered the assembly election that followed within six months a foregone conclusion. This is exactly what happened after Narendra Modi’s first victory in 2014. But something has clearly changed. It began with the Odisha assembly elections held along with the parliamentary elections itself. While the BJP won eight out of 21 seats in the Lok Sabha, Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal had a comfortable majority in the simultaneous assembly elections (113 out of 147 seats). But it looked like an aberration. Maharashtra and Haryana assembly elections established it as a trend. In both states, the BJP’s seats and votes plummeted between the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections. The result of the Jharkhand election puts a seal of confirmation on this new pattern. In retrospect, one can see that the assembly elections held in Gujarat and Karnataka and later in Telangana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh also fit into the same pattern.

Although the BJP’s loss in terms of votes is not substantial when compared to the last assembly elections, but the drop between Lok Sabha and assembly elections is breathtaking. Clearly, not only did the Modi magic not work, attempts to distract the voters through remote national issues like Kashmir or Ram Janambhoomi or NRC-CAA failed as well. The BJP will have to come to terms with a harsh reality: whenever its state governments are put to test, they fare very badly. The BJP would need to think afresh about its incumbency in Uttar Pradesh, and in taking on formidable opponents in Delhi and West Bengal.

Also read: With Jharkhand, India is telling Modi it wants a ‘majboor sarkaar’, not ‘majboot sarkaar’

Failure of the opposition

The immediate reaction to the Jharkhand verdict indicated that the anti-BJP parties could fall for the opposite error. Many opposition leaders and commentators seemed to assume that this was the beginning of the end of the Modi regime. Many leaders claimed that the verdict was the people’s reaction to this government’s economic policies, its communal agenda or even the National Register of Citizens. Nothing could be further from the truth.

It is fanciful to assume that the voter sitting in a Palamu village was responding to the debate around the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. As of now, there is little reason to believe that PM Modi’s personal popularity or the acceptance of some of his controversial policies like Kashmir has suffered a serious setback. Such an assumption would be politically suicidal and lull the opposition into political complacency.

Also read: Hemant Soren could teach Congress a thing or two about fighting Narendra Modi

Split-ticket voting

Political scientists call it “ticket-splitting” and view this as a sign of voters’ sophistication. For the first two decades, Indian voters voted the same way in the Lok Sabha and the assembly elections, irrespective of the level of competition. In the next two decades, 1970s and 1980s, they voted in the assembly elections as if they were choosing their prime minister. The pattern reversed in the 1990s and 2000s – the voters cast their vote in the Lok Sabha election as if they were choosing their CM. Now, we seem to have finally arrived in an era where voters look at the specific level and their local choices before deciding who to vote for. In normal times this would be seen as an indication of the Indian voter coming of age.

But we live in unusual times. This game of electoral competition is being played out when the institutional edifice of our republic is being taken apart. In this context, any weakening of the regime should bring some relief. But this relief could be illusionary.

Faced with declining support at the state level, the Modi regime could use the “ticket-splitting” logic to concentrate on retaining support at the Centre. This is likely to be accompanied by greater concentration of powers for the central government and reduction of state governments to glorified municipalities. Given the rather week capacity and imagination of regional parties, including those in power, the regime could well succeed in continuous dismantling of the republic even while ceding political space at the state level. In sum: state battles are no substitute for taking on the Modi regime at the level of national politics.

The author is the national president of Swaraj India. Views are personal.

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  1. Dear Yogendra,

    Here are my thoughts.

    In the name of various reforms for example NJAC reform or RBI reform when it needed money after DeMonitzation, BJP govt wanted role to control these and other democratic institutions. BJP is using its power of advertising funds and threat of IT & CBI to tame press, TV and other media so that these act as govt’s sales & marketing division. In the name of digital data privacy, a new Data Protection Bill gives autonomy to the government. This is ‘Orwellian, it is the Big Brother looking at you’ said retired Justice Srikrishna and ‘bill is not in line with the draft’. We know what is result of electoral bonds as practically all money is flowing to BJP and there is no transparency. We can list more things; main point is BJP-RSS are doing these are more to set up permanent Hindu Rashtra.

    Let us not kid ourselves Hindu Rashtra will be a permanent system for electoral authoritarianism. India as Hindu Rashtra will be a county where Hindutva authoritarians will always be elected democratically. In Hindu Rashtra elections will appear to be free but will be always unfair with the help of crony capital, civil services and judicial who forgotten that their oath is to constitution. In the Hindu Rashtra Muslims, Christians & all those Hindus, Buddhist etc. who disagree with them will be second class citizens obviously with lesser rights. Indian government will look more like Chinese or Russian government when it comes to functioning.

    So big question is how to counter these negative forces? India cannot depend on opposition political parties. Only safe and democratic option is to educate masses on implications of every decision and how to fight for rights, after all democracy is supposed to be people’s movement and not just based on political parties. It is not easy but people like you can set up platform where all those who believe in constitution, human rights and economic progress can take lead in making people aware and also put sprit back in the Indian democracy. This new democracy platform will be like what free university on-line courses also known as MOOCS (massively open online courses and accessible to all for free) did to expensive class room based university education. This will be like new freedom struggle but to setup distributive & participative democratic system. I believe you can do bigger & more things than you are doing currently. Can you and others create a mass education platform accessible through various on-line and off-line media?

    Your friend

    • Dear friend of YY,
      Please try and limit your comment to a length lesser than the article on which you are commenting.

  2. The opposition is day dreaming already, forgetting, or ignoring the fact that there are still FOUR and a HALF years of this regime left. There is plenty of time to stop, look and proceed for the NDA. It is the opposition that will find it very hard (practically impossible) to sustain and maintain its mythical ‘unity’ and come together in 2024. Except for Rahul Gandhi himself, NO other opposition leader believes that Modi can be replaced by Rahul tomorrow, or next week. In this long interval to the next elections, it is Rahul who will find it impossible to keep the Congress together.

  3. Mumqin bhi hai, aur Namumqin bhi. A lot depends on how the Opposition creates synergy and cooperation. In the meantime, the people who matter should read Harsha Bhogle’s Facebook post and make fantastic use of the blessings the Indian people have showered on them.

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