Two ‘Cheers’ For Grand Alliance
Winning two seats more than saffron party is no cause for celebrations. With iconic changes, Modi looms large
Smiles resurfaced, hope reignited in the Congress, JD(U) and RJD leaders and supporters as the final tally of by-polls in assemblies in four states showed BJP eight and the opposition parties 10. Ironically, the reports of the BJP’s setback came on August 25, the day Narendra Modi completed his third month in office. Any news about its accomplishments were eclipsed by the cheering and sloganeering wafting from the camps of the opposition parties like the Congress, RJD and JD(U). And the happiest were Modi detractors among the Delhi’s Lutyens area, Left Liberal intellectuals and the media mandarins; they went on the top gear criticising Modi, his ‘failures’ to fulfil any promise.
“The propaganda of the BJP after the Lok Sabha elections that a Modi wave is sweeping the country has been rejected by the people. We saw it earlier where the Congress won all the three Assembly seats in bypolls… And today, the BJP has suffered defeat in east, south, central and north India… The results are a little positive (news) for the anti-BJP parties,” said AICC general secretary Shakeel Ahmed. He said they could have done better in Bihar if the alliance had been formed earlier. “It happened late and at the last and final stage. Had it happened earlier, there would have been more cohesion at the ground level. It is the cadres who work on the ground,” he said.
A buoyant Digvijaya Singh said the by-election results were ‘vote against Modi’. “People are realizing that they cannot allow the country to be taken over by communalism.” One doesn’t know how Singh came to know what the country wanted, but the good sign for the BJP was that its bosses were not taking the losses lightly. A senior leader of the party said: “Eight days before it was to celebrate its 100 days in power at the Centre, the BJP received its first electoral jolt since its spectacular victory in the Lok Sabha elections, suffering a 4-6 defeat in Bihar and losing two of its bastions in Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh to the Congress in the Assembly bypolls.” He added that the top Brass would work to eliminate all factors responsible for the losses before the Assembly elections are held.
In Punjab, the Congress and BJP ally Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) won one seat each. In Madhya Pradesh too, the BJP suffered a setback as the Congress wrested Bahoriband from it, but the ruling party won two others. “This is certainly a lesson for the party that no victory, no matter how splendid it is, can be taken for granted. It will help the party leaders as well as the workers to pull up their sleeves and work hard for the state elections in Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand and Jammu & Kashmir,” said a senior BJP leader. The by-elections have been a wake-up call, the leader added. It really was. The ruling BJP won two seats and the Congress one in Madhya Pradesh but the opposition party appeared to have drawn more comfort from the results. After a series of reversals, including the drubbing in the Assembly and general elections, the Congress was so demoralised that the top leadership had clearly not expected much from the by elections, having kept pointing out that the ruling party had thrown its might behind the candidates.
The Congress and the BJP exchanged a pair of seats while the BJP retained the third. The Congress wrested Bahoriband from the BJP. After the death of BJP legislator Prabhat Pandey, the party fielded his son Pranav while the Congress chose Saurabh Singh, who had defected from the BSP. Singh won by just under 8,000 votes.
The loss was a jolt for the BJP because it had anticipated a sweep and planned a grand welcome Monday for its new state president, Nandkumar Chouhan. The new chief was to move into the headquarters as part of a procession from the railway station but the party cancelled the celebrations citing the temple tragedy in Satna and a road accident.
Mining businessman Sanjay Pathak had won Vijayraghavgarh in the last election on a Congress ticket but he defected to the BJP ahead of the general elections. Pathak won by an impressive 53,397 votes against Vijendra Mishra of the Congress. The BJP’s Gopal Parmar too won easily, against Congress’s Rajkumar Gore by 27,702 votes in Agar. The seat fell vacant after sitting BJP MLA Manohar Untwal became an MP. The bypolls were held with CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s image under a cloud for the MPPEB scam, an issue the Opposition had failed to exploit in the assembly and Lok Sabha polls.
Meanwhile, an enthused “secular” combine hopes to rope in more like-minded parties and then recover power to which Congress is so used to. The eternal optimists believe that this Bihar experiment would work magic in the forthcoming Assembly elections in four crucial states—Maharashtra, Jammu & Kashmir, Jharkhand and Haryana. But will it?
The exodus from all parties to the BJP has not slowed down after the by-polls results. Does anyone read the statistics, the percentage of votes recorded by each party before jumping from one party to another? True, the vote share of the BJP-LJP in the Lok Sabha was 45.3 and that of RJD and JD(U) was 40.3. In by-elections, BJP’s was 37.3 and that of the alliance was 44.9.
But once the euphoria has settled, the political analysts’ attribution of the fall in percentage to the fact that while Modi loomed large during the Lok Sabha election, it was not there at all during by-polls, makes sense. This meant return to caste and local factors. Even the merit of the candidates chosen by each party could not come into consideration. Also the voter turnout was low—just 47 per cent—as against high turnout when Modi loomed large. It will not be so during a Parliamentary or Assembly elections. Secondly, the development slogan, which attracted the youth and the middle class and prevailed over local issues, was not raised in the by-elections.
The grand alliance partners, all smiles at the moment and full of hopes to retrieve power, must not therefore be sanguine. Two seats more secured by three parties, which together vied with the BJP, and it cannot and must not be the basis for them to believe that the verdict is against Modi. In fact, it is not. If Modi figured in the by-elections, one is not sure what the result would have been.
But the more alarming trend was visible in Narkatiyagunj in the Champaran district. Congress had nominated a minority community candidate. Normally, he should have done well. But the BJP nominee won. It is said there was total polarisation. Party leaders pointed out that the alliance’s only two Muslim candidates in the fray lost. “That means polarisation took place and we could not counter it,” said a senior leader.
If the so-called secular parties tilt to one side too much in trying to prove their secular credentials, as they have been doing—Lalu and Nitish are champions of this kind of promotion—the smiles and hopes would be short-lived. Secondly, pattern of voting in certain constituencies showed that the bonhomie between Nitish and Lalu did not percolate to their workers and supporters.
The crux of the verdict of bypolls is that Modi won for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) the majority in the Lok Sabha during the general elections. BJP was not in the consciousness of the people. And in the recent bypolls it was the BJP that lost. Modi was nowhere.
Every vote cast anywhere in India in the general elections was for Modi. At most polling centres voters did not even know the name of the BJP candidate. They all were voting for Modi. But this wave was not there in this round.
The bypoll results have shown that the BJP has to do a lot before it could be accepted by the voter. It has as yet not been able to get rid of the ‘stigma’ of a Hindu fundamentalist party. The so-called secular parties convinced the people, mostly the middle class and the young, that the BJP was communal and divisive. It can learn from Modi how to stave off such attacks. Rahul Gandhi had gone to the extent of alleging that if Modi became prime minister 22000 people would die—the inference being that he was communal and divisive.
Neither Rahul nor his advisers—all of whom according to reports have now been booted out by Sonia Gandhi—knew that the Indian voter hates extremism of any form, otherwise he would not have dared make such an extremely serious charge against a senior leader like Modi.
Mrs Indira Gandhi was defeated from her ‘family’ constituency of Rae Bareli for extremism in acquiring power. Rajiv lost because of his obsessive moves to thwart all charges in Bofors case and VP Singh because of his passion for Mandalisation. Likewise, Rahul’s extremism in his attack on Modi helped the latter get a couple of thousand votes more.
Now, after a slightly better showing in the by-elections, the multiple trumpeting that Modi wave wanes, the voter has realised that the Gujarat model of development was just a pipedream and therefore the presumption that secular parties’ grand alliance could win the approaching elections for Assemblies in four states, is rather a hasty conclusion which might not happen.
The BJP put up a brave face, saying waves are only found in the ocean, not in the river. But for the first time, BJP leaders admitted that the RJD-JD(U)-Congress combine in Bihar could prove to be a major challenge to its hopes of winning the state alone. They said that although top party leaders did not campaign aggressively for the bypolls, the performance could be a setback to BJP president Amit Shah.
However, they all denied that the verdict reflected Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity. “The results are not as expected. The state BJP takes responsibility,” said senior BJP leader Shahnawaz Hussain.
The by-elections have been a wake-up call, a senior BJP leader said. It really is. BJP can hardly keep riding on the shoulders of Modi. But it’s also true that as long he guides India towards a modern economic and political power and a self-confidence with which red lines are being drawn, just like when secretary-level
talks between India and Pakistan were cancelled, alliances, grand or grander, can hardly hope for grand days. Two seats more in a by-election is hardly material.
By Vijay Dutt