Thursday, 4 June 2020

All Politics is local            

By Nilabh Krishna
Updated: October 30, 2019 12:28 pm

The result its for the Assembly elections of Haryana and Maharashtra are out and much to dismay of many, the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) is the clear loser in these elections. Given the fact that the BJP was given  a clear cut majority in the national elections few months back, it was thought to be cake walk for the party in the these assembly elections. But Indian voters are far smarter than what the media and political analysts may think of them. They tend to throw surprises every now and then, and make this democracy more vibrant and thriving. The BJP is all set to make government in Maharashtra and toiling hard to come back to power in Haryana, but the election results have shown that, one, all is not lost for the opposition and two, assembly elections have more local fervor to them than national issues. There is one American saying that “All politics is local” and that is one thing the Narendra Modi led BJP had forgotten in these elections.

The decisive re-election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP-led National Democratic Alliance earlier this year, the sheer confidence with which his government moved ahead since then, and the infectious energy with which he and Home Minister Amit Shah went about with implementing government decisions, including the abolition of Article 370 of the Constitution that granted special status to Jammu and Kashmir and implementing the NRC to push out illegal immigrants in Assam, was meant to do wonders for the party in these assembly elections, but as  former finance minister and accused in INX media fraud case P Chidambaram, rightly put in his tweet,” Calm and quiet patriotism can defeat muscular nationalism.”

These assembly election results have once again made it clear that the coalition era of politics is far from over in India. The leadership vacuum at the top in Congress following the exit of Rahul Gandhi as the party president seems to have had no bearing on BJP’s assumed path to glory. The intra-party divisions in the Congress in Haryana also didn’t significantly aid the BJP in the state.

These results, especially that of Haryana, is not very different from what happened in assembly elections such as Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, where the BJP was in power in the states and its performance did not match its 2014 Lok Sabha election levels. However, it once again achieved total dominance in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

This also suggests that even though Narendra Modi is not vulnerable to anti-incumbency, at the all-India level, BJP state governments cannot take pro-incumbency for granted. The consolidation of opposition votes in Haryana cannot be understood without the role of the Jat vote, which might have consolidated behind the Congress in a much bigger way than in the 2014 Lok Sabha and assembly elections and the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. That the BJP made a non-Jat leader, Manohar Lal Khattar, the chief minister and denied the traditional dominance of the Jats in the state, is bound to have played a role in a Jat consolidation against the BJP.

Congress – a clear winner

Continuous defeat and without any real leader, Congress seemed to be a lost cause in these elections too, but when the results stated pouring in the party seems to be a clear winner. While the Congress has managed to defend itself in Maharashtra, in Haryana it has surprised many. By winning 31 seats — up from 15 in 2014— and halting the victory march of the overconfident Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at 40 seats, the party gave a frontal blow to the party’s lofty target of ‘abki baar, 75 paar’ (this time, 75 seats). Interestingly, what happened to the BJP in 2019 happened with the Congress in 2009.

The grand old party, which won nine seats in the 2009 parliamentary polls, secured victory from only 40 segments in the assembly elections seven months later. Similar thing happened to the BJP which despite having won all 10 seats in the May Lok Sabha elections lost significant ground in the October 21 assembly polls, with the Congress turning the tables just five months later.


Lest We Forget-Kshatraps

The local leaders or the kshatraps were the real heroes of these assembly results. The BJP taking a cue from Congress took a high risk of ignoring the capacity of the local leaders and eventually lost its connect with the people in these states. They can find solace in the voter percentage but the reality is that it is losing its connect with the people. In these results three leaders viz. Sharad Pawar, B.S. Hooda and Dushyant Chautala, are the real winners. They have shown that all is not lost for the regional outfits or aspirations.  Sharad Pawar has fought serious odds and breathed fresh oxygen not only into his party, the Nationalist Congress Party, but also into almost all regional parties in the country. The dominant Maratha community in western Maharashtra found greater appeal in the ageing Sharad Pawar’s energetic rallies than in BJP’s reservation pie.

Likewise in Haryana, till a few weeks ago, the Congress was down and divided. The party’s state unit was in despair not only due to its shocking defeat in all the 10 Lok Sabha constituencies earlier this year but also an ongoing feud between two of its top leaders. Nobody was hopeful till then of the party’s good performance in the upcoming assembly elections. But when the poll results began trickling in, the party emerged as the biggest surprise of the assembly polls. The gloom that had long engulfed its demoralised cadres began fading, bringing back confidence in the rank and file of the party. And the architect of its comeback is none other than former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, who single-handedly campaigned and launched the counter-offensive against the BJP even as the central leadership had left the state unit on its own.

The biggest surprise package of these election results is Dushyant Chautala, president of Jannayak Janta Party(JJP). The Dushyant Chautala-led JJP has managed to replace INLD, which is headed by his uncle Abhay Chautala, as the third force in the Haryana assembly elections with his party putting up a decent fight in many seats, reducing the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) to the fringes of state politics which it once dominated. In almost every seat where INLD, which was founded by former deputy prime minister Devi Lal, enjoyed influence, JJP has emerged as the inheritor of his legacy and has core support among voters.

Following a rift within the Chautala family, INLD suffered a vertical split with former Hisar MP Dushyant Chautala floating his own party – Jananayak Janata Party (JJP).

The name, incidentally draws from the popular image of Devi Lal, great grandfather of Dushyant, as Jananayak. Presenting him as Devi Lal’s true inheritor, Dushyant in his speeches talked about him and his model of politics but refrained from mentioning his grandfather Om Prakash Chautala, who backed his uncle Abhay in the battle of legacies. By winning 10 seats in these elections, Dushyant has propped himself to the stage of kingmaker and is crucial for forming a government in Haryana.

Lessons to be learnt

The results of these assembly elections are representative of the vulnerability of political parties, howsoever strong or weak they appear in prime-time television debates. No victory or defeat seems long-lasting in such a context.

But the BJP’s Maharashtra and Haryana Assembly campaign was such that it seemed the polling was was not for Harayana or Maharashtra but for whole nation. The focus on factors including Article 370 and the long-departed Hindutva icon Veer Damodar Savarkar was such that the BJP seemed to believe that cultural ideology or strongman leadership mattered for state-level voters.

As Madhavan Narayanan rightly puts up in his write-up @firstpost “Considering that the economy is in a severe slowdown, and the agrarian crisis has just about begun to be addressed with income support schemes for farmers, it would seem the BJP’s foot was on the wrong accelerator. One can never tell from state poll outcomes, but if one considers that Haryana is home to Maruti, the country’s largest car maker, and Maharashtra houses Pune, the leading auto zone clubbing the Tata Motors and Mahindra and Mahindra, it is difficult not to co-relate an automobile slump with voter disenchantment.

Most certainly, things such as highway projects and ease-of-doing-business rankings matter less compared with here-and-now issues such as the price of onions or jobs for the youths. Complex political calculations cannot be reduced to GDP blues, but there is little doubt that the underlying promise of vikas (development) is mostly about economic benefits for a large section of the populace. It is not all about national security or pride.”

These results have once again proved that the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are invincible at the national level, but at the local level, neither the party, nor its local leaders are. The party can be beaten — as proved by by-elections, and assembly elections, ahead of the national elections. And the party can be beaten — as the NCP, the Congress (in Haryana) and the JJP have proved — even at a time when the Opposition’s morale is at its lowest, and even, ironically, in their defeat. The BJP also lost one of the two Lok Sabha seats for which bypolls were held (the NCP won the Satara seat), and, across the country, it lost 19 of the 38 seats it contested in assembly bypolls (overall, by-elections were held in 51 assembly seats). Coming after the parliamentary elections in which they were decimated, the results should energise the Opposition.


By Nilabh Krishna




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