Friday, February 3rd, 2023 02:27:07

Two Indias in Electoral Politics

By Prof Suresh Kumar Agrawal
Updated: December 17, 2022 4:53 pm

The BJP’s historic win in Gujarat, five years after it barely scraped a majority in the Assembly is largely due to the lessons the Party learnt from that hard scrabble fight in 2017, while its core defeat in Himachal Pradesh showed that the micromanagement that the Party brought into play in Gujarat was absent in the Hill State. In its roaring Gujarat victory, the BJP has won seats that the party, or even its previous avatar (incarnation), Jana Sangh, had never won- not even when Narendra Modi was the State Chief-minister. The Congress meanwhile has slipped into political oblivion in the State with less than 20 seats. The Congress, however, bagged the crown for Himachal Pradesh, winning 40 out of the 68 seats. AAP, which had contested on 67 seats, failed to open account. The Hill State has not voted any incumbent government to power since 1985.

The Assembly election results of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh show that there are two Indias in electoral politics– one in which BJP’s juggernaut continues to stream-roll the Opposition and wherein anti-incumbency, infighting, corruption, allegations, etc, seem to be affecting their electoral prospects as is evident in Gujarat. In the Other India, BJP has its weak points; it shows that Congress has got spunk left in it as is seen in Himachal Pradesh.

Gujarat election is remarkable for BJP’s historic win in the State and the Congress’s giving up even before the contest began. It could not even put up a fight. Congress has retained about 27% of vote share and has witnessed a steep fall from 41 %. What a Disgrace! Gujarat voted for development. The State rejected the politics of Revadi(freebies), appeasement and hollow promises.  The Himachal Pradesh results paint an opposite picture. It shows that the Congress can win if it gets its local leadership right. Further, the Himachal election results have shown that Modi’s popularity cannot trump local issues and might not be a substitute for a weak local leadership; this pattern is witnessed in many Assembly elections where the voters go with the BJP at the Centre, but a different party at the State level. Gujarat has found a new political ally-the AAP (AamAadami Party). Although, the BJP clinched 23 out of 27 Scheduled Tribe Seats in Gujarat, the AAP has swept aside Congress to find a footing in the tribal belt. Despite, its meagre win (AAP could win only one seat), the AAP emerged as a direct challenge to BJP in nine of the 27 ST-reserved seats.

The entry of AAP and the defection of 13-15 Congress MLAs to the BJP benifitted the BJP. Not sitting on these advantages, the senior leaders like Amit Shah camped in Gujarat and looked at even the smallest details of the campaigning including what routes should road shows by candidates take and daily review meetings, also asked the Karyakartas to ensure that the BJP voter/s came out to vote. This increased the Party’s polling percentage to 53 %. The BJP’s caste equations and wooing the KHAP (kshatriya- Harijan- Adivasi- Patidar) helped the BJP win big in Gujarat.

The key issues that the new BJP government in Gujarat must address include the lowest daily wage of workers, State Government employees’ agitation for OPS,  teachers’ agitation, protest by forest guards, farmers’ agitation, agitation of midday meal workers, agitation by police guards, protest by contractual employees, village computer entrepreneur employees’ stir, etc

The BJP’s loss in Himachal Pradesh can be put down to the tradition of alternation that is in place in the hill State, no party has been known to be repeated here, but the large number of rebels in a disciplined cadre based Party has been surprise to most observers of the BJP especially under the Modi-Shah leadership of the Party. The Northern Hill State has kept the tradition alive of not letting any Party rest on its laurels for the past 37 years and this time too they chose Opposition Congress to form the Government. The Congress must take the result with a pinch of salt, for the difference of votes between the BJP and the Congress was less than 1 %.

Besides, the government employees constitute around 5% of the votes in the State and they have been agitating for the revival of OPS for long. Since Congress promised to bring it back and the BJP did not bother much, the inclination of voters turned towards the Congress. Secondly, though the outgoing CM Jai Ram Thakur has a clean image, the frequent changes of secretaries, the issues such as Police recruitment scam, Ari Nagar Panchayat notification and the draft Shimla development plan have adversely affected BJP’s return to the State. The powerful apple lobby’s unhappiness also affected the BJP’s fortune adversely in the State. The people of Himachal Pradesh were sore at the lower prices given to them by the Adani Group. The profits of apple growers too declined post the rise of GST on cartons. This gave an extra edge to the Congress, as unhappiness of the prosperous and traditionally dominant group- apple growers failed the Lotus bloom in the State. As a consequence, the BJP’s RiwazBadalDenge (will change the custom) campaign backfired and helped the Congress to gain clear-cut majority.

The dismal performance of the female candidates, which may not be considered a good omen for a blooming democratic State of India, is also one of the prominent emerging features of the Himachal Pradesh elections. The new 68- member Himachal Pradesh Assembly will have just one woman MLA. The BJP, the AAP and the Congress had fielded six, five and three women candidates, but only ReenaKashyap of BJP won the election. Out of 24 female candidates in the fray, one emerged victorious. The blunder at the level of BJP was to ignore the OPS issue; and this made them loose the battle. The BJP must keep in mind that the Party might have to pay heavily in the forthcoming State Assemblies and the Loksabha elections for the non-implementation of OPS.

By Prof Suresh Kumar Agrawal
(The writer is Professor & Head, Department of English, Maharaja Ganga Singh University, Bikaner.)

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