The verdict is finally out. After months of hectic campaigning that saw each political party spewing venom against the other and accusing each other of hitting below the belt, some unholy alliances of convenience, the leftist parties trying their best to create a narrative of intolerance in the country like during the Bihar elections, attempt by the anti-BJP forces to form a Gathbandhan to avoid split of the anti-BJP votes, the general mood of the public is clear. As I write this piece, the BJP has won a landslide victory in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, lost in Punjab to the Congress on expected lines and there is a close fight between the two parties in Manipur and Goa. Below are some of the key takeaways from these election results.
1) Thumbs up to demonetization – When demonetization was announced in Nov 2016, we saw all the opposition parties (except JDU and BJD) and large sections of the mainstream media gang up against the government. The government was accused of causing grave inconvenience to the general public and a highly-inflated count of deaths was reported by many of the media houses. The renowned economist and former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh had some very strong words for demonetization and wrongly claimed that the GDP of the country would be eroded by a good 2% as a result of this move. While Prime Minister Modi admitted that there would be inconvenience in the short term and the benefits would take time to accrue, the anti-government forces went full steam to bring down the bold step to counter the parallel economy in the country. But, a large percentage of the general public had tremendous faith in the PM and broadly supported the move. In almost all the elections that have been held post the demonetization announcement, the BJP has emerged victorious.
The UP election results are testimony to the fact that not only in the big metros, but even in small villages, the demonetization move has been very well received by the people of the country, although one cannot deny the inconvenience that it caused, notably among the daily wage earners and small traders.
2) Development is in vogue and Minority appeasement & caste politics are out of vogue – It has been seventy years since India became an independent country and for majority of the period post-independence, the Congress was at the helm of affairs. During these years, we have also seen some of the regional parties emerge as a strong force in some of the states. Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, the JDU in Bihar, SP and BSP in UP, NC and PDP in Kashmir, BJD in Orissa, JDS in Karnataka, DMK and AIADMK in Tamil Nadu, TMC is Bengal are some of the notable examples. In addition to this, the Communist Party has a strong presence in states like Kerala and West Bengal. If one analyzes closely, over the years, most of the parties mentioned here have gone out of the way to appease the Muslims at the cost of the Hindus. The reason for this is that, historically, there has always been a lack of unity among the Hindus, while the Muslims have always voted en masse against the saffron parties. Shah Bano case, implementation of Personal Law Boards, inaction during the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits, Malda riots, Hindus unable to celebrate Durgo Pujo in some parts of West Bengal are some of the numerous examples of rampant Muslim appeasement that has always been practiced. But lately, due to the influence of social media, the hypocrisy of these parties has come to the forefront and like in 2014, we have again seen that the parties that indulge in appeasement politics get a sound thrashing. A large section of Muslims have also realized that they are merely being used by the secular parties as vote banks. Political parties would do well to relook at their strategies and realize that minority appeasement is not doing any good to them and on the contrary, is working against them. The BJP’s slogan has always been ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikaas’ and although the critics of the BJP would argue that the PM did speak about kabristans and shamshaans, the PM only spoke about the need to treat Hindus and Muslims equally. The PM never once mentioned that Hindus should be given special treatment and Muslims must be relegated to the back seat. While parties like the BSP and SP gave tickets to candidates considering caste and religion (BSP gave as much as 100+ seats to Muslims including gangsters), the BJP did not indulge in this.
3) Supporting anti-nationals isn’t cool – During numerous instances in the recent past, we have seen the secular parties support an anti-national cause. The recent support for Umar Khalid by AAP and the left parties, support for Gurmehar Kaur for her rather foolish and immature remarks, Arvind Kejriwal and Rahul Gandhi supporting students shouting ‘Bharat tere tukde honge’ slogans are some of the examples. This has clearly not gone down well with the general public and benefitted the BJP, which is seen as a nationalist party. The Congress and AAP demanding proof on the surgical strikes by the army worked against them and largely benefitted the BJP in the long run.
4) Gandhi surname does not work anymore – Till the 2014 elections, we have seen that there was a certain value attached with a Gandhi surname. Although the whole of India knew that Rahul Gandhi does not exactly have the aptitude or the will to lead the grand old party, the surname commanded a lot of respect, especially in the Amethi and Rae Bareilley bastions. But this started changing with Smrit Irani giving a tough fight to Rahul Gandhi in Amethi in the 2014 General Elections and subsequently earning the goodwill of the people by doing some good work there despite not being the elected MP. After every election loss, the Congress top leaders go on the defensive to prove that Rahul Gandhi is not responsible for the loss. It is high time the Congress starts looking beyond the Gandhi family and meritocracy takes an upper hand over dynasty politics. Contrary to what some of the Congress supporters are stating, all credit for their good show in Punjab must go to Captain Amrinder Singh and not Rahul or Sonia Gandhi.
5) AAP a spent force already? – The Aam Aadmi Party was supposed to give the Congress a tough fight in Punjab and some of the analysts expected a hung assembly. It was a foregone conclusion that the SAD-BJP combine would bite the dust. It was said that all the youngsters in Punjab supported the AAP and not the Congress. The results do not reflect this and the Congress has won big in Punjab. Kejriwal’s pro-Khalistani stand did not help his cause either. Likewise, in the state of Goa, the AAP was expected to do much better. But they have not even managed to open their account. Kejriwal, if wise enough, would realize that his brand of politics, centered on theatrics, is not going down too well with the general public. It is time he makes an attempt at regaining his image as an anti-corruption crusader and turning a new leaf, but knowing him and his deep hatred for Modi, this is only wishful thinking.
6) Look East policy starting to pay dividends – The eastern states of India have largely been ignored by all the previous governments. Most of the states in North East India, till not so long ago, had Congress and the Communist parties as the major players. The BJP could not even dream of winning more than a handful of seats in these states. But the current Look East policy of the BJP has started bearing fruits. We saw Assam voting decisively for the BJP in May 2016 and now, the BJP has put up a spirited fight in Manipur. Although it is yet to be seen if they would have enough numbers to form the government, there is every chance that they would emerge the single largest party there.
7) Parsekar no match to Parrikar – While the performance of the BJP has been very good if one looks at the results in totality, Goa has been the one blemish. Former Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar is very popular in Goa and led the BJP to a victory in the last elections. But ever since he was chosen by Modi to be the defense minister, there has been a leadership void. His successor Laxmikant Parsekar is just not able to fill into the shoes of Parrikar and the incumbent CM losing his own seat is proof of this fact. The BJP must look at other alternate leaders in Goa, who can have the same connect with the people as Parrikar.
8) Modi and Shah partnership prove their mettle again – The Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo created magic in 2014 by helping the BJP win 282 Lok Sabha seats and thus ensuring that they did not need help from any other party in forming the government. This was followed by superb performances in Jharkhand, Jammu and Kashmir, Haryana and Maharashtra and after the election results in these states, the duo seemed invincible. Then came the Delhi shocker, where the BJP barely managed to win 3 seats in the 70-seat assembly and Bihar, where arithmetic and the presence of a strong and credible local leader in Nitish Kumar made sure that the Modi-Shah magic did not work. A lot of people started writing off the partnership and claimed that the Modi wave is on the decline. The election results today have proven that the magic is very much intact and Amit Shah has regained his reputation of being a Chanakya with BJP winning more than 300 seats in UP. With such a strong showing, the BJP is definitely the party to beat in the 2019 elections.