Cover Story: Modi Magic Continues

Five state results suggest brand Modi is still relevant while opposition, especially Congress and its allies indulged in parliamentary disruption failed to gauge public mood

By Asit Manohar

The five state elections results clearly reflects that people voted for change as they rejected BJP or its ally Shiromani Akali Dal in Goa and Punjab respectively while they accepted BJP with both hands in UP and Uttarakhand. People of Manipur too rejected the fifteen year rule of the Okram Ibobi Singh led Congress rule. However, these changes went unnoticed in hullabaloo of overwhelming UP verdict that gave BJP and its allies 325 seats.

But, the change that took place in UP can be understood by one victory that BJP registered in Deoband — a constituency where Muslim voters are around 42 percent. The BJP candidate Brijesh defeated BSP’s Majid Ali and SP’s Mavia Ali in Deoband, which reflects that some section of the Muslims have started to accept BJP as their party. As per the initial reports, this section of the Muslims pressing the lotus buttons in the EVMs is women and youth falling into the age group of 18-25.

CLASS CONSOLIDATION

Apart from this, huge consolidation of the other than Yadav OBCs and Most Backward Castes made the BJP’s task much easier. It’s interesting to know that post Babri incident, most of the anti-BJP parties have been found indulged in trying to create a Dalit-Muslim combination ignoring the fact that it’s OBC plus Muslim that has always helped parties like RJD and JDU in Bihar or SP in Uttar Pradesh to stop BJP from putting its feet into the power corridors. The BSP supremo Mayawati walked into the BJP trap which tactfully allured the Dalit icon of Uttar Pradesh to go for Muslim votes. While trying to repeat the 2007 kind of social engineering, Mayawati failed to realize that in Hindu-Muslim riots, its economically deprived section of both communities which is targeted by the opponent camps. Therefore, when a Muslim targets a Hindu, the one who is targeted is a Dalit who are economically weak. Therefore, when Mayawati indulged into the minority appeasement, its core vote base of Dalits got irked as the Muzaffarnagar riots are still in the memory of Dalits who got badly affected in that 2014 riots.

This verdict has again exposed the political bankruptcy of non-BJP parties. ‘Social justice’, espoused by SP and BSP, is shown to be nothing but casteism. ‘Secularism’ is shown to be either pandering to Muslims or keeping them hostage. `Socialism’ has failed to meet the needs and touch the aspirations of the poor. The opposition is playing a simple-minded anti-Modi politics, which does not click with voters. Modi was positive, proactive and aggressive. The opposition is defensive, reactive and negative.

The BJP was helped by the Congress-SP alliance too. When Congress aligned with SP, its forward caste and Dalit vote bank shifted towards BJP as forward caste still feel shy of voting for SP while due to Circuit House incident, Dalits think of SP as an anti-Dalit party. So, the alliance favoured BJP in consolidating its traditional forward caste vote bank that comprises near 22 percent of the net electorate in Uttar Pradesh. Other than Yadav OBC too went behind BJP as these 32 percent vote bank were feeling alienated into the last five year Akhilesh Yadav regime. These communities used to allege the incumbent government for being biased towards Yadavas. Therefore, in this thumping majority being given to the ‘party with difference’ in UP, the BJP enjoyed the class consolidation ranging from Upper Caste, SCs, STs, OBCs to minorities. This landslide victory has some other significance too, as the BJP has become a party which has managed highest vote share in the history of UP since 1977 and highest number of seats in the UP assembly since 1980 — paving way for the lotus to bloom inside the Raisina Hill. This thumping majority would help BJP to have its own candidate in the Indian Presidential Polls taking place somewhere in mid 2017.

DEMONETIZATION DRIVE

Since, the opposition had converted this UP assembly poll into a referendum on Narendra Modi’s two and half year rule, especially on demonetization and surgical strike against Pakistan supported terror organizations based in PoK, this verdict is clear that the opposition unnecessarily stalled the parliamentary proceedings over these issues of ‘national interest.’ The opposition failed to get the actual nerve of the people over surgical strike and demonetization which reflects it’s disconnect with the public sentiment prevailing at the grass root level. It also showcases the structural flaw in the opposition parties. It won’t be wrong if we dub this poll verdict as Lalu’s defeat and Nitish Kumar’s victory. The Bihar Chief Minister rightly supported Modi’s demonetization indicating being in opposition doesn’t mean you oppose each and every step of the government. Like Nitish Kumar, all the opposition parties, especially Congress needs to rethink its political strategy along with innovating ‘issue based politics’ which the Bihar CM has been showcasing after winning the Bihar battle in a handsome manner. But, unlike Nitish Kumar, most of the opposition parties, walked into the Modi trap over demonetization and surgical strike which the Dayafter had mentioned when the opposition led by Congress party stalled the parliamentary proceedings asking the government to showcase the proof of surgical strikes and vision behind the demonetization drive.

Commenting on this verdict Yogendra Yadav, a well known psephologists and founder of Swaraj Abhiyan Party said, “The opposition is targeting Modi for all good and bad reasons without realizing the consequences of its aftermath. For example, what was the reason for Akhilesh Yadav to lend or ask support from BSP supremo Mayawati on March 9th? Why he didn’t waited for the March 11 verdict? His olive branch act towards Mayawati may look like a master stroke but knowingly or unknowingly, Akhilesh and some other opposition parties are committing the same blunder that opposition parties committed post 1977 Congress drubbing.”

The psephologist went on to add that his act may be seen as repeating a Bihar like ‘grand alliance’ but in actual it would help Modi become more stronger as it gives a message to the people of India that opposition is creating a cartel to defeat Modi rather showcasing any road map for the development which Nitish Kumar gave in 2015 Bihar assembly polls. “If Akhilesh’s attempt to woo Mayawati is seen as preparation for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, then I am skeptical about its success,” said Yogendra Yadav.

POLL CALCULATION

Yadav further said, “Let us not underestimate what this mandate has done. This is not just about UP and Uttarakhand. Let us not forget that BJP has done better than it should have done in the remaining three states. In UP and Uttarakhand there was no strong anti-incumbency sentiment to assist the BJP. And as in Haryana and Maharashtra, it did not have local leaders to project. This is something only Indira Gandhi could have done: a national leader winning a state election without a local face. Such a big shift cannot be explained merely by factors like smart election management or social engineering or tactical mistakes by opponents. The fact is that Modi has captured the national political imagination and has become the pole around which national politics is conducted.”

Standing in sync with Yogendra Yadav political commentator Awadhesh Kumar said, “Actually opposition parties failed to understand that what happened in Bihar in Delhi was almost impossible to happen in Uttar Pradesh. If we compare the vote share of the BJP in 2014 Lok Sabha polls and February 2015 assembly polls in Delhi, we find that it had garnered almost same vote share. But, it was Congress that lost its votes to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).” Similarly, in Bihar, if we add the vote share of Lalu Prasad’s RJD, Nitish Kumar’s JDU and Congress party in the 2014 Lok Sabha, the BJP could have found hard to win even in double digit seats had all three had fought together. In 2015 Bihar assembly polls, BJP had lost only 2 percent of its vote share compared to 2014 Lok Sabha polls while the ‘grand alliance’ successfully transferred its votes to its alliance partners. So, it was more a Nitish Kumar or Lalu Prasad Yadav’s win than a BJP defeat in Bihar assembly elections. Coming back to UP, the BJP had polled around 42 percent of votes in 2014 while in 2017 assembly elections, it polled near 40 percent votes while other parties polled almost same amount of votes except Mayawati’s BSP. It happened because she was indulged into the minority appeasement that irked the MBCs who were her core vote bank.

Since, road to 7 RCR goes via Lucknow, BJP’s landslide victory in Uttar Pradesh has some indications about the 2019 preparations of various parties too. The opposition was busy dubbing this UP assembly polls as semi final of the 2019 polls which the ‘party with difference’ has won handsomely. Now, if we talk about the leaders who would get directly affected by this verdict is Arvind Kejriwal of AAP, Akhilesh Yadav of SP, Mayawati of BSP, Rahul Gandhi of the Congress party and off course Narendra Modi of the BJP. But, it’s Rahul Gandhi who would be most affected by this outcome.

CONGRESS IN CATCH-22

Commenting upon the poor show by Congress Yogendra Yadav of Swaraj Abhiyan said, “Congress’s problem is that it is an organisation where political lightweights float and heavyweights sink. Thus from top to bottom, the leadership needs an overhaul. Even more, Congress faces a crisis of vision. It needs a plot, a narrative.”

The Gandhi scion, not only failed to win the number of seats that the grand old party had in previous assembly, it failed to go below Apna Dal of Anupriya Patel. The grand old party failed to get into the double digits even when it forged an alliance with the Samajwadi Party asking its CM candidate Sheila Dixit to step down from the polls fray on the wee hours of the poll dates. Even though, Congress party has won Punjab comfortably, it can’t be called Gandhi scions poll acumen as he hardly went to campaign in Punjab leaving it into the hands of old guard Captain Amrinder Singh and new entrant Navjot Singh Sidhu. Congress vice president gave his entire focus on Uttar Pradesh as the grand old party was fighting only in Uttar Pradesh. He left Goa, Manipur and Uttarakhand to the mercy of its regional leaders. Therefore, if the Congress party has done well in Goa and Manipur, poll analysts are right if they are giving its credit to the regional leaders of the grand old party.

This puts a question mark over the leadership ability of Rahul Gandhi as his political aides failed to give actual public sentiment prevailing at the grass root level. Had the Gandhi scion any idea about writing on the walls in Manipur, Goa and Punjab he should have gone for more rallies in these states and who knows the public mandate in Goa and Manipur — where Congress party failed by a whisker — could have different as Rahul’s presence would have certainly boosted the morale of the party workers.

After the serious debacle in Uttar Pradesh, it would become difficult for the Congress party to find allies in 2019 as through SP in UP and Left in West Bengal, regional may get an impression that aligning with Congress is suicidal.

HIT TO KEJRIWAL

If these five state polls were do or die for Congress party it was equally important for Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal. AAP national convener was highly ambitious about winning in Punjab and showing good show in Goa. But, the writing on the wall was completely different. He could manage mere 20 seats in Punjab — two more than BJP-Akali combine which was facing 10 years of anti-incumbency. Ironically, in Goa, AAP failed to open its account. It contested 39 seats and failed to save its deposits at 38 seats, which includes its CM candidate Elvis Gomes. Such poor show by AAP is like a ‘surgical blow’ to Arvind Kejriwal’s ambition to make AAP a national party. It would hit the morale of its party workers in other states where Arvind Kejriwal is planning to contest. Had AAP won Punjab and performed better in Goa, it could have formed government in two states as to stop BJP in Goa, Congress would have supported AAP’s Elvis Gomes to form the government. But now, AAP doesn’t have any role in either Punjab or Goa.

Asked about AAP’s poor show in Punjab and Goa Yogendra Yadav said, “I feel truly sad about it. Not much was expected in Goa, but Punjab is a serious setback. While AAP’s leadership got the rude message they deserved, this defeat must have disheartened the volunteers who worked tirelessly in Punjab and Goa. The lesson is that you cannot take on the corrupt political establishment with help of leaders borrowed from Akalis and Congress, by selling your own tickets and by controlling everything from Delhi Durbar. Alternative politics has to be truly alternative.”

Poor show by AAP in Punjab and Goa would create an impression among its voters in other states that he exists only on television and at grass root level, AAP doesn’t have any presence in the states like Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, where it’s is planning to contest in coming years. Now, AAP’s stake in the Delhi MCD polls have gone higher as the party has to perform better to create an impression in Delhi that he still holds his mojo at least in Delhi. Any kind of poor show in the MCD polls can give an impression that he is losing his sheen in Delhi that can create shift of those 12-13 percent votes of the Congress party that helped it won 67 seats in February 2015 assembly polls.

BLOW TO AKHILESH, MAYAWATI

The poor show by the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party has hit the face value of its leaders. After dethroning Mulayam Singh Yadav from the party’s highest post, Akhilesh Yadav was supposed to perform better if not to win the UP. But, slipping around 50 seats into 403 members assembly has done good neither for Akhilesh nor for SP. It’s true that SP faced huge poll sabotage by his detractors whom he denied tickets but it was happening in BJP camp too. The BJP leaders were able to contain this sabotage through their proper poll management while SP was completely dependent upon Akhilesh and his wife Dimple. Though, he was supposed to get support from Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi, the results are enough to suggests that Congress was more a burden than any benefit for the SP. Akhilesh’s decision to give 105 seats to Congress is also under question as the grand old party had no grass root support in those constituencies. To make the matter worse, in near 20 constituencies, the Congress party was unable to find a suitable candidate.

From Mayawati’s perspective, she was once considered a PM material, especially after her strong show in 2007 UP assembly polls. Her social engineering of Dalit-Brahmin combination could have done the trick for her had her Brahmin face Satish Chandra Mishra had worked as bridge between the two communities. BSP’s continued white wash in two consecutive election has created existential crisis for Mayawati as she will find it difficult to send even a single candidate in the Upper House with 19 MLAs. Even Mayawati won’t be able to walk the lawns of parliament after the completion of her tenure. Hence, it has become important for her to fight the 2019 Lok Sabha polls if she wants to remain authentic in the Hindi heartland politics.

BJP AT CLOUD 9

While UP polls were mid way, results of BMC and Odisha Panchayat polls were announced in which ‘party with difference’ has improved its tally with noticeable margin. In BMC, it’s tally rose from 31 to 82. It won 8 out of 10 corporations in Maharashtra while in Mumbai and Thane there was fractured mandate. This robust show by the BJP showcases that it is no more an urban party. Slowly but steadily, it has replaced Congress from the rural India too. Similarly, in Odisha Panchayat Polls, BJP improved its tally by around 250 percent emerging strong second leaving Congress in double digits only. Hence, if the BJP is expected to lose some of its seats in 2019 Lok Sabha polls, it is expected to pare those losses from the states like Odisha, Karnataka, West Bengal and Kerala. Hence, winning the semi final of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls would certainly inject fresh blood among its party workers in these states and if the upbeat party workers combine with ‘Modi Wave’ which still exists, it’s certainly advantage BJP in 2019.

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