Remarkable performance of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in recently held assembly polls – landslide win in UP and Uttarakhand and impressive show in Manipur — has been hailed as a personal triumph for Prime Minister Narendra Modi that could ensure his party’s near-domination of politics in India in ensuing years. Also at stake in these polls were the survival of the Congress and relevance for a clutch of regional outfits like Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and other smaller parties. At stake especially has been the Aam Aadmi Party which was seeking to expand its influence beyond the national capital, where it came to power in 2015.
Landslide victory of the BJP in UP and neighbouring Uttarakhand under PM Modi has proved his indispensability for his party. PM Modi along with BJP president Amit Shah had plunged headlong into the electoral arena and led the party from the front It is a sort of reflection of the adage of living each day as if it was your last. He had staked his personal reputation on a high-octane campaign in UP and his party’s victory in this politically crucial state has seemingly boosted his chances for a second term in the national elections in 2019. It has also signaled a ringing endorsement of his stewardship of the economy, especially after of demonetisation.
Some experts opine that the BJP reaped good electoral dividends by packaging and presenting itself as rising above caste and community, decrying social justice as casteism, and secularism as appeasement. Besides, the party also benefited from demonetisation announcement, which was a kind of polarization that sought to pit the poor against the rich, the honest citizen against the corrupt one. One expert feels that under the leadership of Modi, the BJP has sought to downplay one of the traditional basis of politics — that of social identities — because it hampers growth and expansion of capital and has created an anti-local, anti-caste, anti-region political ambience to make the party more acceptable to all sections of the people across regions.
Another expert has opined that the BJP’s decisive victory in UP cements Modi’s standing not just as BJP’s but also the country’s tallest leader and he has edged ahead of Vajpayee in popular reach, aided by technological advances like social media and the incessant TV coverage of his campaigns.
With the BJP/RSS cadre directed to make and maintain systematic and sustained regular touch with the OBC and Dalits along with highly publicized delivery of pro-poor benefits such as LPG cylinders under the Ujjwala scheme has endeared the BJP even to those sections that hitherto considered the BJP “untouchable”. Over the next few years, as some observers feel,BJP governments in Delhi and Lucknow will surely consolidate their electoral base through effective delivery of promises made.
The BJP, which was hitherto seen as a right-of-centre party, favouring industrialists and the upper middle class, has managed to transform its image PM Modi’s leadership, as a welfarist party committed to the social and economic upliftment of the underprivileged. This metamorphosis of its image has enabled the BJP to redraw the ideological contours of India’s politics, as evident from the recent assembly election results. And it has been ‘advantage Modi’ for the BJP all the way.
Modi vs the rest
Outcome of the recently held assembly polls indicates BJP’s surge towards one-party-dominance system and deceleration of the regional satraps like SP, BSP, AAP and others. Describing BJP’s victory in UP as ‘a tsunami not a ripple in a small pond’, the National Conference leader Omar Abdullah in a recent couple of tweets averred, “at this rate we might as well forget 2019 & start planning/hoping for 2024. In a nutshell there is no leader today with a pan India acceptability who can take on Modi & the BJP in 2019.”
The non-BJP parties are devoid of a national-level credible leader to challenge Modi. Undoubtedly, leaders of regional satraps nurture the prime ministerial ambition; nevertheless, their regional and ideological differences and tall ambitions prevent them from accepting one another’s leadership. The SP and BSP are major rivals in UP and their coming together is a remote possibility even in the wake of existential crisis haunting them.
The BJP in its new avatar under Modi seems to take victory and defeat alike. Many experts opine that the BJP doesn’t seem to become demoralised in defeat; instead, it learns from it and bounces back with renewed strength. The pointer here is to the shock-loss in Bihar, which also led to a realisation perhaps that brand Modi had been overexposed back then, and that local feedback is more important. The learnings from Bihar were reflected in its sweep of Assam, where crucial poll decisions were left to the local leadership. The same can more or less be said about the recent triumphs in the Maharashtra and Odisha local bodies’ polls.
BJP’s win in UP, it is said, cements Modi’s position as India’s tallest leader and puts him ahead of Vajpayee in popular reach, aided by technological advances
On the other hand, the Congress has watched its decline helplessly without making any attempt to re-calibrate and re-orient its politics to make up for the loss of traditional support base. Undoubtedly, the Congress has managed to save its face somehow by winning Punjab and Goa along with Manipur by a whisker; nonetheless, the thrashing received by the party in UP can hardly be compensated with a few consolation prizes. The Congress has nobody to blame for its rout in Uttarakhand.
Some observers feel that apart from the Congress, whose steady decline as a national alternative to the BJP has been clear for some time, the unexpected collapse of the BSP in UP and the failure of the Aam Aadmi Party to gain credible foothold in Goa and Punjab raises serious questions for the leadership of both these parties. BSP supremo Mayawati chose to ignore the fact that she was skating on thin ice for some years; her inability to widen the social base of the BSP would eventually lead to her party’s decimation. The BSP’s base seems destined to slowly wither away unless something dramatic happens. As for AAP, the absence of major corruption scandals in the Modi regime has robbed the party of its principal plank. The Samajwadi Party may recover some of its lost ground in the years to come, but it will have to steadfastly rebuild itself on planks other than caste/community coalitions. A substantial section of younger Yadavs aspiring to reach the top layers of an India in transformation voted for the BJP this time. If Modi can continue to deliver at this rate, it will deal a body blow to the identity politics.
The outcome of the recently held assembly elections marks a paradigm shift in India’s political idiom. It has thus sought to delegitimise all movements that claim to represent social or economic justice. According to one opinion, the BJP has come to represent a new moment in Indian politics, which understands and knows how to manipulate the social and cultural milieu much better than any other force towards making India fully compatible to the workings of corporate capital and seeking to break down the consensus on community and caste-based concepts of social justice.
Modi would like to further consolidate his party’s near-unchallenged dominance in India’s political landscape and as a precursor to the 2019 polls for which he’ll set more audacious goals. In this light, it’s not far-fetched to conceive that we could witness an electoral battle on the lines of Modi vs. a Unified Opposition. If the political forces fail to understand this they would find it difficult to counter the BJP’s winning streak, even in 2019.