The assembly elections results of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa have given victory to the ruling BJP of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in four states and the hitherto Delhi-based Aam Admi Party (AAP) has come to power in Punjab. In Punjab, AAP seems have won as there was a serious infighting in the Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal’s poor record of the past. In Goa, the BJP was greatly helped in overcoming incumbency by opposition disunity as apart from the Congress and AAP, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s Trinmool Congress threw its hat into the ring. In Uttrakhand and Manipur, the massive electoral machine put up by the BJP had no competition from the Congress despite incumbency going against the BJP.
Uttar Pradesh has been the real battleground where the BJP won convincingly. All over the country and more particularly in Uttar Pradesh, the adverse impact of demonetization, loss of employment and farmers’ issue had broken the back of the people. The mass migration of poor laborers after the sudden lockdown due to Covid-19 and lack of oxygen and proper healthcare further worsened the plight of the people, more particularly in Uttar Pradesh. This is also the state where rape and murders in Unnao and Hathras shook the country. This is the state where farmers were crushed under a SUV by the son of a minister in the Modi government. This is the state where the new policies and polarization around beef-cow has led to the huge number of stray cattle destroying crops. This is the state, which has slid, badly in the human indices during last few years.
A lot of discussion over the caste equations is done in this state. Before the elections, many OBC (other backward caste) leaders left the BJP to join the broad coalition led by the Samajwadi Party of Akhilesh Yadav. The crowds at the rallies of Akhilesh Yadav convinced most impartial journalists that the BJP will be thrown out of power. Many ground level journalists got the feedback that Akhilesh Yadav was sure to win. Then what happened?
While most of the caste calculations and anti-incumbency were favoring the Samajwadi Party, the BJP had some deeper factors working for it. These were communal polarization and efficient communication set up by the RSS combine. Let us first realize that BJP is part of a larger conglomerate, led by progenitor of Hindu nationalism, the RSS. Every time there are elections all the ‘pracharaks’ (propagandists, now in thousands) and swayamsevaks (volunteers, now in lakhs) join in the electoral efforts. RSS stalwart Arun Kumar convened a high-level meeting of all the Sangh frontal organizations and asked them to help the BJP in its election campaign.
And this time even RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat intervened to ask that Hindutva programs (Ram Temple, Kasha corridor) and nationalist efforts (Balakot air strike) are highlighted. After the second phase of elections, he called upon the RSS affiliates to intensify their efforts, as the BJP seemed to have done very badly in these two phases.
Adverse caste equations were undone by deeper polarization. Through social engineering they already have won over substantial number of downtrodden sections. This conglomerate has also developed a huge network of communication to reach their message to the last women and man. It is remarkable how in a quiet way the RSS message, countering rising prices, unemployment, farmers travails, the cattle nuisance and constructed fear of minorities, passes through various conveyor belts to reach the people in faraway places.
During the 2017 elections, the BJP+ was focusing on BJP being the only party, which can take up the cause of Hindus as the Samajwadi Party and the Congress both were projected to be working for Muslims. This time around UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath came up with the threat posed by “Gazva-E-Hind” and efforts of Muslims to convert India into a Muslim majority state. Yogi in particular, and Modi occasionally kept targeting Muslim minorities. Modi targeted the Samajwadi Party by saying that its election symbol ‘cycle’ has been used for exploding bombs.
Association of terrorism with Muslims, though untrue, was regularly propagated. Yogi kept harping on the association of Samajwadi Party with Muslims and Muslims with mafia, crime and terrorism. Kairana was used as a dog whistle. Muzzafarnagar violence was deliberately associated with Muslims. His infamous 80 percent versus 20 percent was a new low in divisive direction. His use of word “abbajan” (Urdu for father) for Mulayam Singh Yadav was deliberate to promote the divisive agenda.
What will be its impact on the 2024 elections is difficult to say despite Modi claiming these results show the pattern for 2024. It is true that at present there does not seem to be a credible national alternative that can halt the rise of divisive politics, erosion of our democratic institutions, growing economic disparity, the increase in unemployment and the worsening plight of farmers. Religious minorities are being forced to live an intimidated life in the proliferating ghettoes with declining citizenship rights.
The overall fall of the indices of the country on a scale of democratic freedoms and freedom of religion is alarming. The depth to which communal politics has sunk in society is very frightening. The mechanisms developed by communal forces to shape the opinions of the people at large are remarkable. The ‘godi’ (lapdog) media, social media, IT cell and fake news have added on to the foundations dug by the sectarian nationalists.
United to defeat
One of the major lessons of the assembly election results is that a fragmented opposition cannot take on the mighty electoral might of BJP-RSS. The claim of every oppositional political force to project her/him, as the alternative is the very undoing of the process whereby communal forces can be defeated and the country can come on the path laid down in the Indian Constitution. Can all the opposition parties begin to form a coalition with minimum common program based on the values of the Constitution and the concept of welfare? The leadership can be decided after the elections with the biggest component getting the Prime Minister and other components having due presentation in the leadership position.
It is time that all those who stand to uphold Gandhi, Ambedkar and Bhagat Singh come together in the spirit of accommodation. The interests of the country, the people, the deprived and suffering, the people whose dignity is being trampled day in and day out, is to be kept as the major focus in the alliance. It is the test of our leaders, whether they are just for personal self-promotion or genuinely care for the people in whose name they swear.
(The writer, a former IIT Bombay professor, is Chairman, Center for Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai). South Asia Monitor