FLAMBOYANT MODI SETS INDIA ABLAZE IN HIS OWN INIMITABLE STYLE
The people of India have once again elected the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance with a massive majority to rule the destiny of the nation and preferred to ignore the Congress President Rahul Gandhi and his party at the hustings. The ruling alliance swept the 17th Lok Sabha elections with flying colours, as it emerged victorious in 350 out of 543 constituencies. The BJP itself captured 303 seats, thereby proving beyond doubt that the massive mandate provided by the people had surpassed even its previous tally of 272 seats. With absolute majority at his disposal, the Prime Minister will be emboldened to initiate bold measures, without having the compulsion to rely on his alliance partners. Though, all the exit polls predicted a thumping victory for the NDA, even the ardent admirers and die-hard fans of the BJP would not have expected their party to reach greater heights than the verdict in 2014 that catapulted the Sangh Parivar as the primary pole of Indian politics, relegating the Congress to a distant second.
The BJP with its astounding performance made it a no-contest all over India, except in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh, as rightly predicted by exit polls, if not all the opinion polls earlier. The party has also proved its detractors wrong with its significant performance in Uttar Pradesh, where Modi and his men had an apprehension after the by-election setbacks the BJP faced last year, as the Opposition alliance forged by the Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party had created a lasting impression on the electorate and were hoping against hope that their alliance would make a mince-meat of the ruling party in the State. But, alas, Modi and his dedicated team proved them wrong once again by capturing 64 seats, with two seats to its partner Apna Dal, out of 80 seats, compared to the 73 seats the alliance fetched in 2014.
It may be recalled that a large number of political analysts gave a mere 30 seats to the BJP before the election, which led the party to vigorously campaign to increase its tally in West Bengal and Odisha, to offset its likely loss in U.P., parts of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and to some extent, in Chhattisgarh. But the final results invariably proved that the BJP increased its tally in all the above states, thereby proving its invincibility in the Hindi heartland. However, Modi would not like to call his party that belongs only to the Hindi-belt, as the BJP has increased its vote share to 50 percent in ten states, apart from making a rapid stride in West Bengal, Odisha, Karnataka, and Telangana, where it not only the party opened its account, but won four seats, including a shock-defeat inflicted on the Telangana Rashtra Samiti candidate Kavita, daughter of the state Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao at Nizamabad constituency and saw to it that Karnataka shows the exit door for the Janata Dal(S) mentor and the former Prime Minister Deve Gowda at Tumkur, considered to be the stronghold of the party patriarch. The realization has dawned on the BJP that the Congress reaped the reward of the public anger in Kerala against the Chief Minister Pinnaray Vijayan and the Marxist-led LDF government on the sensitive Sabarimala issue, even though it is BJP that created a sensation among the people by questioning the verdict the Supreme Court. The party was also not unaware of the regional sentiments that prevailed in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh that led to their delightfully poor show in these two states.
It becomes an ominous verdict because the choice before the voters was never as stark as in 2019 The Prime Minister offered himself at the head of a ‘majboot sarkar’ (a decisive and robust governing arrangement that will deliver). Not since 1970, when the Congress sought votes in Indira Gandhi’s name, and BJP relied on the reputation of Vajpayee from 1998 to 2004, had a primacy been apportioned on an individual leader and his presumed transformational leadership, over and above any other calculus. Sources in the BJP proudly proclaimed that Modi even outwitted Indira Gandhi and Vajpayee, as far as individual popularity is concerned. It was Modi, who took the BJP to the pinnacle single-handedly after the party’s defeat in the 2004 and 2009 Lok Sabha elections, whereas Indira Gandhi had to bank on the Left parties, the DMK and the Akali Dal support for the survival of her minority government from mid-1969 to early 1971, after the infamous Congress split in 1969, that led to the formation of the Syndicate led by the then Congress President Nijalingappa and the Indicate manned by Madam Gandhi. Vajpayee, on the other hand, had to put forth his faith on the coalition dharma for the survival of his government.
A review of the election campaign in Tamil Nadu
It indicates that there was a growing impression that the AIADMK was being strongly influenced by its alliance partner, BJP, as both parties needed each other. For the ruling party in the State, its survival depended on the Centre’s assistance, whereas the BJP felt that its goal would be achieved in the company of the AIADMK, as it will also enable the party to improve its position and increase its popularity in the State, where a section of people tend to believe firmly in the ideology of the rationalist leader Periyar E.V. Ramasamy and the Dravidian rule of either the DMK or the AIADMK. Even the Congress failed to capture power in the Tamil Nadu after its massive rout in the 1967 general and assembly elections. The inclination in Tamil Nadu veered towards Rahul Gandhi as an acceptable Prime Minister more than the Prime Minister, and, more so, when the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam Working President M.K. Stalin, proposed the name of Rahul Gandhi in the Opposition party meeting at Chennai. But, it did not take a long time for Stalin to realize that in the subsequent opposition meeting at Kolkata, he was rebuffed by other Opposition leaders when they refused to accept Rahul to lead the destiny of the nation. Adding fuel to the fire, the split in the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and its infighting with the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam had made the people keep a distance from the AIADMK-BJP combine.
Not to be left undone, a section of leaders and cadres of the AIADMK were vehemently critical of their party’s alliance with the BJP. According to some observers of the poll scenario, the party led by its Chief Minister Edapaddi A Palanisamy, did not take the trouble of campaigning for the Lok Sabha constituencies in right earnest, as its attention was focused on the 22 bye-elections for the assembly, where it was compelled to win in nine seats, as the AIADMK’s survival depended on the assembly more than of the Lok Sabha. Naturally, the AIADMK’s dog-in-the-manger strategy affected the BJP, too in the five constituencies in which it contested. A survey also revealed that as many as 41 percent of the people were wary of exercising their franchise in favour of the BJP, as they were of the view that the Centre was also responsible for NEET, Sterlite issue and the Tuticorin shoot-at-sight order last year, in which about 12 people were killed. Apart from that, the people’s apathy on demonetisation and the CST was noticeable. Though the AMMK was expected to damage the prospects of the AIADMK candidates, the party that broke away from the AIADMK, drew a blank, much to the chagrin and discomfiture of the AMMK general secretary T.T.V. Dinakaran.
Coming back to the fabulous performance of the BJP, the result is being viewed as an endorsement of Modi’s tremendous popularity and charisma. It is obvious that the Prime Minister’s imprint on this victory is distinctive, assert some hardcore supporters of the party. Some of them also articulated their viewpoint that the outcome, hence, must be looked at as an electoral endorsement of Hindutva or Hindu nationalism, the creed that guided the BJP and its forebears for nearly a century, since Vinayak Damodar Sarvarkar wrote the treatise by the same title. A few BJP activists also reminded us regretfully, how India’s first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru did not take the opportunity to introduce “Hindu Rashtra” in 1947, just like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Maldives and later Bangladesh made their nations as the Islamic States and Sri Lanka went ahead with Buddhism. However, at a Congress Working Committee meeting in 1958, Nehru remarked, “Communalism of the majority is far more dangerous than communalism of the minority.”
The verdict has also dismantled social justice politics in U.P. and Bihar, as these two were viewed as key states that used to send not less than 120 members to the Parliament in the earlier era. However, Shyam, a renowned journalist here is of the opinion that the rise of Hindutva, since the 1980s had a parallel – a new wave of backward caste mobilization in parts of northern and western India, which questioned the Nehruvian elite’s hold on power. While parties based on social justice politics or regional pride weakened the Congress, they also watched the BJP with skepticism, despite their occasional association with it, reasoned Shyam, before adding, “through deft coalition-building, the BJP used many non-Congress outfits to further its own growth and gobbled them up in several States, such as Gujarat. However, some political analysts aver that in U.P. and Bihar, social justice parties with deep-rooted support among the Hindu backward castes, in alliance with the considerable population of the Muslim community became the stumbling block to the Hindutva movement in the recent past.
The BJP’s massive victory must thus be seen as one powered by the hyper-nationalist agenda that was the mainstay of Modi’s five-year term in government, though corruption and nepotism of the BJP’s opponents could have been supplementary factors. The welfare schemes of the Modi government did yield results, but these or the promise of economic development were not the real differentiators. The Pulwama terrorist strike and India’s response to it dovetailed into the BJP’s campaign. And, the victory of a terror accused Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur in Bhopal constituency by a huge margin against the veteran Congress candidate and the former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh has caused consternation in the minds of people. Not for nothing, as the BJP candidate was not averse to lauding Nathuram Godse, the assassin of Gandhi as a patriot and reiterated that her stand was vindicated when the people chose to elect her for her stand on Hindutva. However, the Prime Minister hastened to condemn her acid-tongue and promised to take stringent action her.
Importantly, Southern States, sans Karnataka, remained unimpressed by Hindutva, but the BJP made an inroad rapidly in West Bengal and Odisha, even in areas where linguistic, political and cultural factors have historically been alien to the party. Organisation-wise too, the party was not cohesive in West Bengal and despite the absence of a strong regional leader, the BJP’s bubbling enthusiasm did not wane when it matched and encountered the strength of the Trinamool Congress led by is maverick Chief Minister Mamta Banerjee in a ding-dong battle in seven-phases that lasted for more than a month. The BJP President Amit Shah has made about 1486 trips to the strife-torn state to combat the ruling party with its dedicated cadre. The Prime Minister himself had campaigned in about 485 meetings and devoted more time for West Bengal and created a fear psychosis in the minds of the ruling party that 40 MPs of the Trinamool Congress were ready to switch over to the BJP. Hardly had the results been announced, as many as three Trinamool Congress MLAs had crossed over to the BJP. The party’s hard work bore fruit when it won in 18 out of 42 seats in a neck-to-neck race, resembling a Twenty-20 cricket match.
The BJP had made an inroad into the once Marxist bastions and gave a clear-cut message to Mamta Banerjee that, though the Congress and the CPI(M)-led Left Front had caved in meekly and succumbed to her party’s dictatorial tendencies, the BJP would not lie low and will leave no-stone-unturned to capture power in West Bengal for the first time around in 2021 assembly elections. A few insiders in the CPI(M) and Congress admit that a large number of their party votes were transferred to the BJP to a great extent, and to the ruling party to some extent. Some comrades even conceded that it is an open secret that the two deadly-foes, the CPI(M) and BJP, felt that it is high time for them to come together to reign in the terror tactics of Mamata and her Trinamool Congress. Moreover, the BJP’s decision to introduce a Bill to provide citizenship rights to the minority communities from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, more or less similar to the one it envisaged in Assam, has gladdened the hearts of the immigrants. There are no two opinions that the decision was taken with an eye on the vote-bank, let alone indulging in populist measures.
The BJP’s roaring electoral success in West Bengal has made the state Chief Minister ponder over her minority appeasement policies. Here too, the lady luck did not smile on Mamta, when her government’s decision to pay a monthly honorarium to Madrasas and Munnezzin were ruled out by the Kolkata High Court. When she decided to allot Rs 28 crore as funds for Puja committees during Durga Puja celebration, the Muslim community demanded the same facility from her government. The BJP also cashed in on Mamta’s inability to offer monthly honorariums to temples and her well-meaning instruction last year in urging the organizers of Durga Puja committee to complete the immersion of gods and goddess in time to facilitate the process for Muharram festival went in vain. The Chief Minister is already worried over the Sharda, Narada and Rose Valley scams rocking her government. Her intolerance towards her critics and punishing them has become a common feature in the State.
BY K.V. VENUGOPAL
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