Election Results: Modi’s vulnerability

A. J. Philip

A. J. Philip

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The results clearly prove that however invincible Narendra Modi may be in Gujarat, he is no longer a vote-catcher for the BJP in the rest of the country.

There was a time when the average Bengali in West Bengal considered the Communist Party of India (Marxist) as a Bengali party. Nothing mattered to them more than the leadership of Jyoti Basu, the quintessential Bhadralok they looked up to. Many of them did not even know what Marxism was and what the dictatorship of the proletariat, the ultimate objective of Communism, meant. It was sub-nationalism at its best.

This explains why the Left Front led by the CPI(M) was able to rule the state for seven consecutive terms from 1977 to 2011, five with Jyoti Basu as Chief Minister and two under Buddhadev Bhattacharya. Then came Ms Mamata Banerjee, a former Congress leader, who sent the Marxists packing. Nobody expects the Marxists to return to power in the foreseeable future. In many places, the party offices have been converted into BJP offices.


The BJP in Gujarat is in many ways like the CPI(M) in its heyday in West Bengal. In the just concluded election to the Gujarat Assembly, the BJP registered a record victory improving its own record of 127 seats in 2002 and the all-time record of 149 seats achieved by the Congress in 1985. The result is almost unbelievable. It is like Argentina playing against, say, Brazil with half the ground kept out of bounds for Brazil.

In Gujarat, the BJP had virtually no opponents. It took some steps to fight incumbency. They replaced the Chief Minister who, they knew, was a liability. Nearly half the party MLAs were denied tickets so that new candidates could be brought into the field. The party learnt the mistakes from the previous election when large sections of the voters were disenchanted with the party.

In retrospect, the Congress was all set to capture power with the powerful Patels turning against the BJP and the small businessmen upset over the way GST was implemented in the state. That is when Narendra Modi took the campaign into his own hands and unleashed what could be described as a blitzkrieg of Hindutva. No more did he speak about development, as he raised the spectre of terror.

The party managed to get 20 more seats than the Congress and form a government of its own. Over the next five years, it bought the loyalty of over a dozen Congress MLAs.

This time, Rahul Gandhi preferred to keep the schedule of his Bharat Jodo Yatra than to campaign, except symbolically, in Gujarat. He thinks that his Yatra will elevate him to a state from where he can challenge Modi in the next Lok Sabha election.

bharat jodo

Anyway, his absence from the field and the failure of the Johnnys, who claim that they can lead the Congress out of the woods, to campaign in Gujarat left the field open entirely to Modi. He did all kinds of theatrics but at no time did he mention development. His own deputy and home minister Amit Shah, in fact, took pride in painting a whole community into a corner.

Megalomania had reached such Himalayan proportions that Modi told rally after rally that it did not matter who the candidate was so long as the symbol was the Lotus. In other words, the party did not matter, the candidate did not matter and the ideology did not matter. All that mattered was Modi and in many places, the people responded with “Modi, Modi”!

It was just two months ago that 141 people had a watery grave when a century-old suspension bridge, which was rebuilt and opened to the public, collapsed at Morbi. It was a classic case of government failure. Anywhere else, the ruling party would have suffered a setback but not in Morbi where the BJP candidate won with a massive mandate.
Remember the character who welcomed the rapists of Bilkis Bano and murderers of her foetus saying that they were “Brahmins with good sanskar”. As a member of the Godhra Jail Advisory Committee, he played a leading role in the release of 11 convicts, now under challenge in the Supreme Court. He also won with a massive margin!

The presence of Arvind Kejriwal’s party also helped the BJP. It was ridiculous for him to promise that he would organise free trips to Ayodhya and free electricity.

He also expounded a great idea to rally the rupee which has been falling against the dollar under Modi’s care. Print pictures of Hindu goddesses like Lakshmi on the currency notes! Of course, nobody cared for him but he was able to confuse a section of the anti-BJP voters who voted for him.

If one adds up the vote shares of the Congress and the AAP, it will reach the vote share the Congress attained in the 2017 election. Kejriwal is a product of the great Anna Hazare project which played a significant role in the BJP’s victory in 2014.

Neither Hazare, nor Modi and Kejriwal speak any longer about Lok Pal as the panacea for corruption. Nobody also talks about presumptive losses, except the former CPI(M) finance minister of Kerala who calculated that India suffered a loss of Rs 15 lakh crore, thanks to Modi’s demonetisation.

Like the average German who became a willing executioner, to borrow an expression from American author Daniel Goldhagen, the average Gujarati seems to believe that Gujarat under Modi is the heaven on earth. That explains why over 50 percent of voters voted for Modi. Let me quote an article titled Gujaratification in the latest issue of the London Economist:

“On a development index that accounts for life expectancy, education and income, Gujarat ranks 21st out of 36 states and Union Territories. It is in the bottom half of states for underage marriage, child stunting, infant mortality and school and college enrollment. Last year, its GDP per head matched Tamil Nadu’s, but its share of people living in poverty, at 14%, was nearly four times bigger.

“This reflects the Hindu nationalist priorities. Gujarat’s social spending is the lowest of all Indian states. It also directs a smaller share of its total expenditure to rural development. Many of its rural districts lack basics such as secondary schools as a result.” In contrast, the cities are thriving with ultramodern buildings, metros and flyovers.

It is with the same Modi magic that the BJP sought to mesmerise the voters in Himachal Pradesh, where it has been holding the fort for the last five years. Modi was the star campaigner in the state. He hopped from one rally to another to cover all the hills and valleys in the state. There, too, he used the same tricks. He told the people to remember him and the party symbol as nothing else mattered.

Alas, the magic did not work. People knew the hollowness of his claims, especially of the BJP government. The Congress was not in the pink of health. Yet, it could trounce the BJP with a comfortable majority. The BJP’s reliance on the Aam Aadmi Party proved a blunder.

If the AAP had won, say, 5-10 percent of the votes in Himachal Pradesh, the BJP would have been in power. The Himachalis knew the AAP game. Almost all, if not all, the AAP candidates lost their security deposits. The party got only 1 percent of the vote. For once, the B team could not help the A team.

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra during a door-to-door campaign in Shimla

A wag has a theory to explain the BJP’s failure in the hill state. The BJP cannot raise the spectre of Muslim communalism in Himachal Pradesh. The Muslims have a negligible presence in the state. In fact, 96 per cent of the population is Hindu, the single largest minority being the Sikhs.

Arvind Kejriwal claims to be happy that his party has become a national party. No, it was not for this that he contested the election in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat at considerable cost to his party. He does not have anything called an ideology. He can only talk about free electricity and water.

True, he built some school buildings but he also caused the greatest damage to school education when he appointed multinational firms of chartered accountants to decide how schools should be run. Corruption has become rampant, as anyone who has anything to do with school education in Delhi will vouchsafe.

Nonetheless, Kejriwal has reason to be proud of winning the Delhi Municipal Corporation. Over the decades, Delhi’s character has changed. It was once known as a Punjabi city, particularly after the Partition when tens of thousands of Hindus from what is now Pakistan came as refugees and settled down in Delhi. They dominated the political scene. Small wonder that the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the forerunner of the BJP, held sway over the electorate.

Over the years, people from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and the rest of the country began to migrate to Delhi which also began to expand. The Punjabis were reduced to a minority in Delhi. The demographic change began to be reflected in the elections. Delhi was no longer a preserve of the BJP. The Congress which enjoyed the support of the neo-migrants became the dominant party in the Capital.

The emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party and its promise and fulfilment of free electricity and water made an impact on the poor voters. The BJP knew that it would lose the municipal elections. It did everything possible to manipulate the election by first postponing it and then manipulating the ward compositions.

None of this could influence the poor voters who rallied behind the AAP while the BJP did well where the gated communities outnumbered those who lived in the slums. The Congress would have been wiped out if the Muslims had not voted for its candidates. It is no wonder that out of the nine Congress candidates who won, seven are Muslims.

Muslims are not the only ones who were amazed by Kejriwal’s stupidity of building a replica of the Ayodhya temple in Delhi at enormous cost so that he and his MLAs could worship there for a day. Afterwards the makeshift temple was dismantled. Can anyone imagine a political leader anywhere in the world constructing a huge temple or mosque or church to worship for a day when there are thousands of temples in his state?

exit_pollA word about the exit polls would be in order. None of them predicted the kind of landslide the BJP would have in Gujarat. Nor did any predict that the Congress would bounce back to power after a gap of five years in Himachal Pradesh. The media do not want to antagonise the powers that be.

One of the most shocking results came from Rampur in Uttar Pradesh. Azam Khan of the Samajwadi Party used to win this seat, no matter which party ticket he contested on. Last time, too, he won. The moment he was found “guilty” in a criminal case, the seat was declared vacant and a by-election was held. Even the Supreme Court found it necessary to ask why it was necessary to unseat him in such haste.

What is shocking is not that the BJP has won the seat. Only 31 percent of the voters in Rampur voted. How did the voting percentage go down so drastically? The Samajwadi Party candidate claims that 2.25 lakh voters were not allowed to vote. He says that the police and the BJP joined hands to rig the election. The winner has claimed that he ended “half a century of slavery” in the constituency. It is an affront to the Constitution! The minimum that the Election Commission should do is to order an inquiry and take corrective measures.

Dimple Yadav

Samajwadi Party leader Dimple Yadav won the Mainpuri Lok Sabha seat which fell vacant on the death of her father-in-law Mulayam Singh Yadav with a huge margin.

The BJP lost in Khatauli where also a by-election was held. The Congress and the Biju Janatal Dal could retain their seats in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan and Odisha. The BJP had an upset victory in Bihar, about which Nitish Kumar should ponder.

The results clearly prove that however invincible Narendra Modi may be in Gujarat, he is no longer a vote-catcher for the BJP in the rest of the country. Devoid of power, theatrics and empty rhetoric, he is like any other leader “full of sound and fury signifying nothing”.

Courtesy: Indian Currents


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Cartoons courtesy: Satish Acharya
A. J. Philip

A. J. Philip

The writer is a senior journalist based in New Delhi.

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