By-poll results show how law of diminishing returns for BJP’s Hindutva agenda is now in play across the nation

Congress’ narrative, strong ideological challenge to that of BJP-RSS and Rahul Gandhi’s leadership is now producing tangible results. There should be no resting until the big fight is fought and won

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi (File photo)
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi (File photo)
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Sanjukta Basu

I was travelling through Mandi, heading to Parashar Lake, Himachal Pradesh around the time of the 2017 assembly elections there when I happened to strike up a conversation with a cabbie on politics. He told me in all pride and glory that the people of Himachal are educated and not gullible like rest of India. “We do not give a chance to the same party twice; every five years, we switch so that we are not taken for granted”, he said.

When I asked if there were Hindu-Muslim issues in the state and what his take on BJP’s Hindutva agenda was, he blurted out some expletives to dismiss the word “Hindutva” and said, “We are proud Sanatanis”.

“These people do not know anything about Hinduism,” he added.

The results of Himachal Pradesh and other assembly and Lok Sabha by-polls fit those stray observations in a larger narrative and give an indication of the probable political developments in 2022 assembly elections due in five states, and the Lok Sabha elections to be held in 2024.

Counting of votes in the by-polls for 3 Lok Sabha, and 29 Assembly seats was completed today.

The Congress swept the Himachal and Rajasthan bypolls, winning all three assembly seats in Himachal Pradesh — Fatehpur, Arki and Jubbal-Kotkhai — as well as the Mandi Lok Sabha seat. In Rajasthan, the Congress won both the Dhariawad and Vallabhnagar assembly seats with significant margins of 18,725 and 20,606 votes, respectively.

In Madhya Pradesh, the party wrested Raigaon, a traditional BJP seat, after 31 years. In Karnataka, it won the Hangal constituency, the home turf of the present BJP Chief Minister, Basavaraj Bommai, with a margin of 7,373 votes.

Both in Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh, the BJP chief ministers could not retain their home turfs, causing a huge embarrassment for their party.

In Maharashtra, the Congress won the Deglur constituency with 41,933 votes and around 22% higher vote share. In most of the seats that went for by-polls, the Congress and BJP was in a direct fight, and overall, the Congress has equalled its tally with BJP.

Traditionally, the ruling party in a state tends to win the by-elections, which holds true for West Bengal and Rajasthan. The TMC swept all the four seats in West Bengal, some of them with record margins, nearly wiping out BJP from the state.

In Rajasthan, the ruling Congress won both the seats that went for by-polls, confirming Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot’s hold on the state.

The Himachal Pradesh results, however, which prove the trend wrong, making the Congress win in a direct fight with BJP, are particularly significant. The results should tell the BJP a few things about the law of diminishing returns on its Hindutva agenda.

According to the latest census, the Muslim population in Himachal is a mere 2.18%, with the Hindus constituting 95% of it. The BJP had swept the state in both 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections. In 2019, the Mandi Lok Sabha seat was won by BJP’s Ram Swaroop Sharma with a massive margin of over 4 lakh votes and 68% vote share. The by-poll was necessitated due to his death by suicide.

The by-poll has been won by Congress' Pratibha Singh, beating BJP’s Brig. Khushal Chand Thakur (Retd) by 7000 votes and 59.5% vote share.

The usual narrative of “Hindu khatre mein hai” and the hyperbole about hyper-masculine nationalism and Armed forces etc do not match with the by-poll results. It seems that the BJP’s agenda paid off for a while but is now fading. For people to vote against the ruling regime is a telling sign of great disaffection and disappointment with the BJP.

Coming back to what I learned from my conversation with the cabbie, perhaps the “sanatanis” have seen through the deception of BJP’s agenda of using religion as a polarizing issue and carrying out crony capitalism, corruption, destruction of environment and fascism.

There is immense excitement and joy in the Congress party and liberal-secular camp. “The results are very positive for Congress. To win the Lok Sabha seat where the sitting MP was from BJP, and which is Chief Minister Jairam Thakur’s home turf, means that the people’s mandate is against the Central government. People’s mood towards BJP is changing,” Himachal Pradesh Congress in-charge Rajiv Shukla said at a press meet soon after the results.

On social media, Congress office holders have started sharing a video clip of Rahul Gandhi kicking a football, metaphorically, the BJP out of the arena.

However, it is pertinent to point out that there was similar excitement in December 2018 when the Congress won three Hindi heartland states, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. But we all know what happened after that in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, and in MP.

The Opposition should, therefore, not lose sight of the bigger fights, firstly in the five state elections in 2022, and the Lok Sabha polls in 2024.

The Congress party’s narrative, strong ideological challenge to that of the BJP-RSS and Rahul Gandhi’s leadership is now producing tangible results. There should be no resting and celebrations until the big fight is fought and won.

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    Published: 02 Nov 2021, 10:05 PM