Reading the electoral verdict: What does BJP offer to the voters that others don’t?

Free rations were distributed in all states including those under the opposition. So, what is it that BJP offers people that others don’t? Aakar Patel reacts to the election results from five states

File Photo
File Photo

Aakar Patel

Yesterday was a setback for those Indians who believe in pluralism, no matter which state they are from and what language they speak and what faith they belong to.

If you are for a pluralist India, you will be comfortable with the victory of a number of parties across India. You will be fine with the Congress, the National Conference, the DMK, the ADMK, the Left parties, any of the various spin-off of the Congress which retain the Congress name (the TMC, the NCP and the YSR Congress), the Janata Dal (S), the AIMIM and so on.

But if you do not want a pluralist India, and seek one that continues to focus on brutalising its own minorities through law and policy, then there is only one party for you. That party won, as it so often has been doing, again yesterday.

In some sense it was expected. The opinion polls had revealed a uni-directional flow to what was happening in Uttar Pradesh, but even those polls were not needed. The BJP has taken over 40% of the vote in each of the three elections before this, in 2014, 2017 and 2019. In the last of these, it took 50%. This is not a position from which one can lose, and it didn’t.

It appears, though this is early on, that UP is going the way of Gujarat, which though notionally a two-party state, is electorally a one-party state. The BJP has not lost a Lok Sabha or Vidhan Sabha election in Gujarat for 25 years. And that has come on the back of the ability to deliver more than 40% of the vote in a first-past-the-post system. Does this mean that it will permanently remain that way? Of course not; and something similar was true also of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.

This changed in the last few years with MP, at least temporarily, falling out of the BJP’s hands and Rajasthan is no longer with it. So, hope and the possibility both exist that we are not in a permanent scenario where the BJP utterly dominates the whole of north and west India and is competitive in several states in the east and south.

But yesterday’s results make such conclusions wishful thinking. A lot of work will need to be done by Indian civil society and India’s political parties to counter the BJP juggernaut.

The principal argument over the results was whether it was Hindutva or entitlements (free grain and so on) that most voters decided on. There are two things to consider here. The first is on what did the ruling party concentrate?

What was the burden of the song sung by its leaders through the campaign and before it, and what have they focused since 2014. Is it entitlements? The answer to that is fairly obvious. The language and the rhetoric of the BJP has been focused on minorities, especially Muslims. The focus of the party’s lawmaking in those states where it is in power has also been the same.

Since 2018, seven BJP states, the latest being Haryana, have criminalised interfaith marriage between Hindus and Muslims. In one of the most endogamous parts of the world, where even the wealthiest marry only among their sub-caste, is there an epidemic of what they call love jihad?

Of course not; and the government itself says in Parliament that it doesn’t know of any such phenomenon. And yet we have state after BJP state legislating on this. Similarly for beef and cattle transport and on the issue of citizenship and criminalising Muslim divorce.

Law after law is being sent down that targets a community. On the other hand, there is the policy: disallowing Muslims from praying, wearing what they want, selling what they want. All of this also recent. And thirdly, the use by the State of the law unjustly on Muslims and keeping them locked up and targeting them relentlessly. It is all of these that have been the focus of the BJP’s governments and leaders and it is where their energies and attentions have been spent.

The second thing to consider is whether there was a substantial section of the voting population that disregarded this behaviour of the BJP because they received entitlements. Perhaps this is so and it is a good thing. It means that electoral victory is possible for the ruling party without recourse to damaging other Indians.

It also gives the opportunity for the Opposition in the states they run. The issue of free grain (6 kilos of free rice/wheat/dal have been given to 800 million Indians since just after the national lockdown was lifted) must be seen in the light of this fact. Unfortunately, the evidence on the ground is that the entitlements do not vary much by party, whoever is in power, and that the primary problem of the lack of resource means that any delivery is limited.

The fundamental question is whether this one party, the only party, that offers Hindutva, has something in its arsenal that the others do not have and do not want to have that gives it the edge. The answer to that is yes.

So, what is the solution in a democracy with electoral politics, in a first-past-the-post system, to such a problem as the Opposition has? I do not know and anyone who claims to know is likely to be wrong.

This is a deep and complex problem that concerns the core of society and its values, and is unlikely to have a simple answer. And yet, the writing on the wall is clear, India will continue down this path we have been travelling on as a society, as an economy and as a nation, unless there is meaningful pushback to what the BJP is doing to us.

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