Don’t despair: 6 takeaways from the Assembly polls can change that

The Opposition’s despair is misplaced. The BJP isn’t invincible. A Bihar-like grand alliance and a smart ‘positive agenda’ campaign strategy like in Punjab is what is needed to change the outcome

Photo by Subhankar Chakraborty/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Subhankar Chakraborty/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Neelabh Mishra

When asked about his assessment of the French Revolution just short of two centuries later during a meeting with US President Richard Nixon, the great Chinese Premier of the Twentieth Century, Zhou Enlai, is famously reported to have said: “It’s too early to say.” Though The Financial Times later debunked this delicious story quoting a diplomat present on the occasion to the effect that Zhou might have misunderstood the translated question as referring to the Paris Spring protests of a couple of years ago, the legend lives on.

But, considering these times, when data – even in the process of being generated – gets transferred at lightning speed and consequently quick opinion takeaways are manufactured based on just a few available pieces of a jigsaw, this column on the five state Assembly elections that concluded last month runs the danger of being trolled as a “slow-thinking Pappu’s response” rather late in the day. Yet, compared to the patient timescale of that longsighted moderniser of an ancient Chinese civilisation, I might just be another foolish scribe rushing in where angels of ideologies fear to tread. So, here are my tuppence takeaways for whatever they are worth.

Coming as I do half a month after the elections results and government formation in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Goa and Manipur, I have added the run-up to the elections, the actual results and government formation in the above states and whatever has been happening in the country since then for a fuller analysis because I think all these factors are inter-related.

  1. First, the obvious. The overall election results have made the BJP, its parent RSS, and affiliated and spawned organisations so bullish that they have become more bellicose and belligerent. Buoyed by their big victories in UP and Uttarakhand, they went in for the kill with the help of compliant Governors in Goa and Manipur to form governments by roping in smaller groups – which had fought them at the hustings – and even engineered defections from the Congress as in the case of Manipur. They tried to get a positive out of the Punjab results too – where they and their ally, the Akalis, were mauled by the Congress – by going with greater gusto against the loser AAP. Criminal cases against AAP MLAs in Delhi were used for a more ferocious propaganda against them in Delhi Vidhan Sabha’s Rajouri Garden bypoll and the Delhi Municipal elections. Similarly, to demoralise the main Opposition Congress, central government agencies like the CBI, ED and Income Tax were used aggressively against their leaders with an accompanying propaganda blitz, even when the allegations were of a dubious nature. The same pattern of going at the Opposition leaders without checking the veracity of the charges levelled can be seen with respect to TMC in Bengal, BJD in Odisha and AIADMK in Tamil Nadu – where the BJP is looking at conquering new territory. In these states, it can also be seen as tearing a social fabric apart.
  2. The more pernicious effect of the post Assembly elections scenario is that the more belligerent BJP-RSS ideological war to fashion out a majoritarian India has only resulted in social destabilisation and alienation in several parts of the country. Their communal-nationalistic machismo as witnessed in the beef lynchings, moral policing euphemistically called Anti-Romeo Squads, generation of hatred against Muslims and sundry caste groups in most of India – from the North to the East and the South and militaristic posturing in Jammu and Kashmir – has poisoned the social and federal air. This process, in fact, had started much before the Assembly polls. UP had remained polarised along communal and caste lines to the benefit of the BJP since the Muzaffarnagar massacres in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections. This helped, with a bit more propaganda spend, the BJP to retain more or less its vote base in the Vidhan Sabha elections too. This vote of around 40%, though a minority, is handsomely enough, given the context of a low Opposition unity index. In fact, this divisive normal is the one the RSS has been pushing towards through its social engineering project in UP since the Ayodhya movement of the 1990s. It’s a long process come to fruition in the form of Yogi Aditynath – nothing exclusively to the credit of Narendra Modi-Amit Shah combine. No development agenda or brilliant leadership of the duo which were media myths created to buttress a modernist self-image of the media.
  3. Social destabilisation was accompanied by economic destabilisation and given a mythical spin to garner support from a still largely symbolism driven electorate. The Opposition needs to reorganise and pull up its socks.
  4. The fallout of this has been to drive the various strands of political opposition into defensiveness, ennui or desperation; the civil society into despair; India Inc into unashamed cronyism or fear; and, the corporate-controlled media into a cringing, crawling apology of a media.
  5. This casts an ominous shadow on our democracy and constitutionalism. This is going to test the institutions of our Republic like never before.
  6. But the despair of the Opposition and civil society is a bit misplaced if the Assembly election results are seen in their entirety. The results in UP would have been exactly opposite to what happened in case a Bihar-like ‘mahagathbandhan’ had been put together between SP, BSP and the Congress – who together have a support base of nearly 60%. Or alternatively, Punjab has shown that a smart campaign strategy setting a positive agenda launched well in time could also defeat the BJP, even in the context of a splintered opposition.

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