Heartland Gives Heartache
By Poonam I Kaushish
Beware the Ides of March. This adage has come to sting the BJP post its electoral defeat in UP and Bihar and Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP quitting the NDA, days after two of its Ministers quit Modi’s Government protesting for special category status to Andhra Pradesh. Will the outcome alter the shape of Indian politics, especially in Uttar Pradesh?
True, the 3-0 Parliamentary by-polls loss are not the final word on which way the 2019 polls will go but the fact that the BJP lost both Gorakhpur and Phulpur which were represented by UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath since 1991 and his Deputy Keshav Maurya alongwith the RJD retaining Araria in Bihar underscores all is not well and is a clear warning to the Modi-Shah to set its house in order. From a total of 282 Lok Sabha seats it is down to 274.
Think. In the last few months alone, the BJP has lost all five Lok Sabha by-elections in UP, Rajasthan and Bihar (four of which it had won in 2014) and Assembly seats in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Bihar.
All significant because the BJP is in power in these States and Congress is its immediate challenger. Additionally, the Grand Dame’s victory with huge margins underscores a weak BJP leadership, growing anti-incumbency, internal fissures and continuing dependence on the Prime Minister and Party President to win polls, notwithstanding its emphatic win in the Northeast.
Notably, Since the Modi tsunami in 2014, the BJP hasn’t witnessed such a poll debacle. The loss of face is more severe in UP given the Party’s impressive scoreline was 71 out of 80 seats in the 2014 elections and 325 of 403 in Assembly polls last year.
Besides, the loss cannot be pinned just to Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi and Mayawati’s BSP bedding together or over-confidence and complacency but other factors like intra-party rivalries read Brahmin-Thakur, disillusioned urban and rural voters , disenchanted cadres as Ministers are not accessible and their grievances are not addressed and local leaders working at cross purposes.
The ‘Bua-Bhatija’ slogans that rent the air in Gorakhpur and Phulpur last week may well became the model for the 2019 general elections and encourage them to evolve a long-term alliance. The SP-BSP alliance is an invincible caste combination which could mean a consolidation of 40-50% vote share of Yadav, Muslims, Dalits and OBCs and in a three-cornered fight a candidate needs only 30% votes to win. Hence, the regional satraps would bank on playing up caste equations, but how it will prevent the Saffron Sangh from polarising Hindu votes remains to be seen.
Mayawati would be preening from ear to ear as this is the first time in six years that she reckons the tide is turning for the netter. The BSP couldn’t even open its account in the 2014 polls and managed to win just 17 seats in UP’s Assembly last year. She announced her support to the SP at the eleventh hour, first time since 1993 when they had a bitter falling out.
Add to this, the SP-BSP victory has given a fresh impetus to Opposition Parties to rally together for an anti-BJP platform and stitch an alliance as the results show the Modi juggernaut is stoppable. Akhilesh and Mayawati have broadly agreed to the principle of “equal seats” for fighting the Lok Sabha polls. The next test for the two erstwhile regional rivals is set to be the bypoll in Kairana in western UP,
The results could boost a revival of a Congress-NCP alliance in Maharashtra and a Congress-DMK pact in Tamil Nadu. Along-with giving more confidence to BJP’s disgruntled allies to air their grievances. Three States, UP which accounts for 80, Maharashtra with 41 and Bihar 33 total 154, a third of the lok Sabha strength.
The RJD’s victory in the Araria polls shows that Lalu continues to retain his clout even behind bars, highlighting sympathy for the Yadav clan embroiled in various corruption cases whereby the BJP is perceived as selectively targeting its rivals.
Clearly, the SP-BSP-RJD showed their mettle to take on the BJP. Reminding one of it being a throwback to the classic Mandal-vs-Kamandal politics of the 1990s, whereby their alliance edged out the BJP in the aftermath of communal polarisation and the demolition of the Babri mosque.
It’s an ideal situation for the Rahul-led Congress to reinvent itself. This is all the more imperative as the BSP-SP victory seems to have diminished his bargaining power with the duo. His over-ambitious zeal to go-it-alone left it badly mauled. He needs to get his act together if the Congress has to retain its slot as a national Party. Not only has it to grapple with its massive loss, being reduced to double digit but also vote share, even in States considered to be its strongholds. The Party faces the next test in Karnataka and then in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh this year-end.
Undeniably, the slew of defeats highlights that NaMo-Shah will have to rectify the internal fault-lines, set its house in order, tweak its States’ leadership to retain an edge. Questionably, is the Hindutva card past its expiry date? Else this “dress rehearsal” could be prophetic.
Certainly, the BJP’s double standards – or opportunism to grab power at every cost have been visible for some time. It has upset its supporters for giving membership to leaders it had attacked, Congress’s controversial Maharashtra leader Narayan Rane, Samajwadi’s Naresh Agarwal, who embarrassed the Sangh on his entry in to its folds, Vijay Bahuguna in Uttarakhand, Himanta Sarma in Assam, Mukual Roy in West Bengal etc.
Modi’s trouble is that as numero uno he has to battle on all fronts. Partly, he himself is to blame. He has been unable to live up to his promise of Achhe Din and bhrashtachar mukt Bharat juxtaposed with Modi’s authoritative ‘it’s my way or the highway’ machismo which make regional satraps and fence-sitters jittery. Besides IOU (Index of Opposition Unity), there is also IVU (Index of Voters’ Unhappiness) working against the BJP.
As the BJP reviews the causes for the shock defeat and goes back to the drawing board to fine-tune its strategy for the 2019 elections, NaMo will have to work doubly hard, be as resourceful and innovative as his adversary and seize the initiative back. Will he be able to do so, remains to be seen, else the BJP and Modi can sigh: 272, so close, yet so far!
All Parties need to realize six months is a long time in politics, anything and everything can happen. New permutations and combinations, caste calculations, defections-alliances galore, behind the scene confabulations et al. A spark can ignite a new chingari given there are never any full stops in politics. One lives to fight another day! —– INFA