Mainstream, VOL LII, No 38, September 13, 2014
A Straw in the Wind
Saturday 13 September 2014, by
It appears that the magic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is waning. His Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has met a reverse in the bypolls. Out of the 18 seats in Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Bihar, the BJP won only seven. The parliamentary election held nearly four months ago saw the BJP sweeping and even getting a majority on its own in the Lok Sabha.
The disenchantment of the voters in such a small period is indeed a point of deeper analysis. True, the party made too many promises which were hard to implement. But that is only a part of the explanation. The full explanation is that no home work seems to have been done on the capacity to deliver.
Over the years, elections have become only a futile exercise of tall promises and very little implementation. Since the parties’ purpose is to win, the reality comes before the public long after it is all over. The voters flip from one party to another, expecting better performance than the last time. They also punish those who did not measure up to their standard. The Congress has been reduced to only 44 members in the parliamentary elections, not even making the 55 seats required to claim the position of Leader of the Opposition Party.
The results of the bypolls also show how the political parties, jaded as they are, losing sheen. The BJP, which swept the Lok Sabha polls, has quickly slipped down in position. The fault lies with the political parties which are not learning their lesson. The voters’ disillusionment is visible from election after election. It is obvious that the present dispensation does not sway the electorate. They are looking to prepare the ground for a set-up which, in the long run, can counter the saffron power.
The by-elections were seen as a litmus test for the BJP as well as the new combination of the Rashtriya Janata Dal of Laloo Prasad Yadav, the Janata Dal (United) of Nitish Kumar and the Congress. Indeed, the stakes were high for all the three parties in the secular alliance against the BJP which was riding on its massive success in the Lok Sabha polls. The results must have come as a real morale-booster for the combine, particularly for the grand old party, the Congress.
On the other hand, the BJP must be feeling greatly disappointed for its performance which was below expectations. Though the party leadership put up a brave front, it will have to go back to the drawing board to arrest the trend sooner than later as the BJP has little time before the September by-elections in Uttar Pradesh for 11 seats.
For BJP President Amit Shah, who has made wholesale changes to the party structure—it is a pity that old guards L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi have been omitted from the party’s Parliamentary Board—the UP bypoll results will be crucial. He has already said that he would want all the 11 seats in his basket, largely because the elections will be sort of a semifinal before the 2017 Assembly elections in the State.
Shah will have to work overtime to pick his candidates since the by-elections will be a triangular affair with the Congress and the Samajwadi Party having announced their candidates. Even otherwise, Shah’s credibility is at stake after he was pitch-forked to the current position when he singlehandedly helped the BJP win 70 out of 80 seats from the State in the Lok Sabha polls.
The loss of a seat in the Madhya Pradesh by-polls particularly is an alarm bell for both Shah and Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the State Chief Minister who has been inducted in the Parliamentary Board, which is the highest decision-making body. More than the victory by the Congress which wrested the Bahoriband Assembly seat from the ruling party, it is the defeat of the BJP candidate which must be hurting it badly. After all, the Congress managed to retain just two out of 29 Lok Sabha seats in the State only recently.
As for the Laloo-Nitish alliance in Bihar, the bypoll results must have come as a shot in the arm for the two veteran politicians. It was a well-thought-out political gamble the two took and it has paid rich dividends, after their parties had taken a real drubbing in the April-May Lok Sabha elections. Knowing full well the pattern of voting and caste arithmetic of Bihar politics, the two leaders apparently realised that they stood a chance only if they were to put up a collective fight.
No doubt, it was a bold experiment which may well pave the way for a possible realign-ment of anti-BJP parties on a single platform in the run-up to the next Assembly elections in the State. The Bahujan Samajwadi Party’s Mayawati has shunned such an offer from Mulayam Singh Yadav for the UP bypolls because she has not yet forgotten the “attempt” by the Samajwadi Party to eliminate her. But in times to come if she gains confidence, she could reconsider the offer.
In any case, the bypoll results must have warmed the hearts of many anti-BJP leaders who will want to go for such an experiment in the future. CPM leader Prakash Karat, who claimed that unity among secular parties had paid off in the recent by-elections, is willing to cooperate with the like-minded parties to fight the BJP. But his party and he have issues with the Congress. “Our party line is to fight the BJP primarily because it is in power now. But we are opposed to the policies of the Congress too,” he had said.
Whatever the case, there is one lesson for all secular parties to learn. The voters are yearning for an alternative, away from the Congress as well as the BJP. They want secular and democratic governance which is what the independence struggle had provided us.
The author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is www.kuldipnayar.com