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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 40, September 27, 2014

BJP Cannot Take Voters For Granted

Time for Congress to Build State Leaderships

Sunday 28 September 2014

by Harihar Swarup

What message does the by-elections in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Assam and West Bengal send? One loud and clear message is that the Modi wave is losing its momentum. Coming on the heels of the setback in the Uttarakhand and Bihar by-polls, last week’s by-election results in five States show a steady decline in the BJP’s rating. The Congress won all the three seats in Assembly by-polls in Uttarakhand on July 25. Laloo Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar turned their once-famous rivalry into a friendship with very real benefits. Along with the Congress, they have won six of 10 assembly seats in the by-elections. If these trends are any indication, the BJP may face tough time in next month’s Maharashtra and Haryana elections.

The message for the Congress is that the era of charismatic leaders, who get votes, is over. The need is for building a strong leadership at the State-level, which the Congress has stifled in the past. In Rajasthan, for example, the Congress has become strong under the leadership of Sachin Pilot. In other States too, particularly in UP, the State-level leadership has to be rebuilt.

Within four months of having recorded its best-ever electoral performance in UP, the BJP seems to be struggling to retain its traditional base in India’s most populous State. After taking 71 of the 80 seats in the Lok Sabha elections, the party could win only three of 11 seats in the Assembly by-elections. Far from being able to repeat its success in the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP is ceding ground to the SP even in some of its traditional strongholds. The SP, battered and bruised in the Lok Sabha elections, won eight seats, netting gains at the expense of the BJP.

The results from Rajasthan likewise gave the BJP little reason to cheer. Of the four seats, the party could just win one. The Congress won three others in a State where it had drawn a blank in the May Lok Sabha polls. Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje’s leadership is under fire and she is being accused of dictatorial functioning and not taking the party leaders into confidence.

In Gujarat, the BJP won six of the nine seats, but if the 2013 Assembly election is the reference point, the tally is down by three. The Congress has still a long way to go to catch up in Narendra Modi’s State. Signals are, however, ominous; the BJP is slipping in Gujarat, the State Modi has presented as the governance model for the rest of the country. Chief Minister Anandiben Patel has her work cut out in post-Modi Gujarat with her party winning only six seats.

Several developments have taken place in UP since the Lok Sabha elections, including a renewed threat by some middle-rung leaders against religious conversions and the so-called “love jihad”, supposedly a scheme to convert young Hindu women to Islam through Muslims professing love and marriage. The UP results should certainly serve a warning to the BJP leadership against indulging the likes of Yogi Adityanath who specialises in making hate speeches in communally sensitive areas.

The big message in this round of by-elections is that the BJP cannot take voters for granted. People were quick to gather behind Modi’s promise of growth and development. But if he cannot deliver in his promise or if his party returns to its policy of communal polarisation, they will as quickly move away.

The absence of the BSP in the by-elections should have given the BJP a chance to once again win over its lost vote-bank but that did not happen. On the contrary, the gain went to the SP. Evidently, Mayawati’s decision not to participate in the by-elections was wrong.

The silver-lining for the BJP comes from West Bengal where the party has stunned Mamata Banerjee by opening its account with Basirhat. Thus the BJP re-entered the State Assembly after 15 years, and for the first time on its own. Shamik Bhattacharya won Bahirhat South, a border constituency with 63 per cent Muslim population, by 1586 votes. The last time the BJP won a seat in the House was in 1999, when Badal Bhattacharya won a by-poll from Ashok Nagar as a BJP-Trinamul candidate.

The Trinamul won the other Assembly seat—Chowringhee. Here the BJP came second. Nayana Bandyopadhyay, the wife of Lok Sabha member Sudip Bandyopadhyay, won by 14,344 votes over the BJP’s Ritesh Tiwari. The Congress party’s Santosh Tiwari drew a chunk of Hindi-speaking votes and was a close third. Faiiyaz Ahmed Khan of the CPI-M lost his deposit.

The Sarada scam could have made a difference in Bengal. Besides, in Basirhat, there has been Hindu consolidation against rampant cattle smuggling to Bangladesh.

(Courtesy: IPA News Service)

The author is a veteran journalist who specialises in Congress politics.