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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 13, New Delhi, March 19, 2016

State Elections and Challenge for Democracy

Sunday 20 March 2016


Until recently, the BJP was eyeing Assam as the only winnable State among the five States that are going to the polls this summer. But the situation has changed in the last few weeks. Its exercise at striking an alliance with the Asom Gana Parishad has resulted in a vertical split in the regional party. The break-away faction, which calls itself the AGP (Anchalik), has announced that the new party will contest 45 of the 126 Assembly seats.

The grass-root level workers of the AGP were against any tie up with the BJP. They had been putting pressure on the party leadership not to enter into an electoral alliance with the BJP. But the leaders thought otherwise. They wanted to become the junior partner in a BJP-led alliance. The result was the split. The new party may not be able to achieve significant victories but it will act as a spoilsport for the parent party in many constituencies to the obvious advantage of the Congress.

The BJP’s alliance with another regional party, the Bodoland People’s Front, which rules the Bodoland Territorial Council, has led to the Congress formally entering into an electoral alliance with the rival United People’s Party in the Bodo areas. As numerically the non-Bodos outnumber the Bodos in the Bodoland Territorial Council area, the UPP will give the BPF a run for its money.

The BJP’s aggressively polarising politics is now recoiling on itself. The All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) has a strong following among the Bengali-speaking Muslims of the Brahmaputra and Barak Valley areas. However, the minority community seems to be weighing its options between the AIUDF and Congress in the larger national political context. They know that it is only the Congress which can effectively challenge the BJP in 2019.

In neighbouring West Bengal the election scenario is completely different. Here the Congress is a marginal player that has entered into seat adjustments with the CPI-M. It is still doubtful how far the two parties will gain from this marriage of convenience. The recent sting operation showing some Trainamul Congress MPs accepting bundles of notes can have some impact in the urban areas but not much in rural Bengal. The people have already got inured to the venality of their elected representatives who, they know, take money. What the people note critically is whether their representatives are doing some work for them.

Secondly, most of the MPs shown in the sting operation count for very little in either the TMC or State politics, minus Mamata. The State CM has proved for long that she and she alone is the vote-catcher who enjoys the people’s affection and trust.

The CPI-M and Congress are being compelled to explain to the voters, why they are fighting together in Bengal and fighting each other in Kerala. Mamata Banerjee is making the best use of this contradiction.

Amid the din and bustle of the State elections the Opposition parties in general, and the Left in particular, seem to have become oblivious of the nature and dimension of the real threat growing bigger by the day before the Indian Republic.

Since independence, all political parties, from the Congress to the Communists to the Socialists to the Naxals that emerged in the 1970s to the Maoists who took to armed struggle in the 1990s—all were unanimous on the four major ideals enshrined in the Constitution, namely, national sovereignty, democracy, socialism and secularism. Even Indira Gandhi during the Emergency, did not challenge these ideals. In fact her Emergency had no ideological overtones, as it was motivated by only the desire to keep herself in power.

But the new dispensation, that began in 2014, is a qualitatively different one. It seeks to change the democratic and secular polity of India into an authoritarian Hindu Rashtra. The democratic space is getting abridged more quickly than feared. Whether in the future elections the Opposition parties will be permitted to participate freely and to what extent public franchise will be allowed to be exercised are the key questions. Indian democracy never faced such a challenge before.

March 17 B.D.G.