Millennium Post

Low tide for saffron wave

From Uttarakhand in July to Bihar in August and now in the assembly by-elections across several states, the results show that the high tide of the much-vaunted Modi wave has passed.

The BJP may well take recourse to the usual explanation that by-elections are influenced by local factors and cannot be taken as a reflection of the national mood. Although there is some truth in this assertion, it does not tell the whole story, especially when the negative verdicts against the BJP are virtually spread across the length and breadth of the country.

The most worrisome of these results for the BJP are obviously in U.P. and Rajasthan. Considering that the seemingly dysfunctional government of Akhilesh Yadav can enable the ruling Samajwadi Party to beat back the Modi wave notwithstanding all the talk by the prime minister about bullet trains and a clean Ganga suggests that talk alone will not do the trick for the BJP.

For Modi to hold his own, therefore, the need is for him not only to begin delivering results on the ground, but to start the process of the promised economic development by reigning in the saffron storm-troopers in the Hindutva camp. There is little doubt that the people who have let him down are the Yogi Adityanaths and Sakshi Maharajas in his own camp with their vituperations about love jihad and madrasas as the breeding grounds of terror.

Such provocations alienated not only the minorities, but all sensible people who do not want to see India become the battleground of the kind of religious wars of the medieval ages which the BJP and its mentor, the RSS, seem to prefer. What appears to have upset the BJP’s ‘sickular’ opponents, to use a term used in place of ‘secular’ by the party’s friends in the cyber world, is Modi’s mystifying silence on what the agents provocateurs are saying despite his call for a 10-year moratorium on sectarian animosity.

Since the possible reasons are either that he does not want to antagonize the party’s core base of support, or that he secretly agrees with their diatribes, there is bound to be a decline in his present fairly wide acceptability. As of now, it is only a trend which can be reversed if Modi comes down hard on the likes of Yogi Adityanath and Sakshi Maharaj. After all, there is still some expectation of economic progress among the middle class voters from Modi.    

But, the latter has to remember that Atal Behari Vajpayee had ascribed the BJP’s defeat in 2004 to the Gujarat riots two years earlier although prior to the riots, the 24-member NDA government of the time was expected to win. The lesson is that communalism can scupper the BJP’s chances even if the hotheads in the party and the Sangh parivar regard the stoking of animus against Muslims as the best means of consolidating their position and paving the way for a Hindu rashtra.

Outside of U.P., Rajasthan will be a cause of worry for the BJP because of the signs of the Congress’s recovery. There are bound to be creases of concern, therefore, on the chief minister, ‘Maharani’ Vasundhara Raje’s forehead. If the Congress hasn’t been able to gain as much elsewhere as it may have wished from the diminution of the BJP’s influence, the reason is that it still remains a divided house, as the Assam results show. Besides, it remains very much a marginal player in the Hindi belt where the Samajwadi Party in U.P. and the Lalu Prasad-Nitish Kumar combination in Bihar are gaining ground.

For the BJP, the victory in Basirhat (south) in West Bengal is a consolation prize. But, it knows that it has benefitted not so much from the Modi wave as from the disillusionment with the Mamata Banerjee government because of the chit fund scam and indifferent governance. Continuing disenchantment with the CPI(M) and the Congress has also helped the BJP to win. It is too early to say what effect the BJP’s setbacks will have on the forthcoming assembly elections in Maharashtra and Haryana. But, it may not amount to overstating the case to say that party will be extremely fortunate to fare as satisfactorily as it may believe at present.

The Shiv Sena-BJP combine will probably still be able to form the government. But, it will be only because the Prithviraj Chavan government is likely to experience an anti-incumbency backlash and not because the saffron duo will be seen as the answer to Maharashtra’s problems. In Haryana, too, it is the anti-incumbency factor which will hit the Bhupinder Singh Hooda government.

Following the latest results, the BJP is likely to be even more unwilling to opt for an election for the Delhi assembly. It has been shying away from the contest because of the apprehension that the Aam Admi Party will cut into its support base though not as heavily as before.  But, now, that fear will be strengthened.

For Modi and his Man Friday, Amit Shah, the results have shown how different India is from Gujarat, where the BJP had won three assembly elections in a row and is still very much the first party in the current by-elections. IPA

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