Modi magic hasn’t quite waned
The results of the Assembly elections in Jharkhand and Jammu and Kashmir prove that the BJP continues to be on the rise and has eclipsed other national parties in the country. The two Assembly verdicts are in contrast as Jharkhand has chosen stability while Jammu and Kashmir has given a hung verdict. This in itself shows the complexity and diversity of India’s electoral politics..
The first signal is that the Modi effect is continuing since the BJP came to power with a landslide victory. Except a hiccup in the by elections, it went on to conquer Haryana and formed the government in Maharashtra. With its ambitious mission 44 in Jammu and Kashmir, the BJP has emerged as the king maker improving its position vastly and has added Jharkhand to its kitty with a majority.
The first signal is that the opposition space is shrinking fast and the national parties are losing their strength. They are on the decline faster than they expected. A weak opposition is not good for democracy. Unless they do something to correct themselves, they will lose further to the BJP.
Secondly the core theme of the opposition campaign was secular versus communal. However, the country’s polity seems to be changing and the people are not buying this theme and would rather go with Modi’s promises for speedy development for the time being.
Thirdly, it is bad news for the 130 -year old Congress party, as the BJP has overtaken the Congress. Not only has the BJP replaced it as the pre-eminent force in Indian politics, but also the Congress now runs the risk of being replaced by regional parties as the principal opposition. The message is loud and clear even as it continues to emerge as the clear loser in election after election.
The assembly election results establish a politically uncomfortable truth for the Congress party. The big picture should be worrying as it is slowly taking the third or fourth place in most states as it did in West Bengal, Bihar, U.P, Tamil Nadu and now Jammu and Kashmir and Jharkhand. For Congress, the comfort zones are a bipolar polity with BJP like Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka and Uttarakhand. All these go to show that the Congress has to do a lot of introspection and also make corrections. It is a sad commentary that even six months after the 2014 Lok Sabha poll losses, there is no sign of the Congress revival. The party is in limbo as the leadership is still trying to figure out what went wrong. The workers are demoralized and looking for greener pastures elsewhere.
Although the Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi has had widespread consultations, a concrete roadmap is yet to emerge. What the Congress needs is a gross root organization, assertive leadership and capable state leaders. All these cannot happen in a single day but there is urgency to revive the party fast if it means business.
The Congress has to change its tactics in dealing with the BJP. The old idea of secularism versus communalism is not clicking as is seen in the recent months. Even in the Lok Sabha polls, this slogan did not click as people bought Modi’s promise of development. So unless the Congress also comes with some out of the box thinking, there is no way it can click with the aspirational class.
The mistake of the Congress is not to cultivate the emerging middle class with fresh ideas for development... The biggest challenge now is to keep its flock together and prepare for the next round of elections in Bihar, West Bengal, U.P and Tamil Nadu. The Congress suffered in Jharkhand because it did not align with the JMM, which it now admits, was a mistake. The way forward is to identify powerful allies in different states and stitch pre poll alliance, as it still needs the arithmetic and not chemistry for its success.
Fourthly, the message for the regrouped Janata Parivar is also clear that they have to do much more to challenge the BJP. The past few weeks had seen the coming together of Mulayam Singh, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Nitish Kumar and Deve Gowda and other leaders. While the RJD and JD (U) in Bihar had shown a remarkable success in the bye-elections. The Jharkhand results show that much more needs to be done. But the Janata Parivar has taken it in stride and claims that it is work in progress. It did function successfully in Parliament in their floor management and successfully stalled the business, particularly in the upper house where the BJP is in a minority. Their coming together has already set the stage for the big fight of 2015 – the Bihar assembly elections.
Fifthly, the fight in the future elections will be between the BJP and the regional parties. Clearly the regional parties played a bigger role in these two states than in the Lok Sabha elections as the challenge for the BJP came from the regional parties. While it was able to win handsomely in Jammu, in the valley, the BJP got zero, yielding to NC and PDP. Of the eight states that will see Assembly polls till 2017, the BJP has already started working on the ground with its ambitious road map to challenge the regional parties. BJP chief Amit Shah is already eyeing the southern states apart from West Bengal and Assam.
For now, the BJP’s priority appears to be to push aside Congress as a fringe party. The party is now hoping to consolidate its gains of the past six months and also enlarge its national footprint. How far it can succeed depends entirely on how the opposition parties charts its course of action.