Modi is the force behind BJP's expansion
With the BJP spreading its tentacles all over India, the polarisation between the secular parties and the right-wing BJP is bound to rise. The seven decades of the 'left of the centre' Congress politics in India is changing with the rise of the right wing politics. This is evident from the emergence of the new Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath, but there are many such characters in the RSS and the BJP stables. The results of the recent five state Assembly polls indicate the rising power of the BJP in the other regions including the Northeast, UP, and Uttarakhand. The party is already looking to conquering other states, which are going to polls during next two years preceding Lok Sabha elections in 2019 including Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh.
So why are the liberals losing out? No doubt that the BJP is led by the charismatic leader Narendra Modi, who has been able to engage the attention of the voters, going by his success in the 2014 Lok Sabha and subsequent Assembly polls except in Bihar and Delhi. Though many of his pet schemes are 'work in process' his connect with the people continues. Modi, who came from the RSS stable, embodies the past, present, and future of Hindu nationalism. Although he came to power talking about development, his Hindutva agenda also is on the table.
Why is India turning to the right? There are various reasons for this. Primarily, it is the failure of the secular parties including the Congress and their disconnect with the changing profile of the voters. The BJP, which had just two Lok Sabha seats in 1984, has now replaced the Congress as a pan-national party. It ruled the country for six years from 1998 -2004. However, it was not able to come back for the next decade yielding place to the Congress-led UPA. The arithmetic of the UPA worked in its favour, but the people were disenchanted with the party. It was only in 2014, the BJP emerged from the Lok Sabha polls with its own majority led by Narendra Modi. The BJP rules on its own or as a coalition partner in 17 states. The Congress is ruling in just four states and the Left in two states.
The rise of the BJP means shrinking of the secular space in the country. The BJP expands only at the cost of Congress, left, and other secular parties. Does it mean that the voters are disenchanted with the secular parties and prefer the BJP and what it stands for? Or is it because the BJP has emerged as an alternative to the Congress and the Third Front?
The Congress also lacks leadership, strategy, and money power to counter the rise of the saffron party. The third front concept, which pops up now and then, also does not have a strong leader to counter the right wing parties. Unless there is a united opposition to counter the BJP, it will continue to expand.
The tendency to move towards the right is becoming a global phenomenon from what is evident in the US, UK, and Europe. India is only moving in step with them. Right-wing parties in France, the Netherlands and other parts of Europe have called for their own Brexit-style plebiscites on E.U. membership. Officials in Slovakia, Estonia, Bulgaria, and Poland have said they want to take only Christian asylum seekers or none at all. Donald Trump becoming the US President this year and the UK voting for the exit from the European Union can be seen as s clear evidence. The trend is only continuing, and it may do so in India also. The pendulum always swings from the left to right.
Besides, terrorism and the spread of Jihadism in South Asia has become another reason for the rise of the BJP, which vows to end it. Added to that is the increasing infiltration of Bangladeshi migrants who change the demography of bordering states like Assam and the northeast.
The BJP is engaging the youth who are active on social media. Modi has been targeting this 65 per cent of the population offering them jobs and development while the opposition is still clinging to the secularism versus Hindu fundamentalism narrative. This has to change if they want to displace the BJP.
It is clear that Narendra Modi and Amit Shah are making their best efforts to exploit the Hindu sentiments overtly or covertly. They are exploiting the majority apprehensions about the minority expansion successfully. The Modi era now sees a Hindutva surge. The BJP has consolidated the Hindu unity going by the success in recent UP polls. Modi has added the pro-poor narrative to his success. He has also borrowed ideas from Indira Gandhi like "roti, kapda, aur makan" and has promised all three in his new schemes, and his commitment resonates with the poor because of the BJP's strong communication strategy.
In short, so long as Modi continues the BJP's march towards expansion and a bigger geographic spread, Modi will continue to be a success. Indian voters want more development and are willing to keep taking a chance on someone who looks able to deliver.
While the liberals might say it is a dangerous trend for the country to move towards the right, the key is in their hands to change that. Just as Modi has used caste and religion for his success, the liberals too should find a winning formula, but for that, they need a strong leader to counter Modi. Until then, the country might swing towards the right.