Making sense of the mandate

Let’s hope that the election results in UP change the political narrative

Each election is unique in itself. The recently concluded spate of Assembly elections is no different. The results, particularly in UP, are astonishing not only because the unprecedented historical mandate it gave to the BJP, but also because it emphatically underlined the need to change the jaded narrative and strategy of the age-old caste and communal politics. It may not be the final victory against the divisive politics perpetrated in the name of secularism and social justice, but surely an expression of popular sentiment against those who hijacked and subverted these lofty ideals. However, if some leaders are still not ready to introspect and attribute their defeat to sabotage out of sheer desperation, they're doing it at their own peril. Social issues are not just confined to caste and religion. Parties and leaders who have failed to recognise it, stand devastated today.

There's no doubt that Narendra Modi's personal charisma, Amit Shah's skilful strategy, BJP's agenda of development, and its track record of sincere and corruption-free governance so far had a great appeal in this election. However, if a party receives a landslide mandate, there have to be reasons beyond the obvious. The reasons this time were both national and local, implicit and explicit. One can't deny that the incessant attack by the opposition parties and their regional allies to delegitimise a democratically elected government, which the same voters had elected with a thumping majority, just a few years ago were agonising and unacceptable to them. The voters in UP felt as if the opposition was derailing BJP's agenda of development which Modi had promised to them. Moreover, opposition's desperate attempts to create the incredible narrative of intolerance, orchestrating the drama of 'award wapsi', its demoralising stance on surgical strike, on the issues of India's unity and integrity and finally the synchronised hullabaloo on demonetisation had not gone well with the voters. The mandate has made it abundantly explicit.

Much to the consternation of BSP supremo Mayawati, the BJP reportedly secured significant victories in Muslim dominated areas. While she sees a dark conspiracy behind it, there may also be some hidden message in it, which she is not willing to accept, at least publicly. If her information is correct, it would mean that at least a section of Muslims has refused to be treated as captive vote bank and hostage of the so-called secular parties. It also means they have decided to rise above communal sentiments, fatwas, and rejected the politics of fear mongering among minorities that alienate them from the mainstream of development. BSP had fielded around hundred Muslim candidates, but its overall tally was reduced to two digits. It means Muslims couldn't retain their seats even in the areas they dominate.

On the other hand, by not fielding even a single Muslim candidate in UP, BJP has given a signal to the minorities as well as to the other political parties. At one level it means the party can come to power, with them, without them, and in spite of them. It applied the same strategy in Gujarat and succeeded in running the government all these years. While rest of the secular formations concentrated in wooing the 20 per cent minority vote, BJP completely ignored it and designed its own social engineering with the rest.

The net outcome is neither good for the Muslims nor the inclusive secular polity of India. In a democracy, issues of mutual concern and interest can be addressed by engagement, negotiation, and persuasion. Neither alienation nor rejection from either side can be fruitful in the long run. It is now amply clear that minority vote bank politics inevitably leads to counter polarisation of the rest because it threatens their interest too. On the other hand, it also reduces the political representation of the minorities. Once the heat and dust settle down, in the larger national interest, both BJP and Muslims should initiate a sincere dialogue and appreciate each other's points of view.

In the past few years, Modi's discourse of development politics has created a formidable new constituency. It attracts the youth cutting across their caste and communal affiliations. In the days to come it may overtake other vicious agenda. In this election, both Modi and Akhilesh were equally pitching for development. Modi's 'Sabka Sath Sabka Vikas' and Akhilesh's 'Kam Bolta Hai' were confronting each other. Though Akhilesh has lost the elections, he has retained the image of a pro-development young politician who the state and nation can look up to in the days to come provided he rises above his father's legacy of caste and communal politics. In fact, they defy the very fundamentals of social justice, which is justice and development for all. The results have also demystified the M-Y (Muslim-Yadav) invincibility. In fact, over the years it became synonymous to caste and communal nexus which alienated the rest. Interestingly, the nature of caste composition is such that no single caste enjoys an absolute numerical dominance. It applies to both inter-caste and intra-caste formations. So dominance of a caste and communal structure can work till new formations emerge.

It's time politicians surviving solely on caste and communal politics realise this. Mandal part one rose to dominance the socially and numerically powerful castes among the OBCs and SCs. Mandal part two is consolidating the deprived among them. The result amply indicates that. Nevertheless, if Indian democracy has to thrive people must reject the caste and communal agenda and unprincipled, opportunistic alliances. Capability, sincerity, dedication, and vision for inclusive development should be the qualities of the new leaders, not their caste or religious identity. Let's hope this result changes the political narrative.

(The writer is an academic and socio-political commentator. Views expressed are strictly personal.)
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