By P.K. Balachandran/Daily Express
Even in the midst of a severe economic downturn, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has won the Bihar State Assembly elections and 41 of the 59 by-elections held on November 3.
While the BJP is celebrating, attributing the victory to Modi’s charisma (embodied in the popular slogan: Modi hai tho mumkin hai (If Modi is there it is possible), the Congress High Command will go into a huddle to debate the debacle.
The electoral sweep has been a shot in the arm for the BJP government in New Delhi at a time when it is facing a grim national economic scenario. The Indian economy had shrunk by 23.9% due to COVID-19 and the IMF had forecast that the GDP would shrink by 10.3% in the fiscal year ending March 2021. A bid to boost consumer spending to stimulate production with a package of INR 21 trillion (US$286 billion) had failed to make a quick difference.
Against this grim background, the by-poll triumphs have come as manna from heaven for the BJP. It had won the elections despite the parlous state of the economy and migrant workers’ exodus from their places of employment, triggered by a sudden country-wide shutdown to combat COVID.
While the BJP-led NDA organized its poll campaign well enough to deserve a good showing, a leaderless and divided opposition, which also had a badly crafted campaign, greatly facilitated the BJP-NDA win.
The opposition lacked a single leader in many places; could not pull together and its seat sharing formulation was faulty. The BJP-led alliance on the other hand had a single over-arching leader, Narendra Modi; efficient and politically savvy line managers, and sensible seat sharing arrangements.
The BJP also had forces in the opposition whose conduct helped it by tacking away votes which would have gone to the grand opposition alliance in normal circumstances.
These forces were Chirag Paswan’s party Lok Janshakti Party which had the votes of a section of Dalits and the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) led by Asaduddin Owaisi, which took away Muslim votes. There are 14 constituencies in which Muslims can play a decisive role.
Thus, the Grand Alliance’s grand plan to defeat the Hindu nationalistic BJP-led NDA with a combination of secular Hindus, Dalits and Muslims, failed.
Under performance by the Congress was another factor which adversely affected the Grand Alliance in Bihar. Congress fared very badly in most of the 70 constituencies allotted to it in that State. Clearly, leader of the Grand Alliance Tejashwi Yadav had erred by allocating so many seats to the Congress knowing well enough that the Congress was badly led, both at the local and the national level.
Low Victory Margins
Although the ruling BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) defeated the opposition Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance) led by the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), it was by no means a walk over for it. The election was a cliff hanger because in many constituencies victory margins were razor-thin. In one seat, the NDA constituent Janata Dal United (JDU) won by just 12 votes. And in 7 seats, victory was secured with just 50 votes. In 20 seats the margin was less than 2000 votes.
By Elections: Gujarat
In Gujarat, Modi’s home turf, the BJP retained power by winning all eight State Assembly seats up for grabs. The BJP increased its tally to 111 in the 182-member State Assembly, while the Congress’s tally came down to 65. In the 2017 Assembly elections, the BJP had got 99, which was 16 less than what it got in the 2012 election.
The Congress which was coming up in 2017, declined in 2020. The BJP has been able to arrest its decline and stop the Congress’ onward March towards the 2022 State Assembly elections.
In Madhya Pradesh, the BJP had come to power on the back of Congress stalwart Jyotiraditya Scindia’s dramatic cross-over last year. To keep power the BJP had to score high in the by-elections. Thanks to the clout of defector Scindia, the BJP won 19 out of the 28 Assembly constituencies where by-polls were held. The Congress clinched nine seats. The BJP now has a comfortable majority in the House.
In Uttar Pradesh, which is ruled by the BJP, the party won six of the seven seats that went to the polls. One seat was won by the opposition Samajwadi Party. A clean sweep was recorded in Karnataka, another BJP ruled State. Here the BJP won Sira in Tumkur district and Rajarajeshwarinagar, or RR Nagar, in Bengaluru. The winning margin in RR Nagar was over 57,000 votes. The BJP also won four out of five seats in the Manipur State Assembly elections. In Telangana, BJP’s Raghunandan Rao won in Dubbak.
The Congress recorded wins in Haryana and Chhattisgarh, winning one seat in each state. In Odisha, the ruling Biju Janata Dal won both seats on offer – Balasore, which had been held by the BJP, and Tirol, which the party was defending. In Nagaland, the ruling NDDP (Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party) won one seat, with the other going to an independent candidate. In Manipur the BJP won four of the five constituencies, with one going to an Independent candidate, Y Antas Khan.
BJP’s National Spread
The BJP’s national spread is remarkable for a party which was, for long, been dubbed a North Indian party based essentially in the Hindi-speaking, Hindu-majority areas. It strove to build India on the two pillars of Hindi language and Hindu religion. But it has spread its wings to Maharashtra in the West, Karnataka and Telengana (and possibly Andhra Pradesh also) in the South. It has spread to Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur in the East. It is now poised to upstage the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal.
The Congress, which was for decades since independence the quintessential all-India party centrist party, appears to be on the decline. It is now unable to meet the popular demand for a “strong” and aggressively nationalistic leader, never mind if the leader is communal and partisan. While Sonia Gandhi is no Indira Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi is neither a charismatic Nehru nor is he an on-the-go leader like Rajiv Gandhi. Rahul is still to plunge headlong into politics. He lacks the chutzpah essential to make headway as a political leader. Though his views on national issues are ideal for a diverse country like India, the present context is unsuitable for his line of thought.