KAMAL MITRA CHENOY | 12 MARCH, 2017
Polls 2017: Polarisation & Promises Subdued Demonetization
NEW DELHI: The massive victory of the BJP+ in UP, Uttarakhand, and a vastly improved performance in Manipur, along with a decline but not rout in Goa, overshadowed in just the landslide in Punjab in favour of the Congress, has come as a shock to many.
The facts speak for themselves. Out of 403 seats in UP, the BJP garnered a staggering 312 seats, an increase of 265 seats, while the SP got only 47 (-177), BSP 19(61) and Congress 7(-21).
This could not happened without the Sangh parivars sustained campaign on the ground from 2014. First, social engineering. The BJP consolidated the the non-Yadav OBC vote and made inroads into the Dalit vote, while further consolidating the upper caste, especially the Brahmin vote. It turned the potential threat of demonetisation, as an attack on the affluent and their big money hoards. Note ban was portrayed as a temporary problem leading to more cash support later. The polarisation strategy that the RSS has honed over decades, was staggeringly successful, raising questions about the Election Commission's capacity to curb communal and divisive propaganda to ensure a democratic election.
The Congress was gravely mistaken yet again. Its grandiose demand for 105 seats at the cost of the RLD and other minor parties and communities boomeranged, ending with a paltry 7 seats. Obviously, the Congress had no idea of the realities on the ground, and the SP and others paid for it.
Apart from the infructuous alliance, this election shows that caste arithmetic is quite insufficient. Class, gender, regional and economic issues are increasingly important. The secular forces failed to give enough attention to these pressing issues. They had to pay for it, with Mayawati's BSP crumbling to 19 (-61). Roadshows are not more than a show unless backing by consistent work on the ground. Here the sangh parivar was far ahead.
In Uttarakhand, the flow of Congress rebels led to a rout with BJP getting 57 (+26) seats and Congress only 11 (-21) seats. The former CM Harish Rawat lost both his seats. But the writing was on the wall.
Punjab was the Congress's main success. Under its veteran and highly respected former CM Amarinder Singh it swept to 77 (+31) seats out of 117 seats, with AAP far behind with 20 (20+) seats and the Akali Dal-BJP alliance crumbling to the anti-incumbency wave getting just 18 seats (-50). AAP's inaugural performance was disappointing 20 (+20) seats, but expected.
With some 30 experienced cadres including 2 MPs breaking from AAP on organisational and personal issues well prior to the elections, AAP was on the back foot, but did not realise the deep waters it was in. The strange decision not to field a CM candidate against a highly respected Captain Amarinder Singh, also boomeranged.
In the two small states Goa and Manipur, the Congress its tally to 17 (+8) with the BJP dropping sharply to 13(-8) seats out of a total of 40 seats, including 10 others who are independents/regional parties. In Manipur despite the anti-incumbency wave the Congress got 28 seats (-14) while the BJP opened its account with 21 seats out of the total of 60 seats including independents and others accounting for 11 seats. Given the notorious proclivity of Manipuri politicians to be in parties in the Union government, the BJP by hook or crook, may well form the government.
What does all this mean? The RSS/BJP cyclone was based on a far superior strategy than the rival parties. It's Hindu nationalist colours were considerably enhanced by pro-poor campaign promises and its creative spin on demonetisation as anti-rich with substantial benefits to come.
More seriously, the BJP and allies will be able to get measures including Constitutional measures through with its tally in the Rajya Sabha increasing sufficiently. It will strive to weaken and decimate the secular opposition and forces. It will be all but impossible to stop in 2019. Omar Abdullah was right in saying that there would be a huge challenge for the secular forces in 2024.
It is increasingly evident that big capital which also controls the media, is backing PM Modi. This is not for altruistic motives but to push its programme, including privatisation. As the pro-poor rhetoric begins to be unequally backed by pro-poor policies, the ambitions of big capital including foreign capital will be realised.
The capitalists will support pro-capitalist parties and forces and try to absorb smaller capital, while also supporting programmes and Constitutional amendments including emasculation of labour laws and the like. In this quest, the neoliberal parties like the Congress will largely agree with the NDA, with most criticisms being verbal and outvoted.
If the secular forces don't learn their lessons they will be in poor shape to meeting the challenge of an increasingly militant Hindu nationalist. The Left, a marginal figure in these elections, needs to do massive renovation in theory and practice if it is to play its role in facing this increasing threat.
The future of the integrity, secular democratic structure and the amity among our varied peoples is at stake. When RSS/BJP leaders including the PM and Amit Shah can use acronyms like "Kasab" as the Election Commission looks on, shows how far the decline in democratic institutions has gone. As the proverb goes, "Those who do not learn from history, are doomed to repeat it."