Chanakya’s View: The divide that gave BJP power to rule

Without doubt, an important factor was the lack of unity in the forces opposed to the BJP

The Great Indian Elections, the world’s largest organised human exercise, is over. Expectedly, there are winners and losers. This time there is no grey area. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s win is emphatic and clear. For the first time the party has emerged with a clear majority on its own. This does mark a historic departure from the coalition governments in India since 1985 when Rajiv Gandhi won the largest mandate ever with over 400 seats. The BJP and its leader, Narendra Modi, deserve kudos for this unprecedented performance.

As political parties absorb the election results, it is time for deep introspection. What could the reasons be for this remarkable showing by the BJP? Undoubtedly, the failures of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance-2 government were the single biggest cause for the momentum of the BJP. There was widespread disenchantment against the lacklustre and sub-optimal governance of the outgoing regime, especially with regard to its perceived impotence on the matter of inflation and its complicity in several mega cases of corruption. In spite of this, Rahul Gandhi appears to have been inexplicably complacent; there was a leadership vacuum, poor projection of achievements, and inadequate assessment of the magnitude of the anger of the people. The young leader was fitfully present; nobody in his party knew who was in charge of the overall campaign; his mother, the chairperson of the UPA, rarely spoke; and the silence of the Prime Minister, part of an institutional marginalisation of the highest executive office of the land, became the butt of nationwide derision.

The BJP harnessed the anti-incumbency against the Congress with unflagging energy and planning. They began well in time and Mr Modi, the man they anointed as their prime ministerial candidate, had a will to power. Never before has an election campaign been conducted with such systematic rigour involving every tool — print media, TV, social media, election rallies, organisational back-up — and single-minded concentration to reach the targeted goal.

Mr Modi addressed close to 450 rallies, participated as a key speaker in countless other forums, garnered unprecedented media coverage, and hammered in the message that he alone can provide the change the country desperately needs after the mismanagement of the Congress. He displayed indefatigable energy, fine tuning his strategy along the way, and reduced the space for any unproductive questioning — from his point of view — by the media. All in all, it was a bravura performance, unmat-ched in Independent India’s democratic history. It was also backed by the display of brute money power never seen before in India.

But this election victory also has a visible co-relation with an unprecedented level of religious polarisation. The BJP strategy was to consolidate Hindu votes, and they achieved this goal beyond their own expectations. Hitherto sacrosanct caste silos were breached, and this was helped by the short-sighted polarising antics of those on the opposite side trying to consolidate Muslim votes. The riots in Muzaffarnagar began the process. Mulayam Singh Yadav blundered in trying to combat one form of communal divisiveness by perpetrating another. The result was a cascading Hindu vs Muslim polarisation which, given the unquestioned numerical preponderance of the Hindu vote, and in the context of an anti-establishment mood, worked largely in favour of the BJP.

The cadres of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh played a key role in this process. Only states where the BJP presence was limited, such as West Bengal, Orissa and Tamil Nadu, were able to escape this religious divide. Not surprisingly, no Muslim figures on the list of the BJP’s 283 newly elected MPs. This has happened for the first time in India for any party that has won an absolute majority on its own. Another factor that played a significant role in some states, such as Bihar, was the difference in voting patterns by the electorate in parliamentary versus state elections.

Most people in Bihar recognise the work done for the state by Nitish Kumar, and endorse his popularity and relevance at the state level, even when they voted for the BJP as the major stakeholder in parliamentary elections. The victory of the BJP in the state was thus not so much a vote of absolute no-confidence in the Janata Dal (United)-led government of Mr Kumar as it was a vote for elections for the Centre. The non-BJP Opposition needs to reflect on the extent of its defeat. Without doubt, an important factor was the lack of unity in the forces opposed to the BJP. This disunity fatally divided the Opposition vote, allowing the BJP candidate to slip through.

Secondly, all non-BJP parties need to realise that the projection of secularism as a substitute for good governance will just not click with voters. Voters in India are not opposed to the idea of respect for all faiths and the need to preserve and nurture the plurality of India. However, they want an assurance that this will be accompanied by a well-thought-out and demonstrably implemented agenda for good governance.

At 31 per cent, the BJP has won an absolute majority with one of the lowest support base. This means that over 60 per cent of the electorate did not vote for the BJP. There is, therefore, space for an opposition which, however stunned and scattered it may appear at this moment, will always have a place in a mature democracy. This opposition needs to work out new and innovative networking ideas, but again, not only by parroting secularism but also showing a transparent ability to deliver good governance. Meanwhile, the BJP has raised the expectations of the people as never before. The easiest part of their campaign was to subdue an enfeebled UPA government at the Centre. The tough part will begin now when they will be tested on their ability to deliver.

Author-diplomat Pavan K. Varma’s latest book is Chanakya’s New Manifesto: To Resolve the Crisis Within India

( Source : dc )
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