Anand K. Sahay | Do poll results indicate a basic transformation of India’s polity?

Once the Congress goes down, effectively speaking, it is hard to think of any regional party being able to stand up enough to give a fight

The BJP’s spectacular results in these Assembly elections -- barring in Punjab, where it has never really had any serious influence -- will possibly go down as a special landmark for the party, and a reference point for India. More than any preceding Lok Sabha or state election, it wakes us to the fact that the present ruling party is set to dismiss all comers -- regional and national opponents -- with a wave of the hand in something like two-thirds of the country.

In a multi-hued, diverse country, this is the closest that a party like the BJP can come to the analogous “Congress system”, which dominated Indian politics across regions for a quarter century or more after Independence.

This means that the psychological appeasement of the country’s majority religious community - another name for majority communalism - now appears to have entered the election chessboard as a stable factor that is likely to dominate politics and society over the long term, edging the “secular” parties - the Left-liberal with a socialist tint, or plain caste-oriented ones - to the margins, even if they were to rid themselves of the dynastic tag.

It is a moot point whether the stability element and the strongly pro-BJP results owe in considerable measure, even if not fundamentally, to the personality of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is evidently more loved than disliked, though the latter quotient is far from insubstantial. At least that is what the recent election results seem to suggest.

Barring Punjab, in UP, Uttarakhand, Goa, and Manipur - where the elections were held - the BJP was the ruling party. Resentments against it ran high even in the reckoning of pro-BJP observers. This was especially the case in Uttar Pradesh, which truly offered what looked like a hateful and a hated regime. And yet, the results tell a story that seemed far from real. Or, is it that the tale of the election result is only too real.

It tells of the fact that voters in Mr Modi’s “New India” think more “80-20” that CM Yogi Adityanath spoke of in an election speech, without inhibition or a sense of public morality alluding to the Hindu-Muslim population ratio, than of the miseries of everyday life encapsulated in rampaging unemployment, runaway prices, deplorable public health services, thousands of (Hindu) corpses floating on the holy Ganga during the high point of the Covid-19 pandemic, and millions of angry farmers, and attacks on dalits and minority communities.

“Eighty-twenty” has trumped everything in its path. The BJP’s political, intellectual and ideological rivals and opponents totted up resentments among the public, which is what people do in a democratic system. But this appears to have left only a sideways impact on the poll results (other than in Punjab, where the communal factor was absent), not amounting to much.

Majority communalism may well have long-term drivers that are not discernible in the general analysis. It’s also likely to be organically linked to aspects of our societal structures, economy and culture -- not unlike the situation in Turkey, where the rise, first, of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP Party in a slow and stumbling way, and then in full-fledged and compelling fashion under his outright leadership.

In Turkey, the reigning motif was of armed forces-guided “secularism”. This penetrated society in the Muslim but European parts of the country and was reflected in politics, commerce and economics. But Anatolia, the Asiatic part where sits Ankara, the capital, simmered with discontents in a reaction to the secularists. The class structure of rural and semi-rural areas had no stable cultural or business structure links with the Europeanised north of the country.

The rise of the fundamentalist AKP at the grassroots is partly explained by this.

The difference between Turkey and India is also great, and that makes Mr Modi’s electoral successes all the more noteworthy. Turkey is hardly as diverse as India in its religious or class makeup and the takeover by an idea may not be as complex a venture there as in India. Even so, will the situation change in Turkey after its current leader? In the same way, will the scenario in India change once its current leader is no longer at the helm?

On this will depend how far-reaching or shallow is the penetration of the majority communal appeal at an extended societal level, which is the precursor to political and electoral preferences being decisively influenced. But Thursday’s election results portend far-reaching trends.

The foremost of these is the impact on the fortunes of the Congress. In that party are ideologically secular and modernist leaders who are also politically experienced and have played a long innings administering the country. But even if they come to the fore upon the jettisoning of the dynastic elements, or through voluntary self-abnegation by the Gandhis, it is hard to see how much of a challenge they can pose to the BJP -- both politically and ideologically.

Two, once the Congress goes down, effectively speaking, it is hard to think of any regional party being able to stand up enough to give a fight. The Samajwadi Party under Akhilesh Yadav put up a brave show in UP but it was far from adequate. In West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress was impressive. But would that be the case if it was an Opposition party? That’s a question that can’t be wished away. If the BJP meets real resistance above the Vindhyas, it’s likely to be in Bihar (where a regional party can show the way if it combines effectively with others), Punjab and Kashmir.

Next Story