Call it dress rehearsal/curtain raiser of 2024, the BJP has fared well in most states that went to prolonged polls over a month and retained 4 of the 5. NaMo’s bluff badly failed in Punjab where AAP has swept both Akali Dal and BJP under the carpet. BJP must be surprised by its success in Uttarakhand and heaving a sigh of relief in UP. In Goa and Manipur the politically astute Bihar formula has worked-BJP has shown appreciation of local ambitions and not crushed local aspirations. NaMo, the master of hysterics has roared ‘UP has spoken for 2024’ and Kejriwal is not far behind: he has invoked Bhagat Singh’s socialist revolution and boasted that now his party will usher in a new era (Which winning party doesn’t?) in politics.
There is a subtle change in NaMo’s language and strategy. Amit Shah has been pushed in the shadows.‘UP ka Yogi hai Bahut UPayogi’ is the New Mantra. The message is clear. If the BJP strictly adheres to its ‘no public office after 75’ rule/norm after’ 24 LS elections, Aditya Nath shall be the obvious choice by’ 29. (NaMo was born in 1951). In Samskrit the ideal ruler is called ‘UPabhog Shoonya Swaami’: Aditya Nath fulfills the condition at least outwardly.
Congress, the mother of all Indian political parties, the political elephant monitored by someone from the Nehru-Gandhi family or with its support, looks like the tragic heroes of classical Greek and Shakespearean tragedies: fated to die pitiably! So powerful is its hamartia (tragic flaw) that it is sure to destroy itself: no outside efforts needed. Whales, the elephants (in fact more elephantine) of the seas, get washed into shallow waters in old age and die without noise. The Congress is going the same way…
Most columnists (calumnists?), analysts, editorial specialists —in fact every Tom, Dick and Harry in political debate — are busy advising congressmen to cure themselves of the Nehru-Gandhi family fixation. The uncalled-for advice falls on deaf ears. Soniya-Rahul-Priyanka loll in their smugness. After the present debacle some state in-charges have been asked to resign. But who will replace them? Their predecessors had no other qualification than loyalty to the smug trio. The replacements too will be chosen on the same test and shall fail!
Like a habit there was some talk of an all non-BJP parties putting up a joint front to fight the BJP: now there is total silence! Congress would naturally have been-considering its national presence and the tremendous resources congressmen have accumulated-expected to act as a cementing force if such a front was to take shape. But Congress is too busy (not) setting its own house in order and just lacks the vitality for such a venture. There was a time when Nitish Kumar could have played that part; but he stands marginalized in Bihar. Akhilesh, despite doubling his tally in UP, is no more ‘that man’. Mayawati has been pushed underground. Small-timers like Telangana and Maharashtra CMs are stupidly enthusiastic and Sharad Pawar is too old while Mamata Didi is too young and too high-handed in addition. Such a non-BJP jugad can not materialize without regional parties and the BJP is already making eyes at them-no matter they fell for the wrong regional partner in Punjab. Regional parties have a better chance of getting/sharing power if they jump on the new NaMo-Yogi band wagon.
Moreover, to make matters worse, our voters expect to know in advance who would be the PM after the polls. The BJP is free of this burden. Keeping one’s eyes open, at the moment, there is no face in the country — BJP included — to compete with NaMo.
BJP is not the only party gripped by victory-hysteria: AAP is perhaps more gripped by it! Having decisive wins in Delhi and Punjab is an achievement without doubt but together, about 20-odd MPs come from these two states. Further, the reasons for the two wins are not the same. Firstly, Delhi is mostly urban surrounded by agricultural migrants who want to jump into the urban identity. AAP’s success in Punjab is chiefly because of blunders — both political and administrative — of the Congress and total absence of youth in Akali leadership. There is no harm in politics in benefitting from others’ mistakes — but AAP has to concede that it is more of a case of Congress ‘losing’ the elections than a ‘proud victory’ of AAP. AAP’s experience of ruling a state like Delhi where Babus are in overwhelming numbers can be of no use in Punjab dominated by volatile Sikh peasantry. Also, sooner or later, within the AAP, the Agarwal (Hindu)-Sikh interests are bound to clash!
Yet all is not lost, assure the pundits of the non-BJP supporters and engineers of the front. Akhilesh got 10 percent more votes (Mostly shifted from Congress) and some seats in UP were decided by very narrow margin. My friend Yogendra Yadav still believes that voters in UP wanted a change but that did not reflect in voting. It is argued that voters did not blame NaMo-Yogi-BJP for policy blunders in handling the pandemic and felt that slight improvement in law and order turned the women’s vote. Yadav and his likes still believe that the year-long Kisan Aandolan in a corner of the state was an election issue but feel it was ‘somehow’ lost sight of at the time of voting.
There is also the hackneyed reminder that National elections are markedly different than state elections and voters’ mood as well as priorities in 2024 will certainly not be the same. But we have seen, time and again, that LS elections are rarely decided on performance by the incumbent government as reflected in clean and efficient governance, growth oriented, entrepreneur friendly economic policy and eradication of economic disparity in the society. Our voters fall for stability (One party one leader), defence (Deshki taraf kisiko tedhi nazron se dekhne nahi denge) and sops for the poor (Deshke aakhari garibtak labh pahuchaye bina mein rukane wala nahi). Even in the just-concluded polls these points (?) did surface intermittently. So what kind of swing in priorities can we expect?
But I must welcome the candid mindset of some of these 2024 optimists because they agree that something is wrong with their anti-BJP strategy and they have to grasp why NaMo &Co clicks. The answers are simple — in typical Hindi graffiti…
1. Ram ko Mila AAsan: The BJP is working more for broad Hindu appeasement (Talaq, Kashmir) and if that polarizes the society it will be doubly advantageous
2. Garib ko Mila Rashan (Free ration): Rather than eradicate poverty through bold economic policy the BJP wants poverty to stay (Increase?) to maintain a pro-poor face. Just look at the numbers of families getting free ration, gas-connections and toilets. Nobody wants to ask the question why the numbers are so high after all major parties-Congress, BJP, Samajwadi and BSP have ruled the state at least once!
3. Mahilaon ko Mila Shasan: Women felt safer after improvement in law and order. Here the BJP is drawing a leaf from Indira Gandhi’s politics: she always had a unique connection with women voters. Agreeably Nirmala Sitaraman cannot establish that-nor any other lady in the BJP. So NaMo is shouting himself hoarse (literally-remember his tired speech at the Delhi BJP office after the results came in?) to connect with Maa-Bahen-Beti-Bhanji-Bhatiji et al.
4. Baki Sab ko Mila Modiji ka Bhashan: ad nauseum: Needs no elaboration!
Add to this local formula some patriotic high-flown talk (NaMo’s specialty), dubbing political opposition as anti-India (NaMo’s forte), slightly bold handling of border issues and defense readiness (Shahidon ke Khoon ki kasam) and the BJP magic potion for 2024 will be ready to serve. It may sound simplistic but when NaMo said what happened in UP shall happen countrywide in 2024 he was speaking with restored confidence that his potion is working. Notwithstanding all opposition unity, warnings of communal polarization, nightmares of loss of individual liberty, totally anti-farmer, pro-capitalist agriculture policies and tragic handling of the pandemic and the human and economic failures it laid at our doors, NaMo’s potion worked.
Whatever goes up has to come down is the law of nature and applies to human affairs too. But in human matters this does not happen by itself. The proposed non-BJP front will need to have alternative strategy to counter BJP’s four dimensional weapon:
Cultural: Appeasement of majority,
Economic: Hunger-relief instead of poverty eradication,
Gender related: Better law and order bringing security to women, and
Mass communication: Hollow but catchy language to drug the audience.
This is not to suggest that the front-to-be should ape the BJP: That remedy will be worse than the malady. It is a reminder that just election arithmetic will not suffice. There will have to be a new narrative touching the four dimensions above and many more (to be elaborated in next write-ups).
It seems the KNOWLEDGE has come to the non-BJP establishment. When will WISDOM dawn upon them is THE question.
- Vinay Hardikar
(The writer has been working in the public sphere of Maharashtra for the last five decades. His versatile personality has several dimensions, but the primary ones remain to be that of an established writer, journalist, editor, critic, activist, and teacher.)