The post-election scenes of bloodletting do not make it easy for anyone to analyse Elections of 2021 in a calm objective manner. A Bharatiya analyst does not sit in an ivory tower with nonchalance of an intellectual. However, one has to do one’s duty.
Since 2014, every election in India from a panchayat election to a by-election is presented as a test of Shri Narendra Modi and BJP. No election is important for the Opposition even as it keeps ceding space to BJP and then blaming it for shrinking democracy and rise of fictional fascism. However, I have always considered elections very critical, that would decide the future alignments and directions our nation will take in coming years in run up to 2024 general elections. It was important both for BJP and the Opposition groups.
This view is interesting; because unlike other Assembly elections, this election included two States and a Union Territory in the south where BJP has been an insignificant player. Of the two on the eastern side, one was already with BJP. Thus, only Bengal was the State where BJP was actually challenging the incumbent party with an outside chance. Only place, where BJP had brought in a stunning change from near zero to majority was Tripura.
Bharatiya Janata Party has been stamped as a north Indian party despite a very strong presence in Karnataka for considerable time. It has found it tough to penetrate in other southern states. It lost momentum in Andhra region due to wavering stand on division of Andhra Pradesh and lost many good leaders to Opposition. It is no gainsaying that it was a result of alliance with an unreliable partner like TDP. There exists a network of old work on the ground which is to be properly tapped yet.
In Tamil Nadu, the two Dravidinist parties have squeezed out national parties. Most minor parties created narrow casteist niches. Congress has become formless, odourless and toothless party dependant on DK allied parties for survival. BJP is the only party that has kept its distinct character and fought on to create a space for itself.It has been a frustrating journey so far. One of the reasons for this being its inability to blend itself into the Tamil ethos and fight North-South, Aryan-Dravid fake narrative using their tools and break the image of being a north Indian party stamped onto it by Tamil media. Puducherry is an extension of Tamil Nadu and BJP had decided to break into Puducherry politics to find a foothold in Tamil politics.
Kerala is also polarised politically in two groups: One led by Communists and other by Congress. There are multiple parties controlling fractional votes based on religion and caste identities. Not a good picture for a highly literate society. Thus, despite wonderful village level network of BJP built on the back of grassroots work of RSS, BJP has not been able to break into this polarised political environment. Of late, it has attempted certain social engineering but it hasn’t worked on ground yet. This time BJP was determined to put its foot in the door with new ideas. Thus, in southern part of Bharat, BJP had nothing to lose, but every gain would help it project itself as an all-India party, not limited to north India, as I noted, despite powerful presence in Karnataka.
In the eastern part it was very important for BJP and India to have a strongly nationalist government to fulfil its agenda of preserving Assamese culture and stop further infiltration. Reaffirmation of its political credentials and foothold in the Northeast was also important for the peace and happiness currently reigning in this region. It also was important to get a stamp of approval for its development based governance.
Battle ground Bengal had many dimensions. First and of utmost importance was to see return of peace that has eluded Bengali people since 1960-70s. Beginning from Naxalbari and related challenge to State with violent uprisings, followed by Congress violence wrought upon the Left led by S S Ray, then 30-plus years of violence and oppression by Communist parties, finally replaced by violent regime of Trinamool Congress (TMC); it has been a 50-year reign of violence that saw the poor oppressed classes of Bengali peasantry suffering the most. Last 20 years saw desertion of industry and commerce from once premier commercial hub of India, not just eastern part of India leading to further impoverishment.
Second issue was the changing demographics aided by illegal immigration that every ruling party till now has been using to strengthen its political vote bank. It would not have been a critical problem if it did not mean blatant appeasement of so-called minorities at the cost of majority community, of which majority are economically very weak, facing worst deprivation. This also resulted in oppression of so-called majority in its cultural affairs too. This was the scenario when BJP decided to enter Bengal in a determined way when the opposition of Congress and CPM had become irrelevant as all these parties were on the same side nationally. Their opposition had no teeth.
For BJP, the first goal was to give voice to the concerns of the people and show itself to be an alternative to tiring violent politics of Bengal. Second was to gain power defeating TMC. I have been asserting that the first step of being seen as the only alternative to TMC and plant its feet firmly would be the real victory for BJP and forming the government would be a bonus. Thus, eastern region was where BJP had much at stake.
For TMC, it was very important to retain Bengal as it would help it project Mamata Banerjee as the alternative to Shri Modi and TMC as the nucleus of Opposition front in face of the vacuum created by virtual abdication of Congress and Rahul Gandhi as the principal opposition pole, further compounded by repeated Congress failures. For Communist parties, Kerala is the last bastion of the Left. Losing it would be disastrous with no prospects left in Bengal, whether BJP won or TMC. It had to remain relevant in over-ground politics though it has strong presence underground and critical mind space too.
For Congress, it was every important to get back Kerala which has a tradition of returning two alliances alternatively. It would shore up its fortunes, reaffirm Rahul Gandhi’s relevance as he had shifted his base to Kerala and it was the only state where he campaigned very aggressively. In Assam, its alliance with the most communal of all the outfits, AIDUF, would show whether voters approved of this alliance. A win there, despite this unholy alliance, would give a desperate Congress something to hang on.
Mamata needs to present a clean image of an inclusive and democratic leader if she wishes to lead the Opposition or she will sink the Opposition with her. Her fascist approach of destroying Opposition violently doesn’t bode well for democracy and her national ambition
How did the dice roll out?
Beginning from South, BJP was successful in creating a beachhead with Puducherry. Its efforts at ‘localisation’ with ‘Vetrivel Yatra’ helped it find place in the heart of Tamil population. With four seats in Vidhan Sabha and helping AIADMK bounce back strongly despite critics uniformly writing it off has given it a big push, unlike anything it had achieved so far. Thus, BJP has, now,created a beachhead. It will be upto it to challenge the hateful divisive fake narrative of Dravid Kazhagam with the help of Tamil cultural icons, history and ethos. Vetrivel Yatra was the right step. For the first time Hindus have asserted themselves so strongly that DMK had to take a step back from its hate propaganda. Smaller caste parties have lost badly. Falling by the wayside of Kamala Hassan has shown that Tamil voters have got over their obsession with silver screen idols. I foresee a major change in Tamil politics in coming five-seven years. Kerala is a huge loss for Congress as it has lost the election contrary to political history of Kerala. Rahul Gandhi has lost another chance to prove that he can keep Congress ahead. His antics cannot be strategy nor do they prove his political acumen. Kerala has not evolved the way BJP would have hoped to see this time despite a lot of social engineering and putting up some of the most respected and best faces in Kerala politics. The fear of Hindu voters of return of Congress and minority dominated UDF may have pushed them back into the folds of Left front. But, it is clear that BJP will need more thinking and create local leaders consciously to create a third front that will ultimately break the monopoly of Left and minority politics. Failure of Congress gives BJP a golden opportunity to tighten its sails and go past the sinking ship of Congress.
Assam has firmly planted BJP in the Northeast and given peace a chance in the entire region. It has to do a lot of work in Assam to stave off illegal migrants based challenge of communal forces inimical to India’s integrity. Congress would surely need to become the alternative san AIDUF. It has enough votes to be taken seriously. But, it has to cut loose from unthinking, non-serious central leaders, take its own decisions and be a counter force to BJP.TMC has been able to achieve its objectives in Bengal. But, it must eschew violence if it wants to be taken seriously outside Bengal. Its name has “All India” in it but its approach is highly parochial, now defined by ‘outsider-insider’ divisive politics. Mamata needs to present a clean image of an inclusive and democratic leader if she wishes to lead the Opposition or she will sink the Opposition with her. Her fascist approach of destroying Opposition violently doesn’t bode well for democracy and her national ambition.
AIADMK put up a good fight despite 10 years of anti-incumbency
For BJP, Bengal is an unquestionable victory. To retain its base, it has to show total commitment to the security and welfare of its cadre and supporters. Had it underplayed its cards, it would have been able to avoid counter consolidation of opposition votes with nearly 90-95 per cent Muslims and 90 per cent of Communist and Congress votes in favour of TMC. Jai Shri Ram was a brilliant idea to challenge minority politics, but not combining it with Durga and Kali was short sighted. I had tweeted earlier - why only ‘Jai Shri Ram’, why not ‘Jai Shri Ram, Jai Maa Kali’. It showed lack of understanding of Bengali ethos. A wonderful work at ground level in last seven-eight years did not give results for the lack of sophisticated strategy. But, there is no doubt that it has achieved its first objective. BJP not being a family based party, it has enough time to fine tune its strategies and wrest Bengal from Mamata in the next election.
To conclude, I would caution the people that ability to retain power in Bengal and Kerala will be used to create chaos in India with an emboldened opposition. Covid crisis is one front which needs to be tackled with full focus to help people gain confidence. It has been used to create fear and confusion in the minds of the people. A global crisis is being projected as an Indian crisis.
Farmer agitation standing suspended in the backdrop needed this spark to rekindle the fires. Opposition has tasted blood. It has found the Achilles heel of BJP in Shaheen Bagh. It will be used to weaken the society in the name of weakening Modi. The call has gone out from a one-book wonder author this week.
(The Writer is an author and columinist)