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Upstart surprises Hindu nationalists in state polls

BJP makes headway but new party steals its thunder

  • John Dayal, New Delhi
  • India
  • December 9, 2013
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There was not much talk of Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate of the right wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Sunday, when election results in four states were announced. The focus was on Arvind Kejriwal, who started a new political party last year.

That should worry the BJP somewhat, even if Modi is basking in his party’s victories in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.

Of course for Congress, which heads the federal coalition, there is little it can do other than lick its wounds, find the reasons behind its big loss and wonder why populist schemes launched in recent times that have brought some significant cash transfers to the poor in villages failed to garner people’s support.

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi will also have to decide whether he does or does not want to become prime minister.

If he does not, he should tell the people categorically. If he does, he has to find a magic formula that will work in cities and villages, with the rich and the poor. Above all, he needs to end infighting within his party, and give some space for regional leaders to grow. Perhaps there is need for reform in the party’s high command itself.

Arvind Kejriwal and the Aam Admi Party (AAP) he founded a year ago out of the mass rallies in New Delhi against corruption have to be congratulated on their momentous victory, but they will also have to do some hard thinking as they sit in opposition in the Delhi legislative assembly.

Kejriwal has said he does not intend to form a minority government and will also not support the BJP or Congress bids for power in the state. He needs to evolve a real political party out of the young and enthusiastic, even honest rabble that surrounded him over the last year and eventually propelled him and his colleagues into the Delhi State Assembly.

Delhi though remains an exception, if not an aberration even if Kejriwal personally trounced incumbent chief minister Sheila Dikshit.

Supreme Court lawyer and AAP leader Prashant Bhushan’s assertion that the people have rejected both the BJP and the Congress will not carry in general elections.

At present the party has nothing more than a slogan against corruption and vile invective against political opponents. Evolving an ideology to suit the mood of the country and the needs of its people is not an easy task. Developing social policy is difficult.

An economic policy that generates growth without involving price rises, which makes food cheaper but also makes agriculture profitable for farmers is an exercise in making compromises between contradictory factors. And we are not even talking about programs for creating jobs, improving health systems and envisioning a safety net for everyone.

And then there are policies needed to meet the aspirations of the outcast Dalits and the tribal people who are struggling for their very existence.

Kejriwal and his advisers will have to address these factors in the next six months if they do not want to find themselves merely a flash in the Delhi pan. Regional and caste-based parties perhaps have it easier because they speak for the aspirations of the people who they target.

This brings us back to the BJP and Narendra Modi the current chief minister of Gujarat.

Modi has to be seen not as a whirlwind force holding meetings in all four states that voted. Each state has to be seen separately. Modi, then, is just one factor in the BJP victory, but not the main one.

Modi saturated Delhi with his meetings. He promised everything to the city’s voters. And yet the party did not achieve what should have been a simple majority. The Congress was not the main opponent. In fact it was a foregone conclusion that Congress would be trounced.

Most thought the BJP would deliver Congress the coup de grace. But it was the AAP that stymied the BJP. In fact, the BJP vote share shrank somewhat.

It must be galling to know that a party seeing itself as the next federal government was denied a majority by an untried and novice party led by the social media and propelled by common youths with no ideology, poor discipline and nothing more than a battle cry for change.

In Rajasthan, supporters of the BJP’s Vasundhara Scindia would correctly say she was hounded by rebels and had the central leadership sniping at her heels.

It was her own sweat and hard work over the last three years that reached out to voters, apart from the charisma of her royal past. Her struggle against the incumbent Congress chief minister was minor compared to her struggle against the BJP leadership. Surely, Modi cannot eat into her success.

Modi mattered even less in Madhya Pradesh. Apart from his meetings, he was not a presence on the hustings. Every hoarding, every poster had Shivraj Chauhan’s portrait. Every newspaper advertisement spoke of the work done by the two-term chief minister.

Chauhan may not have wanted him to make even mandatory token speeches. That should be galling to Modi. It is not pleasant to know that there is a grassroots worker and charismatic chief minister who can carry an entire election on his own shoulders without the need for the self-styled national leader and iron man.

It is in Chhattisgarh that Modi once again finds that his presence was unable to give the party the landslide victory it was seeking. It may have won eventually, but voting trends indicate that the Congress could still put up a fight in a national election.

Modi would have been seen to have mattered more if the BJP had swept Delhi and Chhattisgarh with a two thirds majority. Local satraps do matter, and more so in present times.

So even as the BJP rejoices that it could form the government in all four states, it will do well to look at the small print. Insurance companies hide third real intent in the small print. So do electorates.

John Dayal is the general secretary of the All India Christian Council and a member of the Indian government’s National Integration Council.

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