Outcome of the elections in five states will be a make or break for BJP, Ahmad Riyaz writes
Elections to five states in India, three of them being held this month, will set the ball rolling for the momentous general elections next year. The result of the polls will be politically very significant for the ruling party. Should the BJP win a majority of them, it will add to the chances of the party to triumph in the general elections. Similarly, losing the states or just three of them will correspondingly diminish the party’s prospects of retaining power at the centre.
The state elections are similarly crucial for the Congress and for that matter the wider opposition. They will be a test, not only for their efforts to unite but also for their winnability. Already considering that the Congress has found it difficult to stitch an alliance with several opposition parties, including Mayawati’s BSP, the going for the opposition looks tough.
One thing, however, that goes to the advantage of the opposition is that unlike during 2014 to 2016, there’s no all-encompassing political wave in favour of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. True, Rahul Gandhi looks a better bet than he did previously but he has still to go a long way to match Modi’s profile. The truth is it will not be sufficient to dislodge Modi from his high position. That seems still very unlikely. He still retains overarching political clout and pan-India presence.
On the contrary, India’s larger secular opposition is still in tatters and fighting over scraps. Gandhi may be a better challenger now, but there is still no major pan-India leader in sight to take on Modi.
The opposition will have to make a more substantive move to unite to offer a more credible challenge to Modi. It would be an uphill task for the opposition but then getting together will not alone be sufficient. The BJP in its current avatar will not only need the opposition unity but also an alternative ideological narrative.
The saffron party offers a deft blend of ideology and development rhetoric. It has Modi as an overarching leader. If the opposition fails to get its act together, BJP could even get a stronger majority than it did in 2014.
The party has already meticulously set about the task. It is trying every trick in its playbook to get back into the political reckoning. Having miserably failed on the economic front, with economy currently in dire straits, the party has fallen back on its Hindutva agenda to mobilize its support base. This includes reducing the political discourse to gutter level. It also includes polarization on a mass scale: deploying wedge issues and appealing to basest instincts of the people to try to hone a friendly constituency into shape. One such trick is changing the Muslims names of various places in the country. So Ahmadabad becomes Prayagraj and Faizabad becomes Ayodhya. Other BJP ruled states like Gujarat and Maharashtra are also mulling name changes of their own.
Similarly, noise is only getting shriller about the construction of Ram Mandir at Ayodhya. So much so, some top-ranking BJP leaders are not ready to wait even for the Supreme Court verdict. Also, they are not ready to accept any other ruling except a permission to construct the Mandir. What is more, they don’t want a Masjid anywhere near the Mandir. Doing so, according to Uma Bharti will “make Hindus intolerant”. No less a person than the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has petulantly sought the enactment of a law to get around the case about the Mandir in the Supreme Court. He has also threatened an agitation like 1992. This attempt to browbeat the Supreme Court into submission has serious consequences for democracy. It betrays a fascist streak and undermines the rule of law.
Kashmir also could very well become the epicenter of the BJP’s bid for power. Kashmir holds a central place in the BIP’s ideological conception of India. It seeks the complete integration and assimilation of Kashmir into the country, a project it has sought to aggressively accomplish. Over the past some years, this view of the place of Kashmir in Indian union has acquired an unprecedented popular approval across India – much of it manufactured through adversarial television discussions.
So, the elections in five states offer an opportunity for the opposition to unite and fight BJP together. Only this strategy can be realistically hoped to bring about a political change at the Centre. And with the election campaign already underway in five states, time is fast running out. Meanwhile, we can’t but keep our fingers crossed.