Assembly Elections: Key lessons to be learnt
These assembly election results have shown that introspection will no longer suffice for some parties, they need to make wholesale changes
Sanjay Kapoor Delhi
The announcement of the election results for the five assemblies on Thursday was followed by a press conference with BJP President Amit Shah and a brief visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The duo had reason to be elated. After two consecutive electoral setbacks, the BJP stunned its detractors and won the northeastern state of Assam. It also managed to win a seat in the ideologically contested state of Kerala. In other states, the BJP’s report card was a bit indifferent, but did it really matter? Even Amit Shah made light of the relatively poor performance in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal to sneak in a parting comment to the excitable media that the country had begun to believe in the BJP’s ideology.
This was directed at those who claimed that the BJP had come to power at the Centre riding on a 31 percent vote share whereas 69 percent of the population had other political and ideological preferences. His cheeky statement was promptly subjected to serious contestation. He was seriously trolled on Twitter for exaggerating the BJP victory when it is the Congress that has won more seats in the assemblies. To hammer home this point, the BJP won only 65 assembly seats whereas the Congress notched up a tally of 139 seats out of the 822 seats that were up for grabs. These statistics only convey half the truth. The BJP won a stunning victory in the border state of Assam even if it did not win much in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry. The victory in Assam was perhaps the sweetest as the BJP managed to defeat the incumbent Congress government, which has been in power in this politically incendiary state for the last 15 years. Assam as a state has meant a lot to the BJP. This state has provided ideological justification for many of their arguments against the influx of Muslim migrants from Bangladesh. Assam’s complicated demographical statistics feed the politics of exclusion and suspicion not just in the state itself, but also in other parts of this country. The fear of indigenous people losing their identity due to unfettered infiltration of foreigners also leavens the stereotype of how the Muslim population is outstripping that of the Hindus in other parts of the country. The local politics of Assam under the rule of Congress and Asom Gana Parishad, which is now the partner of the BJP, has been weighed down by this singular fact. Assam, thus, has become a seething cauldron in which the outsider and insider feed each other’s atavism and anxieties, causing bloodshed and violence. From that standpoint the BJP’s victory in Assam is significant as, along with Kashmir, it provides some clue about how the principal political party in the country proposes to go about their grand nation-building project. To reiterate, the BJP, despite its small presence in some of the southern states, has managed to oust the Congress from its hallowed position.
The Congress is, correspondingly, in a difficult position. Its footprint in the country is getting smaller by the day and the party seems to be in serious disarray. Many observers are convinced that the BJP is winning in its campaign to create a “Congress mukt bharat”. By a rough estimate, if one looks at the loss of the Congress in Kerala and Assam then their sway on parliamentary seats has dwindled from 44 seats to about 17 seats. What is galling for Congressmen is that they do not know how things will turn around. Congress workers do not really think like other party cadres; they leave the decision-making to the Gandhi family on whose charisma they hope to piggyback and win elections time after time. Their worry lines increase when the said charisma fails to secure them an electoral victory. For the Congress there is no Plan B. This is the reason that no discussion on internal democracy is entertained in the party. There is always fear that a public exhibition of dissent could lead to a split in the party and that would be catastrophic for a party in decline. What is causing greater disquiet in the Congress is that the BJP government is pulling out all the stops to finish the Gandhi family politically, fast-tracking probes into the cases of corruption they were allegedly involved in. The BJP leadership has successfully created an image of the Gandhis being synonymous with corruption and their supporters routinely state on social media that India and the Congress will be better off if they are forced out of both the party leadership as well as the country.
On the other hand, the elections have also proved that the people of India do not lose much sleep over the issue of corruption. The re-election of Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal and J Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu proves that unequivocally. It also shows the strategic merit in state governments spending colossal amount of funds in distributing gifts and freebies. It must be recalled that Jayalalithaa had set up the extremely popular Amma canteens where meals were served at rates as low as Rs 2. Similarly, mixies, grinders and sewing machines were handed out by her party to TN voters. This time around, mobile phones were the promised freebie. Similar tactics were employed in West Bengal too, where despite raging corruption scandals, Mamata was able to shrug off with ease the challenge posed by the Congress-Left combine. Although the two parties got a good crowd response it did not translate into votes. The fall in vote share of the communists must have been heartbreaking for the likes of Sitaram Yechury, who had high hopes of a revival of the Left. It is apparent that the people of West Bengal are happy with how Mamata was running the state.
It was, though, Kerala that gave some much-needed joy to the Left parties, which stomped back to power with a significant win. Interestingly the BJP managed to win a seat in the State Assembly for the very first time and saw a spike in votes.
There are important lessons to be learnt from these elections. Rich parties with large coffers led by dynamic leaders win elections. Lazy parties resting on their past and sporting fuzzy idealism hold no sway over impatient masses, who want their lives to be changed for the better by the leaders they choose.