There was a small news item a couple of days ago which didn’t get much space in the mainstream media but demands some attention, if only for the irony involved. The news said that a group of displaced tribals protesting against the lack of employment laid siege at the site of the recently-unveiled statue of Sardar Patel in Gujarat, India, and locked the local Executive Engineer inside the site office before police could rescue him.
Barely a month ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had unveiled this largest statue in the world, proudly proclaiming the legacy of this Congress leader who is credited to have unified India (bringing more than 540 princely states together) in the aftermath of Partition. The irony runs at three levels: one, the newest symbol of India’s true power to be showcased throughout the world could not impress even the local people; second, the legacy of once among the tallest leaders from the Congress Party was sought to be appropriated by its arch rival BJP, and third, the Statue of Unity had been unveiled by perhaps the most divisive figure in Indian politics today (closely followed by the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, also from the BJP).
Within a month of the unveiling of the same statue, the resurgence of the seemingly dead Congress Party in the wake of its wins in three states — Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan — has made the above mentioned protest even more poignant. In the two other states — Telengana and Mizoram, the Congress and its allies lost to two regional parties. While in 2014 parliamentary elections, the BJP won the absolute majority on its own, winning 282 Lok Sabha seats as the leading party of the National Democratic Alliance, the loss in the recent state legislature elections effectively means that it will lose 32 out of 62 Lok Sabha seats won in 2014.
More starkly, the analysts also point out that there has been a massive drop in the vote percentage in rural areas for the BJP, ranging from about 30 percent in Madhya Pradesh to 49 percent in Rajasthan. The total of 65 parliamentary seats out of 543 may not mean much. Also, the next five months, till the next general elections take place in May 2019, may seem like a long time in a country like India.
However, there are some clear indicators. Barely a year ago, the BJP managed to just about retain its hold on its own backyard Gujarat which Modi ruled for over a decade before moving onto prime ministership. It lost Karnataka and Goa, though it managed to install a minority government with some backroom machinations in the latter. What is also coming out clearly from various calculations is that the BJP had maximised its potential in 2014 in the Hindi heartland and western India. From there, it was nothing but a downhill ride. That seems to be coming true with each election subsequently.
The mention of the sharp drop in rural votes (containing 70 percent of India’s population) is not without reason. Though a long festering problem, the recent years have seen a resurgence in farm crisis and the resultant spike in farmer suicides. They have also witnessed vehement protests on the ground from farmers.
While the economy on paper has been clicking its steady growth rate, there has been a sharp drop in employment. The introduction of demonetisation which led to a currency ban overnight a couple of years ago, made it worse for the informal wage labour and small traders, and a haphazard roll out of Goods & Services Tax across India made it a double whammy for the small businesses and people in the informal economy in particular.
There have been simultaneous attacks on all key institutions in recent months, beginning from the Supreme Court itself when a group of Justices held a press conference to highlight the way in which the then chief justice was seemingly manipulating case allocations (seemingly at the behest of the ruling party); the Chief Election Commissioner’s office arguably manipulated into fixing the election dates in order to benefit the ruling party; the most recent being Reserve Bank of India (India’s central bank), where its own planted man as the governor resigned ostensibly in protest against the government’s move to transfer the bank’s reserves to its own kitty.
There seems to be an overall sense of chaos and extreme fragmentation of the general civil and political life of the country. And the best response that this government seems to be giving to all of this is to pitch the minority hate mongering by reviving the bogeys of cow slaughter and Ram Temple.
In the recent elections, the star campaigner of the ruling party wasn’t Modi but Yogi Adityanath, who addressed 74 rallies inciting people in the name of communal hatred. Modi and his ilk in the meanwhile continued to decry Nehru, the first prime minister of India belonging to the Congress Party, for all the ills that plague India today. They stretched it to such an extent that it became a social media joke.
It is in this light that the recent election results need to be seen. As the old adage goes, you can fool some people all the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. One hopes this becomes the defining truth for the upcoming general elections in 2019.