If one explanation has to be given for the BJP’s electoral ills in the Hindi heartland and nearby states, it is arrogance.
Even more than the Narendra Modi government’s failures on the employment and agricultural fronts, it is the party’s and the government’s haughtiness, reflected in the Vice-president M Venkaiah Naidu’s characterisation of Modi as God’s gift to the nation, which has been undermining the party’s standing.
Ever since the BJP came to power, it has been dismissive of everything that happened in the past and vowed to start on a clean slate after eradicating 1,200 years of slavery under the Muslims and the British.
The party also neatly divided the people into Ramzade (children of the Hindu god, Ram) and haramzade or illegitimate children, as the Union minister, Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, so eloquently put it. Any opponent of the party was promptly placed in the anti-national or anti-Hindu category and told to go to Pakistan if he favoured the consumption of beef.
Tourism Minister K.J. Alphons advised visitors from abroad to eat all their beef before coming to India.
The reaction against the BJP’s hauteur was slow to take shape presumably because the people, especially youngsters, retained their faith in the Prime Minister’s Sabka saath, sabka vikas or development for all promise. It still works in states like Tripura which has seen little economic growth under prolonged communist rule.
But, elsewhere, the Modi magic has palpably started fading. The first sign was available in the Gujarat assembly elections where the BJP escaped defeat by a narrow margin. After that, the setbacks for the party in the Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh by-elections substantiated the anti-BJP mood.
Now, the Uttar Pradesh by-polls have provided resounding confirmation of the slide in the party’s fortunes in mainland India.
For Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath to lose in his redoubt of Gorakhpur, where he is the head priest of the Gorakhnath temple, is far more indicative of the way the cookie is crumbling than the fall of the former chief minister Manik Sarkar’s government in Tripura, which was a cause of elation in saffron ranks.
For the BJP, the monk-politician’s electoral humiliation is stunning for two reasons. One is that the elevation of this saffron-robed votary of love jehad and fake encounters to the Chief Minister’s post was intended by the Modi dispensation to show how much is changing in India as it marches towards a Hindu rashtra.
Adityanath’s ascent was meant to be a kick in the teeth for the secular camp which could not believe that a Hindutva hawk would be made the Chief Minister of India’s largest state.
The other reason why the BJP would be stupefied is that it will now have to shelve its decision to field Adityanath as the third main campaigner for the party after Modi and party president Amit Shah. Till now, the Chief Minister had been deputed to election-bound states to boast about the developments that were taking place in Uttar Pradesh.
Now, he will be an unstarred campaigner as a Congress minister in Karnataka has mockingly said. It is not unlikely that Adityanath will be derided on the next occasion when he addresses an election rally. His admission that over-confidence led to the BJP’s defeats in Gorakhpur and Phulpur is only partially correct, for it was not so much self-assurance which undercut the party but supercilious pride of being saviours of the nation from its enemies.
This scornful outlook towards its political adversaries was starkly evident in Bihar where Union minister Giriraj Singh warned voters that Araria will become a hub of terrorism if the Muslim candidate was elected. This crude display of communalism did not deter the voters.
The three or four captive television channels of the BJP have also been ringing alarm bells about the caste-based combination of the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), as well as the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), bringing down the nationalist BJP in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
Even then, it is clear that the successes of these parties have sent out the message to the Congress and other opposition parties that the ground is ripe for unseating the BJP by a united front.
Till now, the BJP’s only hope of staying afloat was the disarray in opposition ranks. It may have also placed considerable faith in the machinations of cynical old-timers like Mulayam Singh Yadav to create fissures in the non-BJP ranks of the kind which enabled it to win big in Uttar Pradesh last year.
But the times are changing. Young leaders like Akhilesh Yadav have shown that it is possible to overcome the earlier two-decade-old enmity between the SP and the BSP to bring the BJP to heel. The RJD has also demonstrated that its M-Y (Muslim-Yadav) base of support has remained intact despite Laloo Prasad Yadav’s incarceration. Besides, the Bihar outcome has shown that the latter’s son, Tajeshwi, has found his political feet.
There are now several relatively young leaders — Rahul Gandhi, Akhilesh Yadav, Tajeshwi, Jignesh Mewani — who are in the field. As Rahul Gandhi’s recent meeting with Sharad Pawar showed, they are now taking the initiative along with elders like Sonia Gandhi to bring the opposition parties together on a common platform. If they succeed, the BJP’s chances of repeating 2014 in the next general election are dim.