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Gujarat Elections was never about Congress anyway

Arti Ghargi

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Congress and Rahul Gandhi might portray its defeat in Gujarat as ‘Moral Victory’; but here’s a truth we spoke about three months ago- It is all about BJP and not Congress

On the morning of December 18, when the results of Gujarat Assembly elections were being counted, the early trends indicated a lead for Congress. It sent a hysteria among the Congress workers-the only problem, it was premature. By 5’O clock in the evening, the picture was clear. BJP had won.

Three months back when the election campaign for Gujarat Assembly kick started we had predicted, that the Gujarat Election is centred around BJP and not Congress. Although the aggressive campaigning from Congress led many to believe that Congress will be deciding factor in Gujarat election, our early foresight predicted just the opposite.

  •         Anti-BJP sentiment

For 22 years BJP has retained its throne in Gujarat. Least did one expect Congress to fight back. But the majority of the Congress’ little success should be credited to the Anti-BJP sentiment at the grass root level. Simply put, the Congress won 80 seats in Gujarat not because people were ‘Pro-Congress’; but because largely they were ‘Anti-BJP’.

The deciding factor in the election always remained whether people of Gujarat will vote for BJP or against BJP. If there would have been any other candidate taking BJP head-on, he would also receive the response Congress fetched. However, there were several factors that led to the built up of the ‘Anti-BJP’ sentiment.

  •        Blow from the Rural areas

Those who have observed Gujarat election closely, know that BJP never had a stronghold in rural areas. For evidence, consider an analysis: On 127 rural seats, BJP could only win 56, while Congress emerged victorious on 71 seats. In many parts of Saurashtra and Kachchh BJP was trailing. Agriculture is the primary occupation these parts, especially cotton and peanut farming activities. However, the agrarian economy of these parts was badly hit due to demonetization; the imposition of GST further killed it. The image of the BJP government over the year is of a capitalistic and not so ‘farmer-friendly’ which worked as an add-on to the Anti-BJP factor. Rural Gujarat voted for Congress because it did not want to vote for BJP.

  •        The vengeance of Patidars

Patidar who were once BJP loyalists turned their back to the party in this election. The demand for reservation for patidars led to an unprecedented massive agitation against ruling BJP. But Hardik Patel’s politically inspired coalition with Congress was not aimed at bringing the reservations. It all gravitated to vengeance. When the agitation was at its peak and anger was brewing among patidars, the Gujarat police under BJP’s Anandiben Patel resorted to lathi charge and firing. Several Patidar youths were killed during the firing. This incident went against BJP who lost the trust of its loyalists.

Even Hardik Patel in his many interviews said that he wanted to defeat the BJP’s arrogance. The reservation always remained in the back seat. Thus, the patidars too voted Congress because they did not want to vote for BJP. It would be imprudent to say that Patidar actually believed Congress.

  •        The Dalit Divide

Even in the dreams, BJP would not have thought that a resilient political enemy would rise from the Dalit community. Jignesh Mewani led the Dalit agitation from the forefront following the flogging of Dalit youths suspected of killing cows. BJP who always played by hardline Hindutva found it hard to tame the ignited Dalits across the state. Though, unlike Hardik and Alpesh, Jignesh did not join Congress; he wasn’t against the idea of taking help from Congress to defeat BJP.

  •    The Significant rise in NOTA votes:

If NOTA would have been a party, it would be the third largest party in Gujarat Assembly elections. Out of around one crore people, 1.8% i.e. nearly 5 lakh people voted for NOTA. The figure is more than the votes AAP or NCP received. The people chose NOTA because they did not want BJP to run the state again. But to put it in a perspective, they also did not see Congress as an alternative.

  •     Steady decline in BJP’s vote share

Though BJP’s votes surged after the communally charged environment in 2002, the subsequent years showed a steady decline in BJP’s vote share in Gujarat. This year, BJP vote share reduced to 49% from earlier 60%. This decline laid a foundation for the rise in the vote share of Congress.

The conclusion of the Gujarat Assembly election is clear. The results will also have repercussions on 2019 General elections. If BJP continues to connive the interests of its loyalists it is bound to lose its vote share. At this pace, it can also be reduced to half of the 282 seats it won in 2014. On the other hand, Rahul Gandhi must focus on building Congress as a brand that people trust rather than waiting for an ‘Anti-BJP’ wave to ride on. It must identify and work on its organizational and execution flaws. It must establish a connection on grass root level to build itself as a relevant opposition and a strong alternative to the BJP.

Opinion

Symbolic Hindutva

Arti Ghargi

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Hindutva

Four years after rallying behind the Hindutva Poster Boy Modi, the common Hindu voter is puzzled how has the present government improved the lives of common Hindu voters?

 

Four years back the surge of Saffron aided by the peak Modi wave, fascinated the imagination of the average Hindu voter. And why he wouldn’t be? After all, almost a decade later, the “Silent” majority of India whose voices were bulldozed by the rampant Minority Appeasement, had found a representation in Modi. The average Hindu who was neglected and let down by the Congress regime decided to crown Modi in 2014 and it did. The Hindu middle class constituted a major chunk of Modi’s voters. The overwhelming majority that the party received was the result of the consolidation of Hindu votes that were scattered across the caste coalitions and alliances. However, the Hindutva push by Modi cobbled them together in the rainbow coalition of all the castes and sects of Hinduism.

Since then, the present BJP government under the Supreme Leadership of Modi did not miss any chance of tapping on the majoritarian approach. The Hindutva pitch was then extended to the states encompassing as much as 22 states under the Saffron cover. The party has established its dominance in both houses of parliament. In Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha as well. Four years later, when the Modi government is nearing the 2019 D-day, it is time to ask What exactly did the Modi government has done for the Hindus that voted for him.

Let us go by the checklist of the promises Modi made to Hindus:

Return of Kashmiri Pandits:

In 2014, the issue of the mass exodus of Kashmiri Pandits was one of the wheels that carried Modi’s Hindutva pitch. In an interview before 2014 Lok Sabha election, Modi slammed the Abdulla dynasty for their mishandling of Kashmir. He said, “Kashmir is the only place in this country where Pandits were evicted due to their religion. Kashmir was the land of Sufi traditions and it has been tarred with communal colour by you for selfish interests. Those who have chased Kashmiri Pandits out have no right to preach against communalism.”

The common Hindu voter who was equally pained by the government apathy towards the Kashmiri Pandits hoped that Modi and his Hindutva government will ensure the return of Kashmiri Pandits to their homes. But four years later, the Kashmiri Pandit issue is not even remotely on the radar of BJP government, leave alone rehabilitating them.

Hindutva

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Removal of article 35(A) and article 370:

Article 35(A) of Indian constitution accords a special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. It does not allow any outsider (even an Indian citizen from other states) to purchase land in the state. Article 35A was incorporated into the Constitution in 1954 by an order of the then President Rajendra Prasad on the advice of the Jawaharlal Nehru Cabinet. However, the article came under criticism as it was not placed before parliament legislature which is the law-making body in India. The powers of President of introducing amendments and modifying the constitution were also heavily opposed.

The BJP in its 2014 Lok Sabha Manifesto had bated for the complete integration of J&K in India by repealing Article 35(A). However, after the assembly elections in the state, the party joined hands with PDP which was against the repulsion of Article 35(A). However, the issue was dropped from the Vision document quietly.

Hindutva

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Ram Mandir Construction:  

The 2014 elections campaigning of Modi charged with Hindutva also saw a revival of “Mandir Wahi Banayenge” mantra. But once elected, the issue went on backburner even as the subsequent campaigning for assembly elections saw mentions of the issue. The matter was conveniently put under the wraps with party leaders keeping mum on the issue and only bringing it out during the election period.

Now that 2019 has neared, to woo the Hindu voters Amit Shah has once again sounded the old bugle for construction of Ram Mandir.

Hindutva

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Beef Ban:

While most of the promises BJP made to its core Hindu voters were not fulfilled, it did, however, introduced Beef Ban; but absolutely deceiving. In the run-up to 2014 at a rally, Modi had asked the packed crowd whether they want to support the Pink revolution. The people expected that after coming to power the BJP government will implement the nation-wide beef ban. But the ban was put only in selective states where the ratio of beef consumers was negligible. In the north-eastern states where beef is a part of daily diet, the BJP state leaders, in fact, promised not to introduce the ban.

Did it put a stop on the beef industry? No. On the contrary, a 2017 report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation (OECD) revealed that India is the world’s third-biggest exporter of beef. The only thing the beef ban resulted into was anarchy and indiscriminate lynching by the fringe in the absence of a legal framework for the ban.

Hindutva

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The reality of the Modi’s promises to common Hindu voters laced with doublespeak is now for all to see. Even the most prominent right-leaning intellectuals agree that the Modi government not only failed to deliver its promises to Hindu community but also has been fooling them in the name of Hindutva. Four years after rallying behind the Hindutva Poster Boy Modi, the common Hindu voter is puzzled whether the present government is any different from the previous one. How has the life of common Hindu voter has improved? Vis a vis only certain brands like Patanjali of Ramdev Baba have triumphed capitalizing on the Hindu sentiments. For Modi, Hindu sentiments were only a political tool which fixed his path to PM chair and continues to help make inroads in states. Whether the common Hindu voter is satisfied with Modi or not will be decided in the upcoming election. However, the reality remains that the BJP deceived the common Hindu voter who believed the Hindu-first policy of Modi. The mask has now fallen and the symbolic Hinduism adopted by the saffron party is exposed.

 

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Opinion

Why is PM Modi focusing more on Northern India than South?

Arti Ghargi

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northern

Strategically, focusing on the northern states where BJP enjoys dominance can get the party maximum result that Southern states where the saffron party faces an immense challenge.

With just six months in hands to go for next Lok Sabha Elections, the BJP has already entered the electoral battleground. During the Kisaan Kalyan Rally in Punjab’s Malout, PM Modi rung the bell for 2019. The message was clear to all the opposition parties- The campaigning for 2019 has kick-started. Within next few days, Modi inaugurated a slew of projects worth thousands of crores in the BJP-ruled state of Uttar Pradesh. Today, he is addressing a rally in West Bengal.

According to the campaigning schedule, in next few days, PM Modi has already visited key states including Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan where Assembly elections are due in next four months. With a whirlwind campaigning, PM Modi will be addressing as much as 50 rallies across India until February 2019.

However, if the schedule is observed closely, we will find that most of the rallies will be conducted in the northern states. While, Modi has already visited UP twice- first for the inauguration of Samsung factory in Noida and the second time for laying the foundation stone for the upcoming Purvanchal Expressway connecting Mirzapur to Azamgarh- he will be visiting UP again on July 21 for as a part of Kisan Kalyan Rally. Which means, the July 21st rally will be Modi’s third visit to Uttar Pradesh within the span of 10 days.

Northern India

Modi at Kisan Kalyan Rally in Punjab

There are, however, several reasons why Modi seems to give impetus to the northern states.

Why is Modi focusing on Northern India?

In 2014 Lok Sabha Elections, the BJP registered a landslide victory with an absolute majority riding the “Modi Wave”. Out of the total 282 seats that were won by the saffron party, 195 seats were from the Northern Hindi-speaking belt only. At present, most of these states have BJP government ruling them.

In Indian Politics, it is said that the road to Delhi (PM chair) passes through Uttar Pradesh. The state has the highest number of Lok Sabha seats. In 2014, BJP scored the maximum number of seats in Uttar Pradesh. Out of total 80 Lok Sabha seats in the state, BJP won 71 seats. The Modi-Shah duo understands it well that these states are the key player if the party wants to get close to the majority in 2019.

Since 2014, BJP has also emerged as the dominant player in most of the northern states. However, the recent by-poll losses have added to the worries of BJP. In UP, the BJP’s dominance is threatened by the cast coalition of SP-BSP which proved effective in the Gorakhpur and Phulpur by-polls. The arch rivals turned alliance partners have also indicated that coalition will extend to 2019 Lok Sabha as well. The by-polls victory of SP-BSP came as a lesson to the BJP that the caste equations still dominates the UP elections than a political pitch based on religion. Thus, to counter this growing threat BJP has intensified its Hindutva agenda, more prominently where it is a dominant party.

On the other hand, northern states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh hold importance not only from Assembly election perspective but also from Lok Sabha Election perspective. The assembly election result in these three states will also help set the tone of narrative for the Lok Sabha election. With Karnataka slipping off its hands, BJP cannot afford to lose these three states. As 2019 nears, Modi would want to strengthen the states where the party enjoys maximum support.

Northern India

Modi at a foundation laying event in UP

The “South challenge” in front of Modi:

While the BJP strengthened its foothold in the northern states post-2014, it is still struggling to make an effective debut in the South. Apart from Karnataka, BJP has never been able to make indoors in the Southern states. Even when the entire country was witnessing a peak of a Modi wave, the BJP couldn’t win significant seats in South.

Out of 282 seats, the four southern states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Tamil Nadu together contributed only 21 seats to the tally of BJP. While BJP won 17 constituencies in Karnataka and 2 seats in Andhra Pradesh, it won one seat each in Tamil Nadu and Telangana. The saffron party couldn’t even open its account in Kerala.

Over the period of time, the BJP has faced strong resistance from the South. Even in subsequent Assembly Elections, BJP faced a humiliating defeat. The South poses a major challenge to the BJP, as regionalism dominates the in these states as opposed to the nationalism of BJP. BJP has always been looked at as a party of Northerners. Apart from few handpicked leaders like Venkaiah Naidu and Nirmala Sitharaman, BJP has no big leaders from South.

On the other hand, BJP has always been perceived as a party of upper castes. The Hindi imposition on the southern states has also not gone well with the people. Recently, during Karnataka elections, these issues were upheld by the former CM Siddharamaiah as the battle cry against BJP. So much so that he even called the BJP party leaders “northern imports”. He had even stoked controversy claiming that under Modi regime South Indian states are being neglected even when they contribute most to the overall taxes. Earlier this year, protestors flooded the Tamil Nadu streets with “Modi go Back” slogans when PM Modi was in the state for the inauguration of Defence Expo at Thiruvidanthai. Recently, Amit Shah faced the similar protests in Tamil Nadu. Last year, the saffron party faced such resistance in Kerala as well.

northern India

States ruled by BJP

Over the years, it was the NDA partners that held BJP’s hands in the southern states. However, these same allies have turned their back to the BJP, including TDP. The Andhra Pradesh political scenario is nothing different. TDP-the former BJP ally withdrew from the NDA and government as well alleging Modi Govt’s negligent attitude towards the state’s demand of according Special Status.

Thus, the BJP is faced with contradictory scenarios in Northern India and South India. While BJP has been successful in expanding its base throughout the northern region, it has faced a greater amount of difficulty to do so in the south region. As 2019 nears, Modi would want to strengthen the states where the party enjoys maximum support.

Strategically, focusing on the northern states where BJP enjoys dominance can get the party maximum result that Southern states where the saffron party faces an immense challenge.

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Opinion

The 2 Ps of Indian Elections- Pakistan and Polarization

Arti Ghargi

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2 Ps

 India’s political parties have developed a formula for effective election campaigning where the 2 Ps- Pakistan and polarization remain constant.

 

“Former director general of Pakistan army Arshad Rafiq has insisted that Ahmed Patel should be made the chief minister of Gujarat. Former army director general intervenes in Gujarat election. They held meeting with Pakistanis at Mani Shankar‘s house,” said Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he addressed a rally in the run-up to Gujarat Assembly elections.

“Do you want a government that worships Tipu Sultan or the one that worships Lord Hanuman?” asked UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath to a packed crowd during campaigning for Karnataka Assembly election. If we go a little back in the time, we may recall PM Modi’s controversial statement during the campaigning for UP assembly election, “If Kabristans can be constructed, then Shamashans too should be built.” Go farther back in history and we may find such countless references in the election speeches.

Noam Chomsky, a renowned cognitive scientist had observed, “The key element of social control is the strategy of distraction that is to divert public attention from important issues and changes decided by economic and political elites through the technique of flood or flooding continuous distractions and insignificant information.” Scan through the pages of the electoral history of most of the democratic countries around the world and you will find the observation to be accurate. India too is no exception to it.

In India, the 2 P’s fuel the election campaigning of political parties- Pakistan and Polarisation. For a long period of time, our political parties have been trying to master the narrative around these 2 Ps and build a rhetoric. No election campaigning is complete without the reference to Pakistan and communal/casteist polarization. Our political parties have developed a formula for effective election campaigning where the 2 Ps- Pakistan and polarization remain constant.

However, the variables may change depending upon whether it is a National election or Assembly election. Look no far than recently concluded Karnataka Assembly Elections. While BJP cleverly used religious polarisation on one hand and army, Kannada pride as a variable on the other. Similarly, Congress used casteist polarization with Siddharamaiah’s Ahinda card and Hindi imposition, South vs North divide as variables. These variables can be put on the back burner as and when needed.

But the 2 Ps work as both oxygen and distraction. While Pakistan and polarization keep the political parties alive and relevant, it also proves to be a great distraction from real issues that concern the common Indian citizen. After all, talking about Pakistan and polarization gets you more eyeball than talking about traffic woes, poor infrastructure, lagging economic reforms, health care or farmers’ issues ever can. The formula is further perpetuated and sheltered by the hyped coverage. The most recent example is Shashi Tharoor’s “Hindu Pakistan” comment. To bring the score to equal, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman took the charge from BJP’s side. In a press conference, she attacked the Congress calling it “Anti-Hindu” on the basis of a news report that claimed the Congress President Rahul Gandhi said that “Congress is a Muslim Party”. However, BJP took a lead today with Amit Shah claiming that Ayodhya temple construction will start before 2019.

That leaves us with a question, why the 2 Ps-Pakistan and polarization work in India? The answer is hidden in both Political and cultural history. Throughout the medieval period most of the present day Indian land was captured by foreign powers including Mughals and British. The horrendous atrocities were unleashed upon the Indian (predominantly Hindu) people by them.

Though we got freedom from all foreign powers in 1947 and established a democratic country with equal rights to every citizen, the political class has not let the ghost of the traumatic past fade. On the other hand, our bitter relation with Pakistan after partition and the prolonged Kashmir issue has also been at the center of dislike and hatred towards Pakistan. The frequent Ceasefire violations and terrorist attacks sponsored from across the border keep the wounds fresh. Our political leaders do not miss any chance to exploit these events for their political gains. These elements are imbibed in India’s diaspora which provides as an undercurrent for the Pakistan and polarisation to work without fail in every election.

Come 2019, undoubtedly, we will witness again Pakistan and Polarisation formula, rather more intensively but the groundwork for the same has begun already.

 

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