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Hubris is letting down BJP in India

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Setback in Uttar Pradesh bypolls has confirmed the slide in ruling party’s fortunes as opposition parties scramble to bury old enemities to unify their ranks

By: Amulya Ganguli

Arrogance is perhaps the only explanation for India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) electoral ills in the Hindi heartland and nearby states.

More than the failure of the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the employment and agricultural fronts, it is the party’s and the government’s haughtiness, reflected in Vice-President M. Venkaiah Naidu’s characterisation of Modi as “God’s gift to the nation”, which has been undermining the party.

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 Muslim rulers and the British.

The party also neatly divided the people into “Ramzadey” (children of the Hindu deity Ram) and “haramzadey” or illegitimate children, as the federal minister Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti so eloquently put it. Any opponent of the party was promptly placed in the anti-national or anti-Hindu category if he or she favoured the consumption of beef.

Union 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 that has seen little economic growth under prolonged Communist rule.

But, elsewhere, the Modi magic has started fading. The first sign was visible in the Gujarat assembly elections earlier this year 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 (UP) bypoll results have provided resounding confirmation of the slide in the party’s fortunes in mainland India.

For UP 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 jihad” 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 (state).

Adityanath’s ascent was meant to be a kick in the teeth for the “secular” camp, which could not believe that a Hindutva (Hindu nationalism) 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 UP chief minister had been deputed to election-bound states to boast about the “developments” that were taking place in UP. 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 overconfidence led to the BJP’s defeats in Gorakhpur and Phulpur is only partially correct, for it was not so much self-assurance that 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 federal 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 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 UP 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 that 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 in the fodder scam case. Besides, the Bihar outcome has shown that the latter’s son, Tejaswi Yadav, has found his political feet.

There are now several relatively young leaders — Rahul Gandhi, Akhilesh, Tejashwi, Jignesh Mewani — who are in the field. As Rahul’s recent meeting with Nationalist Congress Party leader 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 the success of 2014 in the next general election are dim.

  • Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. Source:

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