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Electoral politics in India

The recent assembly election results in five Indian states has charged up Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) so much that Modi himself turned up at the party’s New Delhi headquarters to declare “these polls have made it clear that the BJP’s ideology is being accepted, appreciated and supported by more and more people in the country.”
While one cannot deny that the very beauty of India’s electoral process lies in its politico-ideological diversity, election at the end of the day is a complex, multi-dimensional, political-cum-social event, which cannot be judged in black and white. Yes, the BJP has outperformed a jaded Congress led by a politically immature and unpolished Rahul Gandhi. But that does not necessarily mean the country is on the verge of getting rid of its oldest nationalist party. A careful analysis of the fine print of the recent electoral outcome tells a different story altogether.
Out of the total 824 seats contested in the just concluded election process, the Congress won 115 while the BJP bagged 64 and in terms of popular vote share, Congress got almost three times more than that of the BJP in aggregate. Besides, apart from the 60 seats in Assam, BJP managed to gain only 4 seats from Kerala, Pondicherry, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, with a combined population of approximately 250 million. And BJP’s vote share in these elections has actually decreased compared to the 2014 parliamentary polls, which may be a pointer to Modi’s waning popularity and failure in governance, just days ahead of the central government’s second anniversary in office. Barring the southern state of Kerala on the Malabar coastline where BJP recorded a marginal increase in vote share from 10.3 in 2014 to 10.7 in the recent polls, the party has lost popular support elsewhere.
Despite the splendid victory in Assam, hastened by lethal communal identity politics and a tacit understanding reached with perfume baron Badruddin Ajmal — as a senior BJP functionary confided in this writer — BJP could neither retain nor consolidate its 2014 parliamentary election vote share of 36.5 percent, as it dropped by a sharp 6 percentage point in the crucial provincial poll. In Tamil Nadu, BJP’s popular share of vote declined from 5.5 to 2.7 percent, while in West Bengal it dropped to 10.3 from 16.8 that the party gained during the 2014 Modi wave. Even in a comparatively insignificant and small province like Pondicherry, BJP drew a blank in terms of seats won and percentage wise the party ended up with a dismal vote share of 2.4 percent.
Interestingly, statistics show that in the 30 elections held since 2012, till date, to elect popular governments in various provinces, the two big parties, Congress and BJP, have secured less than half of the total seats and votes polled. So, BJP President Amit Shah’s assertion of having laid a strong foundation to make his party the predominant political force in India may not be based on reality. After all, the very fact of regional political outfits acquiring 58 percent of the total votes polled in successive elections in the last four years gives a clear indication of Indian voters’ tilt toward local political satraps.
And it is in this context, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s massive electoral victory achieves greater significance. Mamata, the first woman chief minister in Bengal to have won two consecutive terms in office, has single-handedly countered political conspiracy, relentless negative propaganda and even sabotage, which took scores of innocent lives, to make her Trinamool Congress party the single largest outfit ever to capture power in the state’s electoral history. In fact, Mamata’s sobriety, her moderate approach to politics in a state where forcing every adversary into quiet acceptance of political hegemony has been a norm under the previous Marxist rule, and above all complete avoidance of Modi-style hyperbole in matters of governance has brought a breath of fresh air in an otherwise rigid political structure.
The subaltern people have started identifying with Mamata’s down-to-earth politics, as they wholeheartedly rejected the unique brand of elitist communism introduced by the very Leftists who promised to stand by the proletariat in their hour of need. Interestingly, Mamata is seen as a perfect replacement of the centrist left- and right-wing forces, capable of effortlessly combining socialist sympathies with the idea of neo-liberalism to create a magical effect in a society torn between the haves and have not. And Mamata’s judicious emphasis on implementing productive socio-economic projects has brought dividend, both politically and socially. The agenda of social justice coupled with a strong penchant for rural development, social engineering and lavish social sector spending makes Mamata the darling of the subaltern masses, who still holds the key to electoral success.
At a time when “liberalization with human face” brought little relief to the underprivileged, Mamata’s track record has been envious. Her government’s development goal of bringing about improvement in social infrastructure, through innovative schemes recognized internationally, without compromising fiscal prudence, while catalyzing industrial rejuvenation simultaneously is commendable. The “development for whom” dilemma has been very effectively managed by Mamata, who also ensured that Muslim minorities, having been left out of the policy radar more often than not, get a fair share of administrative attention. And this holistic approach has established Mamata as a visionary politician, who will be India’s future kingmaker.