Skip to main content

2019 polls: Return to political conservatism of Vajpayee years with a new BJP leader?

By Mohan Guruswamy*
2019, like 2014, will be another presidential election year. Not since 1971, when the Congress Party fought with Indira Gandhi as its only face and only reason, will India see such a personality-focused election. Her campaign call then was “I say ‘Garibi Hatao’ and they only say Indira Hatao!” Narendra Modi now cannily implies just that. He says when he promises “development” his opponents’ only chant “Modi Hatao”.
I can see this becoming the 2019 campaign theme “Modi kahta desh badao, aur wo sirf kahtein Modi hatao”. He will paint his opponents as a bunch of power hungry and out of work and corrupt politicians who have come together just to usurp the gadi in New Delhi. He may be right.
So far Modi has not allowed them to define who he really is? Just as corrupt as them but determined to redefine India within the walls of Hindi, Hindu and Hindutva. This is the Hindi concocted by the East India Company; the Brahminical Hinduism that led to the crisis of character that allowed every other sundry adventurer carve out a realm; and the Hindutva defined by VD Savarkar – the three essentials of which are the three untruths of a common nation (rashtra), a common race and a common culture/civilization (sanskriti).
Clearly this election is not just about “development”. It is about the soul of India. At stake in 2019 is what kind of an India will we become? India was conceived by its founding fathers to be a state of many nations united by a shared vision and a Constitution that enshrined equality, liberty and justice to all. It envisaged a nation united by a shared vision of the future and not divided by the rancor of the past.
The nationalist movement was not just a struggle to expel the English from India but a struggle to create a new and modern India, which will be a beacon of hope for a new world. It envisaged an India where egalitarian ideals mesh with unfettered individual freedoms that will catalyze a long dormant creativity into a nation that will fulfill most aspirations in some measure rather than for in excess just a few.
It was an India that would internalize all its past history into one common and seamless narrative. In this conception the majestic Meenakshi temple of Madurai, the magical caves of Ajanta, the beauty of the Taj Mahal and the lost hopes of Fatehpur Sikri, and the imperial grandeur of Raisina Hill will all be seen by all Indians as their common wealth and shared history.
So far the Hindi, Hindu and Hindutva vision of India has been largely confined to the Hindi speaking Indo-Gangetic plains, whose history too, if seen in isolation, has been quite different from the rest of the country. But they are our largest and most dominant minority. Their area ranges, from Bihar to Rajasthan, from Haryana to Madhya Pradesh, and the two Devanagri states of Gujarat and Maharashtra. This is the heart, lungs and belly of India. 
These are the fields where the seeds of this “new” nationhood have been sown and for the past two decades have been reaped for political profit. But now the landlord is very different. It is no longer the avuncular political conservatism of Vajpayee and Advani, using the rightist nationalist fringe to be discarded after use. Now the lunatic fringe is astride the BJP.
The 2018 elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, where the BJP has deep roots and enjoyed power, and where the usual anti-incumbency should be kicking in, has been diluted by Modi’s unhistorical stridency. These states have traditionally had a bi-polar polity divided between the BJP and Congress. 
This latest contest has now been largely transformed into a contest between Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi. It is only in Rajasthan that the local Congress leadership of former CM Gehlot and PCC President, Sachin Pilot, has been seen as leading the charge against Vasundhara Raje’s personalized misrule and failure to provide for a state regularly ravaged by drought and stricken by backwardness.
However in MP, the warring leaders of the Congress in the state have not been able to cut a coherent image of them as being able to do better than Shivraj Singh Chauhan. Jyothiraditya Scindia and Kamal Nath have largely been confined within their regions and limitations. Digvijaya Singh, hitherto the tallest Congress leader in the state, is nowhere to be seen in the heat and dust of campaigning. It can be said that the only thing working for the MP Congress leaders is the anti-incumbency sentiments inevitable is a system that cannot please all.
Chhattisgarh was created to be a state where the Adivasis would have a voice in the government and benefit from the State’s largesse. This has not been so. Both, the Congress and BJP represent the same traditions of the ruthless exploitation of the natural resources of the Adivasi homelands. The local differences are mostly about power and pelf. These three states account for 65 Lok Sabha seats. The Congress only holds seven seats in the three. The 58 seats the BJP holds here, along with the 72 it holds in UP form the bedrock of its majority in Parliament. It is the pulverization of the Congress in these four states that resulted in the national dominance of a party that enjoys only 31% of the national popular vote. 
If the Congress does better by winning one of the big two states, it could be interpreted as a major blow to Modi’s re-election prospects in 2019. On the other hand with the diminution of the BJP state satraps, Narendra Modi might fully assert himself and enforce the Hindi, Hindu and Hindutva regimen of the BJP, with the cow and temple as its leitmotifs?
Telangana is the gateway to the Deccan. The new state witnesses another largely bi-polar elections, between the charisma of K. Chandrashekara Rao and his reckless populism, and the faceless leaders of the Congress, now increasingly seen as marching behind the TDP supremo, N Chandrababu Naidu. Ironically Naidu is the leader of the junior party in the Congress dominated alliance called the Mahakutumi. Till a few days ago it seemed that anti-incumbency buttressed by unhappiness over the unabashed one family rule by the Kalvakuntla family was going to drown the TRS. 
But KCR, the astute politician he is, helped by the somewhat lackluster and maladroit Congress state leadership, has turned it into a KCR versus NCN, and hence once again a TRS versus the TDP contest. One should not be surprised if the TRS turns the table on the Congress and proves the opinion polls wrong. The implications of this are interesting and fraught with possibilities.
By winning Telangana, the TRS will strike a major blow to any claims Rahul Gandhi might have to being the tallest opposition leader in the country. KCR will also ensure that no major political alternative to Narendra Modi’s narrow and virulent nationalism emerges with the Congress as its main phalanx. As somebody famously said – “all politics is local”. The TDP can afford to ally with the Congress because in AP, the Congress is just an appendage to it, and not a rival. KCR might then once again make an effort to forge a non-Congress national alternative to the BJP. 
If the Congress wins in Telangana and even one of the two big Hindi states, the “mar” of the Bimaru states, it will be a major blow to the leadership of Narendra Modi. Telangana will help the Congress line up the two non-Congress states in the south, and with a major base in the north.
By all accounts the Congress will fare considerably better in the Hindi states in 2019 than it did in 2014. In UP the BJP won 42.3% in 2014 but it slid down to 39.6% in 2017. In both states the two other main contenders, the BSP and SP together polled more than the BJP, with 44% each time. Now they are together. 
The BJP, electrified by Modi’s incendiary leadership won 72 of the 80 UP Lok Sabha seats in 2014. What will be the attrition when BSP and SP combine against it? I think there will be attrition in the Hindi belt. If it is substantial, we might see the return of the avuncular political conservatism of the Vajpayee years with a new BJP leader. If it is total, Modi and Shah will be subject to many trials.
---
*Well-known public policy expert. Source: Mohan Guruswamy’s Facebook timeline. Contact: mohanguru@gmail.com

Comments

TRENDING

Economist-editor's allegations on Narmada defamatory, baseless: Medha Patkar

Counterview Desk  In a reply directly addressed to well-known economist, journalist and columnist Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar’s two articles in the Times of India (republished here and here ), calling them defamatory and wondering whether they were borne out of “ignorance or a conspiracy through political alliance”, Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Pakar has said that the Narmada Sardar Saravar Project and the people's movement by adivasis, farmers, labourers, fish workers, potters and all the generations’ old communities from the river valley have suddenly come to be focused on, since the Gujarat elections are in the doorstep. She believes that while the “defamatory accusations with baseless conceptions such as ‘urban naxals’ are to be laughed at as the electoral strategic moves, one gets shocked to read the articles by a known old columnist like Swaminathan Ankalesaria Aiyar, published in a reputed daily like the Times of India." According to her, Aiyar’s two articl

Hindutva groups threat to peace, freedom: US diaspora groups tell FBI, other govt depts

By Our Representative  The Islamophobic and neo-Nazi ideology of Hindutva is a clear and present danger to peace and freedoms in the United States, a coalition of civil rights organizations told key officials of the U.S. Attorney General’s Office, the US Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) at a recent event in Edison, New Jersey. At the event titled United Against Hate, activists from American Muslims for Democracy (AMD), Hindus for Human Rights (HfHR) and Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) made detailed presentations on this ideology of Hindu supremacism that is committing mass persecution of India’s Muslims and Christians and is rearing its ugly head in New Jersey as well as across the US. Attending the event were David S Leonardis, Special Investigator from the New Jersey Department of Law & Public Safety; Michael E Campion, Chief of the Civil Rights Division for the US Attorney General's Office; and Jonathan R Norbut of the U.S. Dep

Facing tough times, Rajasthan's Raika herders hold first-ever camel cheese festival

By Rosamma Thomas*  During the pandemic, the annual Pushkar camel fair in Rajasthan did not occur for fear of contagion; in 2022, it was called off again as lumpy skin disease affected cattle. At Sadri in Pali district, however, festivity continues – a two-day Camel Cheese Festival was held on November 23 and 24, 2022. Visitors spent time with the camel herds and their Raika, drank camel-milk tea with the herders and then returned to lunch at the Kumbhalgarh Camel Dairy, from where the Kumbhalgarh Fort is visible, to taste camel cheese. The Raika herders have been facing a tough time – camels are no longer used as much for transport or agriculture in Rajasthan. The animals have limited utility, but their milk is prized. Camel Charisma, the dairy at Kumbhalgarh, sends camel milk across the country to people who use it in therapy – for autistic children, improved blood sugar levels, or even to treat cancer. It is believed that the health benefits of the camel milk is because the animals

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

As polls approach, electorate 'failing to realise': Gujarat model is in a shambles

By DN Rath*  Gujarat assembly elections, scheduled to be held on 1 and 5 December 2022, is viewed by many as dress rehearsal for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. When the suffering people have been pointing towards redressal of some local issues like absence of cleanliness, sewage problem, shortage of water supply, troubles created by stray cattle, insufficiency of streetlights, etc., it is evident that they are not fully aware that assembly elections are being fought on ideological standpoints and policy decisions. Nor is there the realisation that the state is in a shambles and the much-trumpeted ‘Gujarat model’ of development has proved to be a hoax. Like other states, the people of Gujarat are also back-broken by steep rise in prices to the tune of 400% in last 20 years. It is not that the government cannot control the spurt in prices if it so wants. Apart from the fact that price rise is an inevitability in a capitalist economy, artificial shortage triggered by massive hoarding, b

Shedding Hindu-Hindi-Hindustan? New Modi-Shah love for Tamil Nadu 'ignores' Periyar

By Sandeep Pandey*   The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) or the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) have long argued for ‘Hindu-Hindi-Hindustan’, which into recent years has translated into a crisper English expression: ‘One Nation-One Religion-One Language’. Given this backdrop, it is curious that the BJP government has organised the Kashi Tamil Sangamam in Varanasi, the Prime Minister’s constituency. Why did the BJP and RSS feel the need for such an event? All Narendra Modi events are highly publicised and have multiple political objectives. It is never an innocuous religious/cultural event as it may appear from the face of it. Afterall, RSS calls itself a cultural organisation, but has never ceased to surprise us with its political designs. Tamil Nadu has a long history of opposing imposition of Hindi by Union governments. Periyar EV Ramasamy had opposed the idea of compulsory teaching in Hindi as far back as in 1937. The 1960s witnessed violent protests against Hindi in which a number

Amit Shah accused of inciting communal passion: Demand to postpone Gujarat polls

Counterview Desk  In an email representation to the Election Commission of India (ECI), Dr EAS Sarma, former secretary to the Government of India, has objected to the statement reported to have been made by Union home minister Amit Shah, who allegedly justified the 2002 Gujarat riots stating that certain sections of people “taught a lesson” to the rioters. Noting that the statement, if correct, “in effect implies those other than the law enforcement authorities had taken law into their hands”, Sarma says, “Shah's statement needs to be viewed by the ECI in conjunction with the reported fact that it was the Union Home Ministry that cleared the release of the eleven rape convicts in the Bilkis Bano case, directly related to the infamous Godhra incidents in 2002, which triggered the shameful sequence of events that shook the nation's conscience.” According to Sarma, if the statement is true, “I am constrained to draw the inevitable inference that it would have already impacted th

BJP poll gimmick? Bilkis Bano rape case 'pardon' vs Rajiv assassins' release

By Sandeep Pandey*  Supreme Court has released six convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. This was bound to happen as earlier AG Perarivalan was released in the same case, setting a precedent. Even though four of them are Sri Lankans but a popular Tamil sentiment favoured the release of these convicts which is why Tamil political parties supported this and resolutions were passed by different governments in Tamil Nadu to his effect.  Rajiv Gandhi paid the price of sending Indian Peace Keeping Force to Sri Lanka where it got entangled with Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and eventually the whole operation ended up is a fiasco.  However, most importantly Sonia and Priyanka Gandhi and probably Rahul too do not have any objections to the release of these convicts. In fact, Sonia Gandhi played an important role in getting the death sentence of the only lady among the convicts Nalini commuted to life term through the Tamil Nadu Governor. Priyanka visited Nalini in Vellore Jail and

Diminishing returns: Hydro projects contribute less than 10% of India's power generation

Counterview Desk  Pointing out that India’s hydro generation remains around 10% for the last six years, the advocacy group South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) has said that power generation from hydropower projects continues to show diminishing returns, as has been the story close to three decades now. Yet, says SANDRP in a note, the Government of India continues to push large hydro by announcing a slew of additional subsidies for hydropower projects, more for political economy reason. In fact, attempts are being made to flog unviable hydropower projects with various kind of manipulations, illegalities and violations, it adds. Text : In last six years, from 2016-17 to 2021-22, India’s large hydropower projects (projects above 25 MW installed capacity) have contributed just around 10% of the total power generation, going as low as 9.68% in 2017-18. In fact, in three of these six years, large hydro contributed less than 10% and recovering only marginally in the rest,

Odisha survey reveals 56% children have not attended any classes post-pandemic

By Our Representative   The Learning Recovery Programme (LRP) has been taken up by the state government's Odisha School Education Programme Authority (OSEPA) to provide a learning opportunity to students to make up for losses in studies due to the closure of schools on account of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, lack of awareness among children and their parents and absence of robust monitoring have blocked its effective implementation, reveals a pilot fact-finding study conducted by the NGO Atmashakti Trust. The pilot study was conducted with school-going children in two blocks of the Nuapada district, where over 500 grassroots workers divided into 33 groups visited 68 schools in one day and interviewed 115 children to understand the implementation of LRP. The study was a part of its 26-day nationwide campaign, "Education Cannot Wait. Act Now!" which kickstarted on November 15, comprising Odisha, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, where