Usually, it is a series with an on-ground look at the mood in a poll-bound state that I call ‘Writings on the Wall’. The numbers at the end of this five-state poll campaign give us the other, starker, and more conventional version of the writings on the wall. I read seven for you.
• Two political phenomena began in Indian politics in 2012: Narendra Modi and Arvind Kejriwal. Both have proved true to their promise. Modi, with his third successive win in Gujarat, became the frontrunner for the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in 2014. Kejriwal morphed from an apolitical activist to a full-time politician, albeit by launching a new party. Exactly a decade later, the first is a colossus of the kind Indian politics has never seen before. I say that with some deliberation. Nehru as prime minister had no challenger, Indira Gandhi had a head-start as his daughter. Modi is a self-made non-dynast, and now unbeatable in a sufficient expanse of the country to remain the unassailable national leader. The repeat Uttar Pradesh landslide carves this on the wall.
• Kejriwal began with nothing but a proposition that was apolitical, or even anti-politics. There was scepticism when he launched a political party. What does he stand for? What’s his ideology? Can he jump the formidable entry barriers of Indian politics? A decade later, he’s done all of that. His political ideology is indeed what his war-cry as an activist was: Our politics sucks. In essence, therefore, he’s still anti-(conventional) politics.
The change is that his alternative is now no longer mere angry, politically anodyne activism, but a new politics of his own kind. Welfarism and efficient delivery to rival the BJP’s, unapologetic Hindu religiosity to match the RSS, nationalism louder than Modi’s, and a quiet substitution of Gandhi, Nehru or Savarkar with Sardar Bhagat Singh and Babasaheb (Ambedkar). Those are the two least polarising figures in our politics. You might abuse Nehru 24×7, even call Gandhi names often enough, hail Godse as a hero. Now pit Ambedkar and Bhagat Singh versus Gandhi and Savarkar, respectively. You’d know the winning side. How sharp is Kejriwal in his politics? No amount of woke poking persuaded him or his key lieutenants to show up at Shaheen Bagh, or the Delhi riots. After Delhi and Punjab, he’s headed to vacuum clean the Congress vote in Gujarat later this year. Muslims will likely vote for him there.
• For 60 years since we became a republic in 1950, our politics was all structured around the Congress and its conception of a socialist, secular state. That epoch has faded fully. Now we are wading neck deep through a new, BJP/RSS/Hindu nationalism epoch. The preference of Hindu nationalism over Hindutva is consciously made. Religion has its oomph, but the pull of religiously defined new nationalism is enormously greater.
Today, if all of BJP’s rivals in Uttar Pradesh made a spectacle of walking to the Kashi Vishwanath temple across the new corridor — which I quite like — the secular republic has been redefined. Everybody has fallen in line. Today, we have a new nationalism, a new secularism and increasingly a new socialism redefined as efficient, non-leaky welfarism.
• I am tempted to say the next writing on the wall is an epitaph of two major political parties, Congress and BSP. But let me be cautious and say that both are now on the ventilator. The Congress still runs two and a half (Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra/Jharkhand) states and has access to some resources. But given how compulsively efficient it’s been with setting its own house on fire, you’d wonder how long Rajasthan will last. Congress’s nemesis is snapping at its heels and it’s AAP, not BJP. Gujarat will be the next test.
With a more serious and smarter leadership, Congress may still be redeemable, although it’s getting improbable by the day as it loses its loyal vote not to the BJP but to other challengers in the anti-/non-BJP space: Mamata in Bengal, Jagan in Andhra, NCP in Maharashtra, AAP in Delhi and Punjab. The only states where it has lost its vote to the BJP lately are Tripura and Telangana. For how long will the DMK keep dragging its broken wagon in Tamil Nadu, is a good question.
• If the BSP looks even more hopeless, it is because this election has affirmed a fundamental shift in UP politics. From a three-and-a-half-party (BJP, SP, BSP, Congress) race, it has now become a straight BJP-SP fight. Nobody can get power by adding one or two castes to Muslims as SP and BSP have done in the past. Of the two, BSP has declined to where recovery is near-impossible. Especially as Muslims are unlikely to trust it again. An incredible new experiment that Kanshi Ram launched has now been slaughtered, halal style, by his chosen successor.
• The decimation of the Shiromani Akali Dal, the most openly and formally religious party in India, will have consequences that go far beyond electoral politics. The unique Sikh tradition of drawing political power from religion or the panth, the much-celebrated union of church (gurdwara) and the state, will not go away. If anything, with all political power gone now, it will manifest in complex ways. This change in Punjab is not merely political. Can you keep faith completely out of politics in a state where people get lynched on mere suspicion of sacrilege and police dare not act? Can it, or what if, AAP wins a Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) election? I know we are walking into intricacies of non-heartland politics that makes you yawn. You might just hear more on this as the electoral dust settles.
• And finally, another star has firmly risen in the BJP. Yogi Adityanath is now its second most popular leader. The ‘base’ adores him. The BJP has many ruthless leaders with super-sharp political minds. But none has all this and Yogi’s charisma and personal ambition. Plus, as the youngest major leader in the country — younger than Rahul or even Kejriwal — he’s got time on his side. Some consternation among the party seniors is inevitable. Track his moves closely if you’re interested in national politics.