Now that the election results are out, we will see ‘expert’ pontifications spread like pestilence across media platforms. Fortunately for Indians, the ‘viral views’, while being highly infectious, will only damage some egos. As the world, including India, gets more polarised, most ‘experts’ will vote their opinions along ideological lines — the spectrum ranging from Yogi Adityanath to Arvind Kejriwal being touted as the next prime minister.
Election season makes for good entertainment, even as the race to do postmortems leads to a plethora of mostly wrong and some correct conclusions. Since we rely more on data than our intellectual abilities, we humbly offer four wrong and two correct conclusions that will be drawn in the days and weeks ahead. Let’s start with the wrong ones.
Regional parties, dynasty politics & the Modi story
After 75 years in active politics and 11 elections, five-time chief minister of Punjab, the 94-year-old Shiromani Akali Dal stalwart Parkash Singh Badal has finally lost an election after 50 years. So did his son Sukhbir Singh Badal. Akhilesh Yadav failed yet again after 2017. Once dominant regional parties of Manipur like the National People’s Party, the Naga People’s Front or the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party in Goa have become junior partners or ‘frenemies’ of the Bharatiya Janata Party. The conclusion? Traditional regional parties are on the wane. This is an instant analysis entirely bereft of data, facts and evidence. The fact is: Regional parties (including the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal of Akhilesh and Tejasvi Yadav respectively) remain strong and potent challengers to the BJP. Remember May 2021, when the same ‘experts’ concluded that regional parties will decisively defeat the BJP after Mamata Bannerjee and M. K. Stalin won West Bengal and Tamil Nadu? Electoral data from across India clearly shows regional parties are mostly strong, resilient and retain the core support base to live and fight another day even if they lose.
That ‘dynasty politics’ is passé is another wrong conclusion that many analysts, especially those leaning towards the BJP, will hastily draw. After all, has “Bulldozer Baba” Adityanath not dashed the dynastic dreams of Akhilesh? Hasn’t the Badal family been humiliated? Didn’t Tejasvi Yadav fail to inch ahead despite the visible “anti-incumbency” against Nitish Kumar in Bihar in 2020? And of course, don’t forget Rahul Gandhi. What does the electoral data suggest? Two once-powerful parties without clearly defined dynasties, the Asom Gana Parishad in Assam and the Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh have simply faded away. And there is consensus amongst journalists with their ears to the ground in Odisha that the Biju Janata Dal awaits a similar fate after the 75-year-old Naveen Patnaik hangs up his political boots without a family heir. It’s the same story with Nitish Kumar and the Janata Dal (United). In contrast, dynastic parties continue to thrive, even if they lose. Uddhav Thackeray, Sachin Pilot, K. C. Rao and his son K. T. Rao, YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, M. K. Stalin, Ajit Pawar and Supriya Sule, the Abdullah family in Jammu & Kashmir, the Chautala clan in Haryana, despite fratricidal intrafamily feuds, are evidence that it is foolhardy, if not foolish to write-off political dynasties in India. All of them belong to parties that are in, or until recently have been in, power with vote shares in their respective states that the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty will now dream about.
Last year, Narendra Modi was vulnerable. Now, till the next time he comes across another Mamata Bannerjee, Pinarayi Vijayan, Arvind Kejriwal or Naveen Patnaik in assembly elections, Modi will remain “invincible”. And he will turn vulnerable for the same sets of ‘experts’ within the next three months if the BJP gets a drabbling in the upcoming municipality elections of Delhi. Right now, even his critics reluctantly concede that Modi is the most towering and popular political leader in contemporary India.
But to call him ‘invincible’ is just a lazy and sycophantic misuse of a powerful adjective, as is the misuse of the word ‘vulnerable’ for him whenever BJP is on a sticky wicket. Since he became the prime minister, Modi has lost twice to Kejriwal, twice to Mamata Bannerjee, twice to separate leaders in Punjab and Tamil Nadu, twice to Pinarayi Vijayan in Kerala, once to Hemant Soren in Jharkhand, twice to Naveen Patnaik, once to Jagan Reddy, once to the Congress in Himachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan… and so on, in the Vidhan Sabha elections. The same set of voters turn to Modi when there is a Lok Sabha election at play. People are voting for different stakeholders at different levels very clearly. Voters have no doubt in their mind, only the analysts do.
We have little doubt that the sheer diversity of India will ensure a balance of power even in the future. The previous “invincible” leader of India was Indira Gandhi, and even she lost her own seat once. The message for Modi ‘bhakts’ as well as Modi phobics is this: He is neither ‘vulnerable’ nor ‘invincible’. He wins simply because he is smart and hard-working. The same is the case with regional leaders who managed to defeat him in assembly elections. You have to outdo Modi in both departments to have a chance. Akhilesh was smart, but not hard-working enough. Priyanka worked hard, but hardly displayed any smartness. Mayawati was neither smart nor hard-working. And voters of Uttar Pradesh outsmarted them all.
Each time Modi loses a few elections or a few states, ‘experts’ rustle up their own versions of a “United Front” against him for Lok Sabha elections. The peak came towards the end of 2018. The BJP had lost Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. It had lost “crucial” Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh in Phulpur, Gorakhpur and Kairana to a combined opposition in byelections. All looked lost for Modi when Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav joined hands to snatch Uttar Pradesh away. Without UP, Modi had no chance, and leaders like N. Chandrababu Naidu, Mamata Bannerjee, M. K. Stalin, et al., cheered and promised a united front. What happened in 2019? With Arvind Kejriwal winning Punjab in a spectacular fashion and making no bones about another “new India” with him at the helm, one can safely write off a genuinely united opposition front against Modi in 2024. If Mamata Banerjee and Arvind Kejriwal cannot even temporarily bury their egos and come together in a tiny state like Goa, where both anyway stood no chance of winning, does anyone seriously expect them to come together and join a clutch of ambitious regional satraps in another serious effort at putting up just one ‘united opposition’ candidate against the BJP in at least 400 Lok Sabha seats?
Well, along with water, electricity and ration, even dreams come free in this now old Modi version of ‘new India’. We must reiterate, however, that this doesn’t guarantee a Modi victory in 2024. But it will definitely make the challenge less daunting for him. And by the way, just to underline, Congress still managed to poll more than Kejriwal and Mamata put together in Goa.
Congress is finished & BJP’s UP plan
What about the right conclusions? They are fairly obvious to even ideologically-blinded and fact-cum-data deprived ‘experts’.
Even a class 11 political science student will arrive at this one comfortably without any deep thinking or research: One can safely write off the Congress as a challenger to the BJP in 2024. They were a distant number two in terms of votes and seats in 2014, followed by 2019 and there is hardly any signal that 2024 is going to be different. Trying to look beyond that is fruitless. It’s a party on the brink of political suicide. We are not so concerned just with the results of UP and Punjab assembly results. We look at the map of India and electoral data apart from credible field stories from intrepid journalists who talk to at least some people and see the following:
Out of 293 odd Lok Sabha seats in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha, West Bengal, Delhi, Bihar, Jharkhand, UP and Maharashtra, where the Congress has already lost its party organisation and cadre or are in the process of losing it, the party can hope to win, at best, 20 seats. Please note we are not adding Tamil Nadu to this list, even though we all know the ground realities in the state where it is merely piggy-riding the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam cadre and Stalin’s popularity. Can Congress manage to win 80 more seats in the rest of the country that includes states like Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Assam, Punjab, Haryana and Chhattisgarh among others, even if voters are not happy with Modi, to reach the now magical-looking mark of 100 seats in 2024? Almost two decades of electoral data don’t suggest anything like that. If you still think a week is a long time in politics and anything can happen, you are welcome to your “Nehru-Gandhi” illusions and delusions.
In 2009, Mayawati, then ruling Uttar Pradesh with an absolute majority, considered herself a serious contender for the top job in India in the event of a hung Parliament. That didn’t materialise as the self-effacing Manmohan Singh inspired voters to give the UPA, minus the Left, a clear mandate. It looks as if it will never materialise in the future. These elections have delivered one more political leader who has become irrelevant in national politics. And that is Mayawati. Remember, it was the definitive shift of non-Jatav Dalit votes to BJP in Uttar Pradesh that delivered the decisive mandate for BJP in 2014, 2017, 2019 and now in 2022. BSP is now left with just the core Jatav voters. By 2024, there would be a new generation of Jatav voters who would have no memory whatsoever of the time when Mayawati was in her prime. And if you know the grassroot realities of Uttar Pradesh, you will understand that further disintegration of the BSP vote bank is unlikely to land them at SP doorsteps. Watch out for the well-planned and executed elevation of BJP’s very own Jatav leaders like Baby Rani Maurya and others in the pipeline. Modi knows where his voters are coming from, and he is investing in them as meticulously as only he can among the present lot.
There are many other interesting things that the results of UP and Punjab have shown. But those will have to wait another day. In the meantime, you can do yourself a favour. Please write a small note on a post-it and stick it somewhere on your desk. It should read: BJP under Modi is a party with a solid base of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, rural, poor and women voters cutting across all these demographics, distinctively voting for the last mile-approach in the execution of social welfare policies.
Next time, whenever any noted “expert”, Indian and foreign alike, tries to tell you that BJP’s phenomenon is to be defined basically as a party of the urban, middle class, ‘upper caste’, male support base, voting on Hindu-Muslim polarisation, just read the note.
Yashwant Deshmukh is Founder of CVoter, and Sutanu Guru is Executive Director of CVoter Foundation. Views are personal.
(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)