Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s username in Uttar Pradesh was ‘development’ but his password was ‘Hindutva’, claim his political adversaries who are yet to come to terms with the BJP’s unprecedented electoral success in the country’s most populous state.
For the opposition, it could be a convenient excuse to hide their ineptitude. But the BJP might have, willingly or unwittingly, promoted the same line of arguments by appointing Adityanath Yogi the chief minister. Appointment of a Brahmin and an OBC leader as deputy CMs—both dyed-in-the-wool Hindutva advocates — is more about the burgeoning influence of the RSS in the BJP’s decision-making process than any attempt to reflect the BJP’s expanding social base.
There is no denying the fact that Modi and his party colleagues blended Hindutva in their development narrative in their campaign.
There is, however, an element of chicanery in the opposition parties’ arguments that the UP results mirrored polarisation along religious lines; they simply failed to read the pulse of the people.
The yearning for change — to be a part of an alternative narrative built around people’s aspirations — was unmistakable. BJP’s projection of its rivals as representatives of sectarian interests only whetted their longings.
For now, the real or imagined Hindu consolidation has got the opposition in a bind. The confusion in the opposition camp was evident from reactions of Congress leaders to Yogi’s appointment.
Party spokesperson Manish Tewari saw in it as an extension of the “politics of shamshan-kabristan”, but the party’s chief spokesman Randeep Surjewala was guarded, saying that it was the ruling party’s prerogative to choose the CM and the Congress would continue to act as a watchdog of people’s interests. Explaining how so-called secular parties have gone on the defensive, a Muslim leader rued, “They want to meet us in the darkness of night but refuse to recognise us in the daytime.”
After the Lok Sabha elections, senior leader AK Antony had said that the perception about the Congress being pro-Muslim had hurt the party’s interests. Post-UP verdict, many of his colleagues are coming around to this prognosis.
The BJP has reasons to gloat over the principal opposition party’s plight, but the latest round of assembly elections has lessons for the ruling party, too. Since 2014, all the states the BJP won while riding the ‘Modi wave’—Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand, Jammu & Kashmir, and Assam, among others — were those where the Congress faced strong anti-incumbency. The first time the BJP faced anti-incumbency was in the last Punjab and Goa elections. Even Modi’s popularity could not help the BJP retain its support base among Hindus in Punjab and the party almost lost in Goa.
It’s obvious that while the PM’s popularity gives BJP an edge, much also depends on the performance of its governments in states.
The BJP seems to be coming close to realising its goal of a ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’ with three more Congress-ruled states — Himachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Karnataka — going to polls in the next 14 months.
Assuming that the Modi wave might still help the BJP buck anti-incumbency in Gujarat later this year, the big challenge for the BJP would be to retain its governments when the wheel turns full circle and other BJP-ruled states start going to polls from November 2018 onwards. Punjab and Goa results have posed a few teasers to the BJP about its governance models .
It might face more probing questions in the future if it continues to interpret poll results, especially in UP, as a triumph of its Hindutva politics.