Do you know what I find most heartening about the recent by-election results? It’s the loud, clear and firm message from India’s Hindu voters. My bet is it will resonate across our political firmament for a while to come.
India’s Hindu voters — and I use that description deliberately — have refused to accept the BJP’s accusation of love jihad. They’ve rejected the claim 99.99% of those accused of rape are Muslims. They do not believe madrasas are a training ground for terrorists.
The list of BJP leaders who tried to mislead the Hindu voter is long. It includes BJP UP president Laxmikant Bajpai, Union minister Kalraj Mishra, MPs Yogi Adityanath and Sakshi Maharaj and UP MLA Sangeet Singh Som. The bunkum they spouted — and I’m being deliberately euphemistic — was hateful. Both the campaign and its advocates were unequivocally rejected.
The core content was simple: Muslims have launched a love jihad to lure innocent Hindu girls into marriage and convert them to Islam. The BJP thought it could prise apart India’s Hindu and Muslim communities by spreading this canard. They clearly thought such mischief could provoke suspicion of Muslims.
So the message from the Hindu voter is he is secular. Indeed, India is a secular country because its Hindus are committed to this principle. Once upon a time this was something the BJP repeatedly said. I’m amazed they forgot it.
This is a moment of great pride for all us. It could have been easy and tempting to fall into the BJP trap. After all, the party presented itself as a defender of Hindu interests. That the voters of UP, Rajasthan and Gujarat didn’t is strong affirmation of India’s secular credentials.
There are, however, three other lessons from these by-elections, though of a lesser order. At least two are for Mr Narendra Modi.
First, when the BJP talks of development, youth and issues like health, water, electricity and education the country will vote in overwhelming numbers for the party. That’s what happened in May. But change the tune and the outcome is very different.
The second is more tenuous but also more flattering for the prime minister. I suspect India voted for him in May, not for his party or its legacy. He epitomised the promise of change and they believed him.
The third lesson is psephological. If the anti-BJP political forces can unite or, at least, not split their votes, the BJP can be checked. No doubt the Shiv Sena will use this lesson to its advantage in Maharashtra.
The BJP can draw some comfort from an analysis done by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies of 1,100 by-elections for assembly seats between 1967 and 2012. It shows that the ruling party in a state is more likely to win than the ruling party at the Centre and, second, when the two parties are different, the ruling party in the state is twice as likely to win a by-poll. But for this to be really comforting the BJP would have to admit they knew they would lose. That, I’m sure, they’re not prepared to say.
The truth is that of the 50 assembly seats where by-elections have been held since May, the BJP had 34 and with its allies 35. Of these, they’ve lost 21 and their ally another one. Now, 22 out of 35 is a loss of nearly 63%. When defeat is of that scale it’s hard to be comforted by statistics.
The views expressed by the author are personal