Haryana’s lessons can help the Congress in Delhi

Hindustan Times | ByVinod Sharma
Oct 24, 2019 08:58 PM IST

The BJP will push nationalism. The Congress must forge a tactical pact with AAP to prevent a split in votes

An honourable defeat is the best consolation for the underdog on a difficult political wicket. That’s why the Opposition can have hope, if not power, in Haryana and Maharashtra.

Congress leader and former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda in Rohtak, October 24, 2019(PTI)
Congress leader and former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda in Rohtak, October 24, 2019(PTI)

The question nevertheless remains whether Haryana’s hung house and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s below par show in Maharashtra means light at the end of the tunnel for the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), which were so decisively decimated in both states in the Lok Sabha polls?

Will the outcome spur the Congress out of its stupor to show some verve in the upcoming polls in Jharkhand and Delhi? In both states, the BJP reaffirmed its dominance in May this year, winning 12 of the 14 Jharkhand seats while making a clean sweep of Delhi’s seven.

In Delhi, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)’s proposed alliance with the Congress did not fructify, thanks to the latter’s diffident central leadership and a faction-driven state unit. Doubts persist whether the rapprochement that had then eluded them could happen before the 2020 assembly polls? High now on its salutary Haryana show, the Congress is capable of assuming superiority to cite its 2019 Lok Sabha vote percentage of 22.5%, up from 15.10% of the previous polls, compared to the AAP’s 18.1%, down from the 2014 high of 32.9%.

But the non-BJP parties in the capital should be guided by the BJP’s 56.58% parliamentary vote in Delhi. A tactical understanding short of a formal alliance could benefit both. The Congress must acknowledge that in the assembly polls, Arvind Kejriwal’s challenge to the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo would be more credible. It might reverse in AAP’s favour the divided non-BJP vote of which the Congress got a bigger share in the parliamentary election because of its relatively higher viability as a national alternative.

Unlike the Congress that struggled to mount an acceptable counter-narrative, Kejriwal was both glib and nimble-footed enough to not get trapped in the BJP’s medley range of rhetoric. Learning from his widely-misconstrued formulation on India’s Balakot airstrike — in which he advised Modi to counter, with proof, the Pakistani propaganda — Kejriwal supported the abrogation of Article 370 and kept his counsel on the contentious National Register of Citizens (NRC).

Given his demand for full statehood for Delhi, Kejriwal’s endorsement of Jammu and Kashmir’s bifurcation into two Union Territories appears a glaring contradiction. But it is proof of his ability to not lose sight of the big picture which unites people in a partisan polity.

On the face of it, the BJP’s nationalist plank hasn’t delivered robust results in Haryana and Maharashtra where the verdict is reminiscent of the 2017 Gujarat polls. It is a kind of scenario where the runner-up looks the winner and the winner gets to rule on a tenuous majority.

But the nationalist plank getting a fresh boost is within the pale of possibility. A judicial go-ahead for the temple in Ayodhya would lend the Modi-Shah chariot some extra horse-power in Delhi and Jharkhand.

But the mighty BJP twosome and the Congress, if it insists on being the third corner in a triangular fight, will be handicapped without a chief ministerial face to match that of Kejriwal. The BJP’s Manoj Tiwari and the Congress’s Subhash Chopra are but junior league for someone who took up cudgels against the Prime Minister.

That apart, the AAP’s organisational machine is formidable, despite the brain-drain it has had. Among the poor and the lower middle classes, it is rated high for its work in the health and education sectors, besides providing water and electricity on rationalised-subsidised tariffs. It has, in sum, an impressive record for a renewed mandate. In comparison, there is little to write home about, when it comes to the municipal corporations run by the BJP.

That is not to suggest that the BJP, which is high on resources, power and individual charisma, in addition to its ability to mould and control the political narrative, will let the AAP have it easy or have it all.

Haryana might come across as an exception. In reality, the fall in the BJP’s tally obfuscates its sizeably higher vote-share than the Congress.

The contradiction can be explained perhaps by the Hindutva libretto the BJP scripted and strengthened in every election. That’s at the root of the rising majoritarian nationalism feeding on the party’s concept of correcting historic wrongs. Several of its poll planks and political initiatives fall in that category — the temple at Ayodhya, nullification of Article 370, detection of illegal migrants from Bangladesh, citizenship for persecuted minorites in the region (minus the Muslims), and the inexorable march to a uniform civil code.

In fact, the BJP’s promise to place VD Savarkar in the annals of the Bharat Ratnas is in consonance with Amit Shah’s advocacy of “writing history with an Indian perspective”.

Savarkar’s rehabilitation started under Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s National Democratic Alliance government. His portrait was unveiled in Parliament’s central hall a year before the 2004 polls when the BJP-led combine lost to the United Progressive Alliance. Whether that was a different India will be known in Delhi, where the electorate has an option other than the BJP.

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