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Friday, Nov 22, 2019

India’s political vacuum

The BJP is popular. But the voter is also bereft of choices

editorials Updated: Oct 21, 2019 20:14 IST

The same voters who express their grievances are often quick to say that they will vote for the BJP
The same voters who express their grievances are often quick to say that they will vote for the BJP(Sanjeev Kumar/Hindustan Times)
         

If exit polls are any indicator, the Maharashtra and Haryana elections are set to throw up predictable results. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is likely to return to power, alone in Haryana, and, in alliance with the Shiv Sena, in Maharashtra. This will reinforce the pattern of dominance of the party, which was so clearly visible during the Lok Sabha results earlier this year. It will be seen as a vindication of the set of policies adopted by the Narendra Modi government since being re-elected. And it will also establish both Devendra Fadnavis and Manohar Lal Khattar as strong state-level leaders in their own right.

But if the results indeed reflect the exit polls, the more significant takeaway is for the Opposition. Rarely in recent Indian democratic history has the electoral contest been as one-sided as it is now. But here is the surprise. Reports from both states have indicated that while Mr Modi remains popular, central schemes are effective, and BJP-led governments are credited with less corruption, there is also rising discontent among social groups. The economic slowdown is having an impact on the ground. The young are concerned about the absence of employment opportunities. There is a dip in purchasing power. Farmers continue to complain about inadequate prices. Shopkeepers in markets in small towns and villages report a dip in sales. And there is a sense of unease that the government may not either be fully in control of the economic situation, or its measures are not yet having the desired impact.

Yet, the same voters who express their grievances are often quick to say that they will vote for the BJP. A key reason for this is what they perceive as the lack of a strong alternative and a sense of inevitability about the BJP’s win. This is due to two factors. The first is the Opposition’s weaknesses — the Congress’ national leadership is discredited; it is seen as being on the wrong side of the nationalism debate; it suffers a crisis of credibility and communication; and its organisation is weak. The other is the BJP’s shrewd politics, which has co-opted strong leaders from the other side or been selective about corruption cases to target them. The result is that voters are bereft of choices. The big question in Indian politics is who will eventually fill this vacuum.