What state results say about national politics - Hindustan Times
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What state results say about national politics

Dec 03, 2023 10:34 PM IST

The North-South political divide has found an interesting meaning in these elections. The BJP’s dominance in North India gives an advantage to the party.

It is claimed the emerging electoral trends from five states that held assembly elections are going to be a decisive factor in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections; in simple terms, we are told the assembly elections ought to be seen as a mood of the nation. A section of media and political commentators highlight the impressive performance of the BJP in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh (MP) and Chhattisgarh to argue that the party under the leadership of Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi is going to win the 2024 election with ease.

The BJP relied heavily on PM Modi's image to expand its electoral outreach(HT Photo) PREMIUM
The BJP relied heavily on PM Modi's image to expand its electoral outreach(HT Photo)

It is claimed the emerging electoral trends from five states that held assembly elections are going to be a decisive factor in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections; in simple terms, we are told the assembly elections ought to be seen as a mood of the nation. A section of media and political commentators highlight the impressive performance of the BJP in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh (MP) and Chhattisgarh to argue that the party under the leadership of Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi is going to win the 2024 election with ease.

This line of argument is plausible. The BJP’s tremendous achievement cannot be underestimated. The party did not allow the Congress to take advantage of anti-incumbency in MP. The figure of Prime Minister Narendra Modi was over-emphasised in such a way that the contest eventually acquired a national character. These factors obviously create an impression that the BJP will not have any difficulty in 2024.

This interpretation of the results, however, suffers from two serious problems. First, it is unable to explain the nature of BJP’s electoral professionalism. The BJP relied heavily on PM Modi’s image to expand the scope of the electoral discourse. Yet, the party did not ignore state-level specificities. This grassroots-based electoral strategy helped the party to attract voters. The BJP establishment is fully aware of the fact that it has to invent a completely different electoral strategy in 2024. Second, this interpretation also underplays the Congress’s aggressive campaign and its remarkable performance in Telangana. The party has made an important political investment in the notion of social justice, especially after the successful Bharat Jodo Yatra (BJY). This new kind of social politics is certainly going to play a role in the future.

Still, these assembly elections cannot be (and should not be) analysed purely from the restricted perspective of what they mean for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. There is a need to look at the wider implications of these outcomes from the vantage point of Indian democracy. There are four interesting inferences.

First, the enthusiasm of voters in getting involved in the election process. Such involvement actually highlights two distinctive facets of our democratic tradition — faith in elections and political maturity. The significant turnouts show that citizens have a great trust in the election process. The election is recognised as a legitimate mechanism to constitute a representative government. At the same time, the voter is fully aware of the nature of each election. CSDS-Lokniti surveys show that voting trends in an assembly election do not always correspond to national-level voting patterns. The recent assembly elections underline this political maturity.

Second, these results confirm that political parties — and voters — have accepted a new kind of state model, which I call the charitable state. This is a state that makes a distinction between the economic sphere of citizens and their political life. Since the economic sphere is supposed to be regulated by the open market, the state offers one-time benefits to citizens on a case-to-case basis as some kind of political benevolence. The welfare packages offered by political parties in these elections are a good example of this emerging political trajectory. The success of the BJP is very much linked to this “charitable-state” model. PM Modi made a number of references to various welfare schemes in such a manner that an effective combination of welfare schemes and infrastructure development could be proposed as a package.

Third, the question of political narrative. The developmentalism of the BJP was able to attract voters in a significant way. The party also used Hindutva-driven nationalism to produce a set of powerful and convincing arguments. Yet, one cannot ignore an equally convincing counter-narrative, which has not yet fully evolved. The Bihar caste census has been an important point of reference in these elections. A section of political observers even went on to describe it as Mandal 2.0 as if the demand for a national-level caste census would have the kind of impact that the Mandal Commission report created. This kind of sweeping generalisation is simplistic. However, it is also true that the Opposition, with the caste census demand, has forced the BJP to rethink its ideological position on internal caste divisions among marginalised communities. Obviously, the Congress could not develop this line of argument successfully in these elections.

Finally, the North-South political divide has found an interesting meaning in these elections. The BJP’s dominance in northern India, clearly, gives an advantage to the party. It will be easy for the BJP to evoke Hindutva-driven nationalism in these states in the coming months, especially in relation to the proposed inauguration of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya. The slogan “double-engine government” will also become more relevant and effective for the party. On the other hand, the revival of the Congress in southern India is an important phenomenon. The Telangana win is an indication that the party organisation at the state level is evolving in an unprecedented manner after the victory in Karnataka.

These four indications will become more meaningful and concrete in the coming months.

Hilal Ahmed is associate professor, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. The views expressed are personal

Unveiling 'Elections 2024: The Big Picture', a fresh segment in HT's talk show 'The Interview with Kumkum Chadha', where leaders across the political spectrum discuss the upcoming general elections. Watch Now!

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