What the verdict holds for the BJP, its mascot, Modi - Hindustan Times

What the verdict holds for the BJP, its mascot, Modi

Jun 07, 2024 10:00 PM IST

PM Modi may need to turn into a consensus builder to manage NDA allies and also to negotiate the changing power dynamics within his own party

At the first meeting of the MPs of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister (PM)-elect, touched the Constitution to his forehead before taking his seat. Therein lies a symbolic story of this election verdict and its chastening, humbling, corrective power.

BJP supporters during a campaign rally. (ANI Photo)(HT_PRINT)
BJP supporters during a campaign rally. (ANI Photo)(HT_PRINT)

If we want to understand what shifted in the 2024 campaign and how the Constitution came to occupy a starring role even in the BJP bastions, let’s start with the result in Ayodhya, the pilgrim town that is home to the Ram Mandir.

When Modi presided over the consecration of the temple in January, it was widely assumed that this would be the BJP’s Pulwama moment for 2024 — an emotive issue that would define the campaign and easily push them over the finish line.

But once I started travelling it became evident that the Mandir was no electoral issue at all. There was reverence for the temple but it was seen as a matter of faith, not politics. From Bengaluru to Bhopal, people shrugged their shoulders when I asked about the temple — they never brought it up on their own — and said, “Yes, but that’s done now.”

The defeat of the BJP in Ayodhya – two-time MP Lallu Singh losing to a Dalit candidate of the INDIA bloc — brings home multiple truths of this verdict. Lallu Singh was among the motormouths of the BJP who spoke of needing more than 272 seats for “making a new Constitution”. Speeches like these coupled with Narendra Modi’s call for “400 paar” boomeranged. What might have been an esoteric campaign by the Opposition about saving the Constitution became a live wire debate among historically oppressed and marginalised communities who derive their identity and protections from the Constitution. The Opposition succeeded in pushing the Modi campaign on the defensive on this score.

Dalits constitute 26% of the Ayodhya-Faizabad constituency. The caste configurations compounded pockets of local anger among those who had lost homes and property in demolitions as the town was beautified for the Mandir. Eventually what unfolded in Ayodhya replicated itself in other constituencies. The BJP lost five seats in the Ayodhya Faizabad region. Elsewhere too, it took a hit in reserved constituencies (Ayodhya is a general seat). In 2014, the BJP won all reserved seats in Uttar Pradesh, in 2019 the BJP and its allies took 15 of these seats. In this election, the division in Dalit votes resulted in the BJP taking only eight of these constituencies.

While many other factors went wrong for the BJP in Uttar Pradesh — poor ticket selection, import of outsiders among them — the fact is that had Mayawati not fielded candidates that helped to split the anti-BJP vote, the BJP could have lost another 10-15 seats. In fact, it could have fallen as low as 19.

The results have also exposed the limitations of religion as an instrument of political mobilisation. The BJP lost Banswara, in Rajasthan, where Modi made his most inflammatory speech, one in which he spoke of mangalsutras and Muslims and used words like ghuspaithee (infiltrators). Later, he disassociated from his own words. His voters noticed. Everywhere I travelled when I would ask BJP voters what they liked about the Modi government they would invariably list — infrastructure, internal security, India’s place in the world order. When I would ask what he should change, from Bareilly to Bengaluru, the answer was the same: Focus more on jobs and dial down the Hindu-Muslim rhetoric. In a small village of Uttar Pradesh, a farmer used the word “bekaar” (useless) for politics of religion. “Don’t talk to us about Hindus and Muslims. Talk to us about electricity and jobs.” Not surprisingly, the BJP has done much worse in rural and semi-urban constituencies than in urbanised ones.

Modi will enter the history books for being only the second Prime Minister since India’s independence to secure a third term. The first was Jawaharlal Nehru.

It’s ironic, but that is not the biggest headline from the election mandate. Above all the results are about the pushback against unbridled power and unilateralism. In Maharashtra, for instance, I remember meeting countless Modi voters who were distinctly unhappy about how the Shiv Sena had been split.

In Madhya Pradesh, where the BJP has done very well, there was still vocal disapproval about how Shivraj Singh Chouhan had been ousted as chief minister. Chouhan, who has won by the highest margin of votes, may now take the role of party president or home minister. And, perhaps, the unceremonious humiliation of Vasundhara Raje in Rajasthan also made its impact felt in the numbers.

Modi will have to transition from being an alpha male to a consensus builder to manage not just the allies who have emerged as kingmakers, but also the changing power dynamics within his own party. Whether he can fly with clipped wings for the next five years is the question still in search of an answer.

Barkha Dutt is an award-winning journalist and author. The views expressed are personal

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