By Rashmi Saksena
India has once again spoken emphatically. Hidden in the post state poll statistics and tabulations of percentages is a message from the aspirational voter. What is the new India seeking from its political leaders? Decoding the poll outcome gives a very clear indication of what today’s India is aspiring for.
It would do a world of good for the ascending Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its main political rival on the national scene, the grand old declining Indian National Congress, to heed the call from the people, read the changing mood and craft strategy as they move towards the national electoral battle in 2019. If heady success of the saffron sweep goes to the head of the BJP and it pushes an aggressive right-wing agenda it may well just axe its own feet. If the Congress refuses to take note of what the voter is telling it may ruin its own chances of revival and a comeback.
It is easy to read the message from the voters. At a macro level the voter has said a big YES to development, a strong decisive leader and a big NO to caste and communal divisions. The voter of today has tried to erase the inherent fault lines of caste, sub castes and religion that have shackled him over decades. There is no political party, either at the national level or regional level, which has not exploited this to gain power. Vote bank politics has been a given at the cost of creating more fissures in society and tragically the voter in India has been easily manipulated election after election. If the just concluded poll results are any indication, the voter has had enough of it and will take no more of it. The BJP has for the first time seen the Muslim vote in its bag without which (Muslims constitute abut 18% of the 220 million population of Uttar Pradesh and their votes are crucial in some areas) it would not have able to sweep the politically influential state of Uttar Pradesh. The minorities too have given a thumbs up to development instead of being bogged down by its perception of the BJP being anti Muslims or Muslims being anti-BJP!
Another extremely significant take away from the polls is the high number of women who have come out to vote. According to the Election Commission, more women turned out to vote in UP, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Manipur and Goa. Not only does this indicate the long awaited welcome development of an increased and growing participation of women in the electoral process but also that women can be game-changers.
The political map of India is now heavily saffron (a colour that is perceived as sacred to the Hindu right-wing). About 63.6% of India’s territory is under BJP rule (in some cases with an ally). States of Jammu & Kashmir, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh . As much as 53.93% of India’s population is being governed by the BJP.
Why has the BJP swept the polls this time round? In UP, which has been the stage of high communal violence and tension over the years, the BJP handed out a heady mix of development and Hindu nationalism. This formula cut across caste barriers as well as religion. It is obvious that the BJP success has come because sections of the Dalits, the most backward in the caste pyramid, and the minorities have put their stamp on the lotus symbol of the saffron party. In an extremely significant shift the Muslims have gone with the BJP instead of their traditional favorites, the Congress and the Samajawadi Party or even their new benefactor the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) which gave 90+ tickets to Muslims over Dalits who are its core supporters. BSP leader and former UP Chief Minister Mayawati (she goes by one name) just cant imagine how it happened and accused the BJP and the Election Commission of India of tampering with the electronic voting machines which India now widely uses for its elections. The Muslims would rather now cheer for development instead of living in fear of the bogey of BJPs antagonism for them.
Over 63% of women voters came out to vote in UP against 59.43% of male voters. It is obvious that they were rooting for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speedy implementation of the ujjwala (energy) scheme that has brought gas fuel to their kitchen and subsidy for building of toilets. The BJP firm stand on doing with the triple 'triple talaq (divorce) custom - much against the wishes of the conservative mullahs - is understood to have brought in the Muslim women vote.
Uttarakhand (won by BJP), Punjab (won by Congress), Manipur and Goa (both heading for BJP rule) have also displayed the voter’s preference for a strong leader who can deliver on the development agenda. That is why the Congress Chief Minister in Uttarakhand was voted out because he was shown up as one who was unable to provide stable governance. In Punjab the Akali and BJP alliance was discarded because the Chief Minister faced charges of nepotism and graft. Both in Goa and Manipur, the BJP is managing to cobble together a government with the help of smaller regional parties and on the promise of a decisive leadership.
Through the entire election campaign Modi was the face of the BJP campaign across the states. The BJP strategy was to cash in on the image of Modi as a strong leader who can take decisive action like demonetization and "surgical strikes" across the border with Pakistan. The bottom line is that the voter in India is now looking for strong leaders who can deliver on development. Everything else is secondary. As Modi himself as tweeted post results “a new India is emerging…mandate is in favour of performance and development”.
(Rashmi Saksena is a veteran political analyst )