View: Democracy deals hubris a blow

Another notion that bites the dust is putative divorce between economic distress and popularity of the ruling party. Both these should have a bracing effect on the dynamics of democracy.

AP
The BJP’s fall in popularity, not just in relation to the Modi wave that washed over much of the country in the 2019 Parliament elections, but in relation to the mandate the party got in the 2014 assembly elections, as well, is bad news for the party in two respects.
The Maharashtra and Haryana assembly election results are good news for India. Voters have dispelled the impression that had begun to crystallise that the ruling party had become invincible and there was no space for an Opposition. Another notion that bites the dust is putative divorce between economic distress and popularity of the ruling party. Both these should have a bracing effect on the dynamics of democracy.

For the Congress party, its newfound relevance and resonance with the electorate of two states offer a golden opportunity to put off genuine introspection, don a few fiery red feathers and claim some lineage with the phoenix. Well, that is a trifle uncharitable. Clearly, putting the Selja-Hooda team in charge of Haryana, even if so late in the day, brought the party to the cusp of victory, and that was deliberate political action, not passive agglomeration around itself of popular anger against the ruling party.

The BJP’s fall in popularity, not just in relation to the Modi wave that washed over much of the country in the 2019 Parliament elections, but in relation to the mandate the party got in the 2014 assembly elections, as well, is bad news for the party in two respects. It shows that the people have not given the BJP a free pass. If it the party does not respond to bread and butter issues, and chooses to stay within a cocoon of ultra-nationalism and minority bashing, voters would show their disapproval. Further, it shows that the national leadership’s decision to campaign exclusively on the basis of Article 370 and a National Register of Citizens was a mistake.


This is good news for the economy. If it becomes a norm that a ruling party’s popularity remains unaffected by acute distress in the economy, the party would have little incentive to give the highest priority to addressing whatever has been at the root of that distress. That seeming divorce that appeared to have been established between party popularity and delivered governance now stands exposed as myth.

The BJP lost the Satara Parliament seat in a dramatic fashion. It had fielded former Nationalist Congress Party MP and descendant of Chhatrapti Shivaji, Udayanraje Bhonsale, who had defected to the BJP. The voters rejected him as NCP turncoat. Sharad Pawar, who had campaigned intensively in these elections, can take credit for the Congress-NCP alliance’s spirited fightback.

Sharad Pawar is capable of striking a deal with the Shiv Sena to keep the BJP out of power. This possibility and the clear dependence of the BJP in Maharashtra on the Shiv Sena for a majority means that the Sena tiger will not roll over on its back this time around and will be an alliance partner which demands its pound of flesh.
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Within the Congress, there is a clear message for Rahul Gandhi and his supporters, those who still remain and those that have jumped ship, like Alpesh Thakore in Gujarat, who joined the BJP, contested as its candidates and has been trailing in the by-poll to the seat he vacated when he changed sides.

Rahul nominees have been discarded by the Congress, after Rahul himself resigned as party president in the wake of the parliament election fiasco. Sonia Gandhi replaced Haryana provincial committee chief Ashok Tanwar with veteran Kumari Selja, and former chief minister Hooda was given leadership of the assembly campaign. Tanwar sulked, rebelled and quit the party. The Congress managed a remarkable turnaround in its fortunes. Many wonder what would have happened if the rootless Tanwar had been replaced six months earlier.

In Maharashtra, Rahul nominees Sanjay Nirupam, ex-Shiv Sena leader, and Milind Deora, leader by lineage, had to give way. Another party veteran, Balasaheb Bhaurao Thorat, heads the PCC now. However, the closest Maharashtra Congress has to a mass leader is Ashok Chavan and he remains in the doghouse over the Adarsh housing scandal.

The Congress has wrested seats in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan from the BJP, in assorted bypolls. That is good news for the party. And should stem the tide of defections from the party to BJP.
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Instead of merely aspiring to crystallise popular disaffection around itself, the Congress would do well to clarify to itself and to the public at large what it stands for, apart from the pursuit of power. That process must begin, instead of being dumped on the pretext that it is on a revival path already. These election results hold out to the Congress a smidgeon of self-confidence; it would be a mistake for the Congress to confuse that for an invitation to complacence.

Nitish Kumar party JDU’s multiple losses in Bihar to Lalu Yadav’s RJD could be a straw in the wind suggesting which way it would blow in next year’s elections. This would, however, ignore the incentive the BJP has to cut its ally in Bihar down to size in the run-up to the assembly elections.
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Views expressed above are the author's own.
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