There are a number of conclusions one can draw from the results of the Vidhan Sabha bye elections over the last couple of months. Though bye elections are rarely taken seriously for the purpose of extrapolating trends, this round was keenly watched by both backers and baiters of Narendra Modi and his government. It would be very easy to take sides and come up with a biased analysis of the same, but an objective assessment should give us a reasonably fair picture of the political realities of today.
First and foremost, for anyone who still hasn’t come to terms with it, (there are more in the BJP I think) the 2014 General election was all about Narendra Modi. It had little to do with BJP’s or RSS’s ideology and even less to do with the tirade against ‘Love Jihad’. You remove Modi from the picture and suddenly it’s a different ball game altogether. His ascent has catapulted the BJP to becoming the No. 1 party in Bihar (from No. 3 a year ago), the main challenger in Haryana next month and probably in UP in 2017. (Two states where they weren’t even in the reckoning in the previous round) In West Bengal where the BJP is making significant gains, it has an MLA on its own strength for the first time since at least I have been following politics. Since the BJP has now replaced the Congress as the major national party, it will have to encounter myriad challenges in the form of alliances, understandings, tie-ups both overt and covert at the local as well national level. The foot will have to be fixed firmly on the pedal as there is no place for over-confidence or complacency to set in. But most importantly they will have to find a narrative and the leadership for each state which they can sell to the people. The challenges posed by regional leaders will be much stronger than those posed by the Congress Delhi leadership. The opportunity is there for the taking but a course correction and a lot of reality check is required. The time for jubilation and celebration in the BJP is over.
Modi and his politics will be much more in command now, though. He can easily focus on governance and reform, as the fringe element in the BJP has been quietened. I think he should waste no time in getting a couple of technocrats in his ministry post Diwali, and there is every chance that NDA would have won Maharashtra and Haryana by then too. For the market guys, the next six months leading up to the budget, will give a much clearer picture if there is to be a 10 year bull market (with at least a couple of big bumps if I may add) as many believe could happen.
The politics of ‘Mandal’ maybe ‘down’, but in UP and Bihar especially in local elections is certainly not ‘out’. In fact my opinion is that Nitish Kumar greatly underestimated his strength and appeal and panicked in aligning with Laloo. But that’s a different story and how Bihar politics plays out leading to next December will be very interesting to follow. The results in UP have not only shown up BJP’s weak organisational base, but emphasised the need for them to find the right leadership and narrative (repeating again) to counter ‘Mandal’ which is so entrenched in the DNA of central India. If they re-focus on development with a moderate face to lead them, there is every chance they will win Bihar in 2015 and UP in 2017. If they put their money on Love Jihad, my money will be on Mayawati getting a bulk of the anti-incumbency vote in UP.
Though not very significant, but Sachin Pilot has led the Congress to some impressive wins in Rajasthan albeit with small margins. And of course the prince has been far away from these bye-elections. The message is clear for the Congress as to where the road ahead lies for them. If they don’t move quickly, and the economy under Modi turns around, they will be reduced to being a party of 3-4 major and a few small states.
The CPM has been reduced to an unprecedented fourth (this is my personal favourite) in both seats in West Bengal. Their cadre is deserting them by the day and it is of course the BJP which is gaining at their expense. This is like a breath of fresh air, something I thought would be impossible in the land where I was born. The next few years should mark the end of rotten and archaic ideologies of both Left and Right. The BJP has changed a lot since the 1990’s (though not as much as some would want them to) as the country and the World changes. I doubt whether the Comrades’ bible will permit them to do so.