Verdict 2014: Challenges Ahead for Defenders of Democracy

Verdict 2014 will surely go down as one of the most stunning outcomes in the history of Indian elections. India has just voted in its most rabidly rightwing government till date, a government with unmistakable streaks of majoritarianism at that; and defying almost all opinion and exit polls the verdict has given the BJP on its own a clear and comfortable majority, the allies only adding more strength to the new regime.

The last time we saw a one-sided verdict was in 1984 when the Congress had been voted to power with an unprecedented 400-plus majority and the BJP had to remain content with just two seats. That abnormal verdict had come in the wake of the assassination of Indira Gandhi and the anti-Sikh pogrom that followed, when the BJP found itself completely overshadowed on its own home turf of aggressive nationalism. This time round, it is the BJP which has romped home with more than 280 seats and the Congress has been reduced to its lowest ever tally of just 44 seats.

If the Congress under Rajiv Gandhi rode the ‘sympathy’ wave in 1984, the BJP under Narendra Modi has harvested votes of public rage, of course spicing it up with a note of hope and promise of ushering in an era of ‘acche din’ (good days). No government in the past probably generated the kind of mass anger as the UPA managed to do in its last five years. In this sense Verdict 2014 clearly has shades of 1977 when large parts of India – in fact all but the southern states – voted with the singular purpose of getting rid of the autocratic regime of Indira Gandhi, throwing up in the process India’s first non-Congress government at the Centre.

There are two major differences though: (a) in 1977 the southern states had stood by the Congress, this time round the rejection of the Congress is complete and nearly pan-Indian (with the sole exception of Kerala, Manipur and Mizoram, the Congress has not won majority seats in any other state), and (b) in 1977, the replacement of the Congress emerged through the elections whereas in 2014, the BJP was fully ready for grabbing the opportunity with both hands.

The ingredients of the BJP’s highly successful election strategy and campaign script are quite obvious. There was an overwhelming national mood to get rid of the almost non-functional UPA government – while corporate India ranted against ‘policy paralysis’ and rooted for ‘decisive leadership’, the people at large wanted deliverance from corruption and soaring prices. The overall context was thus quite favourable for the BJP and once the AAP government resigned in Delhi, the dominant corporate media became a virtual agency of the mission to market Modi to the Indian electorate. It goes without saying that the campaign whether through the media or on the ground was lavishly funded by corporate India, the power of big money and big media was never felt as acutely in any previous elections.

Equally crucial has been the communal element. True, the BJP did not highlight the Ram Mandir agenda the way it had done during Advani’s rathyatra and elections held in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It did not need to do that, it had many other cryptic ways to incite anti-Muslim hatred. The relentless vitriolic propaganda against ‘minority appeasement’, ‘vote-bank politics’, ‘love jehad’, ‘pink revolution’, ‘Pak-trained terrorism’, ‘Bangladeshi infiltration’, ‘conspiratorial poaching of rhinos to settle illegal Bangladeshi immigrants’ and so on served the purpose quite effectively for the BJP. And how can anyone forget the Muzaffarnagar riots that effectively inaugurated the BJP’s poll campaign and the Baksa-Kokrajhar carnage that came towards the end of the elections, translating the BJP’s relentless anti-Bangladeshi hate campaign into cold-blooded communal violence?

To secure the kind of majority that the BJP has, it had to sweep the elections not just in states it rules like Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh – which it did, losing only 3 of the 91 seats in these four states – but more crucially in states like UP where it had been weakened considerably over the years and in Bihar and Jharkhand where it was no longer in power. The BJP has obviously managed to do this as well – and with great success – winning, together with its allies, an astounding 116 seats out of the 134 seats on offer in UP, Bihar and Jharkhand.

The BJP’s tremendous success in the Hindi heartland, especially in UP and Bihar where it had to beat powerful identity-based parties like the SP and BSP in UP and RJD and JD(U) in Bihar, is being attributed in the mainstream media as a vote for development transcending traditional caste loyalties. There is surely a growing aspiration for development cutting across castes and the Modi campaign has successfully marketed him as the architect of the so-called ‘Gujarat model’ who can be trusted to fulfil the developmental needs and aspirations of the Indian people. But it must also be acknowledged that caste and community factors have also been invoked and utilised relentlessly by the BJP.

In Narendra Modi, the BJP has finally found a powerful OBC face and the BJP lost no opportunity to flaunt Modi’s OBC origin. In fact the RSS/BJP has all along been harping on the caste angle, projecting Modi as India’s first EBC PM. The way Modi twisted Priyanka’s remark regarding ‘neech rajneeti’ (substandard/vulgar politics), treating it as a caste slur and going on to make the emotional ‘insult me, not my caste’ appeal, made the caste angle quite explicit. The BJP also chose its allies carefully to expand and strengthen its inroads in dalit-OBC circles – the alliance with Apna Dal in UP and the LJP and Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (led by Upendra Kushwaha) in Bihar. On top of this the BJP also used its relentless communal propaganda to try and break class solidarity and make inroads in all social groups. It should however be borne in mind that the BJP job was tremendously facilitated by the growing all-round disenchantment with the ruling dispensations in UP, Bihar and Jharkhand.

While the BJP’s seats have come mostly from the northern and western parts of the country its presence in the eastern and north-eastern regions and southern states has also been quite significant. With 7 out of 14 seats in Assam, 1 out of 2 seats in Arunachal and with allies winning a couple of more seats in Nagaland and Meghalaya, the NDA has as many as 10 MPs from the North East. In Assam, the BJP has virtually subsumed the AGP, relegating the latter to distant third, fourth or even lower positions. No less striking is the BJP’s growth in West Bengal – in 1999 it had won a couple of seats in alliance with the TMC, but this time round it managed to win the Asansol seat on its own and secure close to 17% votes in the state, an almost threefold rise compared to 2009. The increase in the BJP’s vote came primarily at the expense of the Left Front whose vote share dropped from 40% in 2011 to about 30% in 2014, but no less surprising was the fact that BJP candidates finished second in TMC strongholds like Kolkata North and Kolkata South, even snatching a slender lead in the Assembly segment of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

The southern states were where barring Karnataka the Modi wave was at its weakest. But even there the BJP gained a vote share of 10% in Kerala, finishing second in Thiruvananthapuram (in fact, the BJP candidate led in 4 of the 7 segments in Kerala capital). The BJP also finished second in two Assembly segments of Kasargode. In neighbouring Tamil Nadu, the BJP finished third, a very distant third though, in terms of vote share with around 5% of votes cast in the state. The BJP’s allies however recorded a drop in their vote-shares. The BJP also managed to pick up two seats in Seemandhra by tying up with the resurgent Telugu Desam Party. In Karnataka, the BJP tally dropped from 19 in 2009 to 17, but considering that the party led only in 2 LS seats in the Assembly elections held just a year ago, the eventual tally of 17 marked a huge recovery. In terms of vote share it meant a massive turnaround from 19.9% in 2013 to 43% in 2014.

While the BJP has truly made its presence felt almost on a pan-Indian scale, it is necessary to remember that the BJP vote share is still only 31%, nearly 10% less than what the Congress had got with a similar tally in 1967, the hitherto lowest vote share for a single party with independent majority. In fact, the BJP vote share is 3% less than what the Congress had got even in 1977 when it had been ousted from power for the first time. But while highlighting the fact that as many 69% of those who voted did not vote for the BJP (61.5% if we look at the anti-NDA votes), we should also keep in mind the fragmentation that has taken place since 1977. Between themselves, the BJP and the Congress have got only around 50% of the votes, the other half being claimed by the host of non-BJP non-Congress parties. What the Modi wave has demonstrated is that in a multi-party system, even with 31% votes a party can sweep the elections in state after state, winning most seats by sizable margins (the BJP won 195 of its 282 seats by a margin of more than 1 lakh).

The clear majority for the BJP marked not just an overwhelming marginalisation of the Congress but also an emphatic rejection of any post-poll possibility of a ‘third front’ government. The United Front experiment in the mid 1990s had proved too short-lived and unstable since then almost all elections to the Lok Sabha or State Assemblies have tended to produce governments with clear majorities, the hung Assemblies in Bihar in February 2005 and in Delhi in December 2013 being rather an exception. President Pranab Mukherjee stressed the need for a stable government in his address on the Republic Day eve early this year, and the BJP harped on the theme of a ‘stable government’ all through its campaign, setting its target as ‘Mission 272+’. The Election Commission also went about a major voter awareness campaign, and India witnessed the highest voter turnout in history, even though 1.1% of the vote share went in favour of NOTA!

The only three non-UPA non-NDA parties that have held their ground rather spectacularly are three regional parties that are ensconced in power in Tamil Nadu, Odisha and West Bengal. The TMC of course unleashed considerable terror in West Bengal before and during the elections, but there can be no denying the fact that the results in all these three states do reflect the existing balance of political forces. There is surely no dearth of disillusionment with these parties and the state governments headed by them, but the overall balance is still decisively in their favour and the election outcome has corroborated this political reality.

2014 marks the lowest point for the Left bloc in Parliament. The CPI(M), which had won 44 seats in 2004 and had declined dramatically to 16 seats in 2009, has further dropped to 9 seats in 2014. The CPI, which had won 10 seats in 2004, now holds only one seat. The Forward Bloc has drawn a blank, and the RSP has won a seat in Kerala but with the backing of the Congress-led UDF! The CPI(ML) once again finished second in one seat and third in two seats while the Marxist Co-ordination also finished third in one seat. This was one election when the alliance strategy of the CPI and CPI(M) did not come good, the only party agreeing to have a seat-sharing agreement with the CPI was the JD(U) in Bihar, but the CPI finished third in both the seats despite JD(U) support. Clearly the political profile of all sections of the Left will now depend on the cardinal challenge of expanding and galvanising the Left base through sustained struggles of the people.

While the Left vote share has declined, we must, however, appreciate the fact most of the Left votes in this election have come without being in power (with the exception of Tripura) and without having the backing of any ruling party (with the exception of the seats contested by the CPI in Bihar in alliance with the JDU). The combined CPI(M)-CPI vote share of 4% (3.2% for the CPI(M) and 0.8% for the CPI) therefore has its own significance. Talking of the Left vote, the CPI(ML) vote share of 0.2% is considerably smaller in comparison, but this is a base that has not just withstood the tests of feudal violence and state repression but also kept up the banner of independent assertion of the Left in the face of the multiples pulls and pressures of competitive politics.

Next only to the Modi campaign, the other widely discussed party in this election was the Aam Aadmi Party. The AAP had fielded more than 400 candidates, including some of its prominent leaders and a mix of celebrities, corporate executives, professionals, activists of social movements, leaders from diverse political backgrounds and even individuals without any record of public service or social activism. The AAP’s eventual tally of 4 seats, 9 second positions and an all-India vote share of 2% in its first Lok Sabha election is surely an impressive debut, but it is a far cry from the pre-election hype and the AAP’s own claim of winning no less than 50 seats and playing a central role in the formation of the next government. It would now have to be seen how the AAP evolves as an opposition party even as AAP ideologues project their party as the emerging alternative to the entire political spectrum including the Left.

AAP’s best results, however, came not from Delhi where it drew a blank despite an improved vote share. AAP’s showing in Haryana and Maharashtra, the two states that were high on the party’s priorities, was also not really spectacular. Quite surprisingly, it was from Punjab that AAP got its only victories in the 2014 elections, winning four of the 13 seats in the state. AAP also finished second in one constituency and third in the remaining eight seats, and secured lead in as many as 31 Assembly segments. In Punjab the AAP really found a tailor-made vacuum with resentment running high across the state against the Akali Dal and the Badal family.

In the last assembly election, the Punjab People’s Party led by Manpreet Singh Badal had tried to cash in on this resentment and emerged as a third force in the state. But this time round with Manpreet Singh Badal entering into an alliance with the Congress, the disillusioned PPP supporters served as a ready base for the AAP. Kejriwal’s decision to order a SIT to probe the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom while in power in Delhi had already earned AAP a lot of sympathy in Punjab. In Delhi, AAP managed to increase its vote share at the cost of the Congress, but significant sections of its voters also shifted to the BJP partly because of the Modi factor and largely as a reaction to Kejriwal’s decision to resign after 49 days.

Quite clearly, the political landscape looks vastly changed in the wake of Verdict 2014. Narendra Modi and his NDA will have a virtually free hand in the Lok Sabha, with the Rajya Sabha being the only arena where numbers will not be in NDA’s favour. The post-poll fallouts can already be seen in states like Bihar and Assam. In Bihar Nitish Kumar has resigned, handing over the Chief Minister’s responsibility to his trusted colleague and welfare minister Jitan Ram Manjhi. In Assam, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has offered to resign. In UP and Uttarakhand, existing governments will find it difficult to cope with the changed political balance, while in Bihar, efforts seem to be underway to bring about a political realignment by bringing the JD(U) and RJD closer. In Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Haryana where elections are due later this year, the BJP finds itself in a favourable situation.

Modi has promised to usher in ‘good days’ for the crisis-ridden Indian people. What will be these ‘good days’ like? Narendra Modi has described the verdict as one of ‘hope and belief’ and has promised to work hard to fulfil the expectations of the people. Most mainstream media anchors, commentators and columnists are going gaga over the qualities of Modi as a leader and the apparent signs of ‘inclusion’ and ‘moderation’ in his speeches since May 16. But equally palpable are the signs of fear and apprehension among India’s minorities, large sections of the rural poor, people threatened with dispossession and displacement, and citizens concerned about the state of democracy and justice in India.

The concerns that the Modi government will behave as a ‘majoritarian’ government are not unfounded. The personality cult and the authoritarian mode have been hallmarks of the Modi brand of governance in Gujarat, with systematic stifling and even physical elimination of every voice of dissent within or outside of the establishment. The apprehension that the abuse of the state machinery which Gujarat has experienced under Modi will now be sought to be replicated nationally along with other core features of the ‘Gujarat model’ is quite understandable. The corporate houses who have lavishly funded the Modi campaign will surely insist on quick paybacks and a freer run and greater control over the country’s natural and financial resources along the lines already seen in Modi’s Gujarat. The RSS, the organisation which even the BJP now openly admits has played a huge role in managing the BJP’s election machinery, will also have a wider role in the affairs of the NDA-III government.

It remains to be seen how far the institutional edifice of India’s constitutional order can assert its independence in the face of systematic subversion and manipulation. The corporate media has already proved its readiness to crawl even before it is asked to bend. During the dark days of Emergency, the state had imposed censorship on the media, what we see now is ‘voluntary censorship’ choreographed by ‘invisible’ corporate-controlled strings. But even if institutions falter, we must have faith in the creative energy and robust resistance of the people of India who have always defied bondage and regimentation and who will surely defeat any attempt to reduce the Indian polity to a Modicracy.

The triumphalism of the Modi brigade, the euphoria in the media and among sections of the ‘aspirational’ and upwardly mobile middle class, and the fear writ large among large sections of minorities and people who are weak and vulnerable on various counts, are all very real. Faced with these challenging circumstances, revolutionary communists will have to work hard with singular determination and a level-headed sense of realism and creativity to mobilise the people on their basic issues and address their pressing concerns.

Box matter

Political Violence in During Elections

Political violence was witnessed in several parts of the country during the elections. CPI(ML) lost two comrades to political violence. Comrade Yusuf Molla, a party member from Nadia district, fell to the political violence unleashed by ruling TMC goons in West Bengal.

And in the early hours of Bhagat Singh’s martyrdom day (23rd March), villagers of Repura (in the Ara Lok Sabha constituency in Bihar) found the dead body of Comrade Budhram Paswan, Secretary of the CPIML’s Charpokhri block committee. He had been killed the previous night, as he was returning to the village for a meeting in preparation for the filing of Lok Sabha nominations by CPIML candidate. His body displayed signs of torture, indicating he had been tied up and dragged on the ground, and that assailants had stamped on his chest before shooting him dead. The FIR named several well known feudal lumpen elements of the neighbouring village, including three men accused in the Ranveer Sena’s 1998 Nagari Bazaar massacre.

Comrade Budhram was one of the key activists who helped ensure that witnesses withstood feudal terror and intimidation, and testified in court resulting in the conviction of the massacre accused in the Sessions Court in 2010. Comrade Budhram also helped the survivors find courage and determination to appeal against the acquittal in the Supreme Court. On 23rd March, Ranveer Sena supporters celebrated Comrade Budhram’s assassination, gleefully firing shots in the air. Such celebrations underlined the fact that the murder was a political one, intended to terrorise CPI(ML) supporters with a show of feudal muscle on the eve of an election.

Comrade Budhram was born in Repura, and was 45 years old at the time of his murder. He is survived by his wife, son and two daughters. He was a graduate, and a dedicated party worker for very long. He was first associated with the Party in the ‘80s, and for the last 15 years he had been the CPI(ML) Charpokhri Block secretary and a member of the Bhojpur District Committee. He had led many struggles on the issues of land struggles for the poor and landless, sharecroppers’ and farmers’ struggles, fair wages, MNREGA, prohibition, electricity, and other issues.

Red Salute to Comrades Yusuf Molla and Budhram Paswan!

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