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BRP Bhaskar: Modi has cause for worry
February 06, 2018
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s poor showing in three recent by-elections in the Hindu heartland state of Rajasthan is a sign of the declining appeal of Hindutva politics which catapulted Narendra Modi to power four years ago.

The small gains the party made in two by-elections in the eastern state of West Bengal are a poor consolation for Modi and his party as they prepare to face assembly elections in eight states this year and parliamentary elections next year.

The Congress made a clean sweep of all the three seats at stake in Rajasthan and the Trinamool Congress took both the Bengal seats.

Three Lok Sabha constituencies, two from Rajasthan and one from Bengal, were among the five that went to the polls. With 55.61 per cent of the valid votes polled, the BJP had won all of Rajasthan’s 25 Lok Sabha seats in 2014, leaving none for the Congress which had a vote share of 30.73 per cent. The by-election victories have given the Congress two seats from the state in the present house for the first time.

The Congress party’s impressive victory margins point to a change in the mood of the electorate. At Alwar, its candidate got 196,496 votes more than his BJP rival. At Ajmer, its nominee defeated his BJP opponent by 84,414 votes. The Congress won the Mandalgarh assembly seat with a margin of 12,976 votes.

Rajasthan is one of the northern states where the Congress and the BJP are involved in a virtual direct contest and the two parties have been alternating in power there since 1998. In the last assembly elections, the BJP had bagged 162 of the 200 seats.

State Chief Minister Vijayaraje Scindia’s performance has been dismal, but Modi and BJP President Amit Shah cannot shove the entire responsibility for the party’s current plight on her.

Rajasthan was one of the states which had witnessed organised violence by Hindutva gangs. In April last year, Pehlu Khan, a dairy farmer from Haryana, was lynched to death by self-proclaimed cow protectors while he was returning home from a cattle fair in Jaipur. The incident led to an uproar in the country and invited sharp criticism from abroad too.

The government of Rajasthan, like those of other BJP-ruled states, treated the goons with kid gloves and foisted cases against Pehlu Khan’s sons, who were with him, on charges of cow smuggling.

After keeping mum for long on the violence, directed mostly against Muslims and Dalits, Modi expressed disapproval of the social tension, but it was too little and came too late.

During the by-election campaign, BJP candidate Jaswant Singh Yadav, who, incidentally, is a minister in the Rajasthan government, unabashedly played the communal card. In a video which went viral on the social media he could be heard telling the voters: “If you are a Hindu vote for me, and if you are a Muslim vote the Congress.”

Even as the ruling Trinamool Congress demonstrated its continuing hold on the Bengal electorate, the BJP, which is making a bold bid to emerge as a major player in the state, took the second position in both the Lok Sabha and assembly constituencies.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist), which had ruled the state for more than three decades before the Trinamool Congress displaced it in 2011, was in the third place and the Congress in the fourth.

Since the political scenarios of Rajasthan and West Bengal differ so widely, it is not possible to draw a common conclusion from the by-election results.

The Congress party’s successes in Rajasthan have come close on the heels of the fright it gave to the BJP in Modi’s home state of Gujarat in the assembly elections last December. The previous month, the party had retained the Chitrakoot seat in the Madhya Pradesh with improved majority in a by-election.

All this suggests that the Congress, under its new president, Rahul Gandhi, is in a position to pose an effective challenge to the BJP in the states where they are the contenders for power. Four such states – Rajasthan, MP, Karnataka and Chattisgarh — figure in this year’s election calendar.

The lesson of the Bengal by-election results perhaps is that the ability of the regional parties which displaced the Congress from power at various points of time to hold their ground against the BJP must not be underestimated.

Unless Modi can keep the Hindutva hotheads in check the backlash generated by their unbridled violence against Muslims and Dalits is bound to grow and upset his 2019 Lok Sabha poll calculations.

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 The author is a political analyst of reckoning

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