Fahad Ali describes Indian state elections
Though the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Mixed bag for Modi appears to be the electoral choice of India for the moment chinks in its armour are glaringly visible as Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has pummeled it in the crucial state of Punjab. Results for state elections were announced for five states – Goa, Manipur, Punjab, Uttarakhand, and Uttar Pradesh. Together these states account for 240 million people. This was a crucial mid-term litmus test for the BJP. These election results will also have major implications on issues with national and global impact such as climate change mitigation. These elections witnessed the gradual rise of resistance to BJP rule and are portrayed as the beginning of larger challenge to Modi. Many analysts opined that the well-entrenched BJP stance in Hindu-majority states has seen a perceptive change emerging that may be exploited by the Congress although it is proving slow as well as reluctant to buck the xenophobic trend introduced and exploited by BJP. In any case the resistance is there to be seen palpably evident in the voters.
AAP wrested power from the Congress party in Punjab and expanded its reach across the country with maiden wins on two seats in Goa. With the wider presence and increased national vote share, AAP leader Kejriwal announced himself in a statesman-like speech, promising a hate-free India. Meanwhile, the ruling Hindu nationalist BJP seemed set to retain its hold on the northern strongholds of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand on Thursday, while keeping power in Goa in the west and Manipur in the northeast. The BJP’s hard fought campaign in the strategic UP state saw Prime Minister Narendra Modi campaigning in his parliamentary constituency of Varanasi for three days, where he used Hindu religious symbolism to galvanise support and polarise voters.
Nevertheless, it was the AAP that was focus of attention and Kejriwal’s challenge witnessed his party closed in on the mammoth figure of 92 of the 117 seats in Punjab. Punjab has recently created enormous problems for BJP when protesting agriculturists besieged Delhi for a very long time forcing the stubborn Modi to give in to their demands. Kejriwal’s victory may have driven the Congress from power in an important state but the two parties were beginning to look ideologically similar in crucial ways. Under Rahul Gandhi’s leadership, Congress had become pronouncedly critical of big business, which was earlier a hallmark of the AAP. Although the AAP candidate defeated Congress’ star campaigner — former cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu — both campaigned aggressively against the Ambani-Adani business groups, key financial supporters of the BJP.
In this sense, the Congress defeat in the state was somewhat cushioned constraining Rahul Gandhi to concede defeat while Kejriwal emphasised that his victory was against hatred and polarisation. He pointed out that first there was a revolution in Delhi and now there is a revolution in Punjab and next there will be a revolution in all of India. Kejriwal is slowly emerging as a solid challenge to Modi and his middle-of-the-road approach is becoming popular amongst voters. The AAP emerged in 2012 out of an anti-corruption movement. Party leaders said they were ready to take on Modi nationally.
It was a foregone conclusion that Modi would retain his supremacy in the UP where the Hindu-majority has deeply taken in BJP’s xenophobic creed. A troublesome reality for the opposition was Dalit leader Mayawati’s unusually low profile in the UP elections, a state where she has been chief minister four times. Her Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) got just two seats, short by 17 from her previous tally, while the Congress won three. The Hindu nationalist BJP had won or was leading in 251 of the 403 seats in Uttar Pradesh, which it currently rules. Party workers in the state staged impromptu rallies to celebrate and smeared each other in the BJP’s saffron colours. Uttar Pradesh is home to about a fifth of India’s 1.35 billion people and sends the most legislators to the parliament of any state.
The victory in the northern state has come despite the state and federal government’s much-criticised handling of Covid-19, lack of jobs and anger over farm reforms that Modi cancelled last year after protests. The BJP has long predicted it would retain the state because of policies such as free staples for the poor during the pandemic, a crackdown on crime, and its popularity among the Hindu majority reinforced by the construction of a temple on the site of a razed mosque. It has long been assumed in Indian politics that without winning Uttar Pradesh and the neighbouring state of Bihar, no party or coalition has much hope of securing a majority in parliament. The BJP has been in power in both. For decades, Uttar Pradesh was a stronghold of the main opposition Congress party, but it has been unable to stem a slide in its popularity over recent years.
However, in a highly polarised electoral atmosphere in UP that saw a straight contest between the ruling BJP and Samajwadi Party (SP), voters have sent 36 Muslim candidates to the 18th Uttar Pradesh Assembly, more than 12 from the previous Assembly. The newly elected MLAs account for 8.93 per cent of the total 403 legislators in a state that has over 20 per cent Muslim population. It is now becoming clear that the Muslim vote is now becoming the vote spoiler in the state. An analysis of the results revealed that the Muslim candidates of the AIMIM, which had contested from 100 seats and secured under one per cent votes, hurt the SP’s prospects on around a dozen seats in the elections. SP candidates lost Muslim dominated seats like Bijnore, Nakud, Kursi, Shahganj, Sultanpur, Aurai and Moradabad City, by margins ranging from as low as 217 votes to 1,700 votes.
The AIMIM nominee secured over eight thousand votes in Kursi assembly constituency which the SP lost by a margin of only 217 votes to BJP. Similarly Muslim dominated Shahganj seat also slipped away from the grip of the SP as the AIMIM Muslim nominee walked away with over eight thousand votes while the SP candidate lost to BJP by only 468 votes. In the Nakud seat, SP nominee Dharam Singh Saini was defeated by the BJP candidate by a slender margin of 315 votes. The AIMIM candidate polled more than three thousand votes. Similarly from Sultanpur seat the SP candidate lost to BJP by one thousand votes. The AIMIM candidate, who too was a Muslim, secured over five thousand votes.
BSP, which had gone solo in the polls, had fielded as many as 91 Muslim candidates in the elections many of whom divided the Muslim votes in a number of assembly constituencies ensuring victory of the BJP. Besides, as many as 16 non-Muslim candidates of the BSP hailed from the same caste to which the SP nominees belonged and as a result they also hurt the SP’s electoral prospects on those assembly seats. From Firozabad seat, which was a Muslim dominated constituency, the BSP’s Muslim candidate secured 38 thousand votes while the victory margin of the BJP nominee was 33,000. Congress too had fielded a Muslim candidate from this seat, who had secured 5,000 votes. TW
Fahad Ali is associated with maritime trade