Four of the five states in India that just recently went to the polls voted the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) into power, while the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) swept to victory in Punjab. The Congress Party, on the other hand, failed in all the five states – Goa, Manipur, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, and Punjab.
This comes in spite of huge anger against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Modi regime’s mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic in India led to the death of nearly 4.7 million people in the country. Price rises, unemployment, chronic housing shortages, and diseases, resulted in a wave of anti-incumbency sentiment. The anger of farmers in parts of western Uttar Pradesh was also very strong. Despite all this anger amongst the people, the BJP has retained power in the four states.
As socialists, it is crucial for us to objectively analyse the factors behind the victory of the right-wing forces. At the same time, it is also important that we don’t fall prey to the lame petty-bourgeois arguments.
Negating the arguments of the petty-bourgeois liberals
Electoral fraud was one of the allegations that came around even before the official announcement of the election results. The Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party (SP) alleged that the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) had been tampered with and said that he no longer trusts the Election Commission. This point was also made by a few liberals.
This isn’t the first time that allegations of EVM tampering have been made. In fact, EVM tampering has long been a poll issue, with many political parties also demanding to return to the use of ballot papers. Electoral fraud is inevitable in rare scenarios. But attributing the victory to electoral fraud will only make us blind in analysing the proper outcome.
The BJP’s victory was also attributed to the weak and divided opposition. Congress Party’s senior observer in charge of the Goa polls, P Chidambaram, said that while the people of Goa wanted a change, their votes were split amongst the opposition parties. The liberals followed suit.
Many critics, reporters and even a few leaders of the Indian left parties, limited themselves to analysing the arithmetical equations, permutations and combinations of the different oppositions, calculation of the vote share, etc.
Uttar Pradesh (UP)
Uttar Pradesh is the largest of India’s states and is historically known as a state that can decisively turn the country’s political fate. In UP, the fight was between the BJP and the BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party), and the Congress was largely ignored. The BSP lost its hold on its key vote-bank of Jatavs, who, like many other Dalit castes, have gone to the BJP to some extent.
In all their rallies, Modi and Amit Shah spoke about how Adityanath’s government in the state either sent criminals behind bars or got them eliminated and ensured a state free of crime. According to political analyst Dr Shilp Shikha Singh, factors such as distribution of free rations by the state government, construction of toilets in villages, and improvement in law and order had appealed to the women, blurring caste and religious lines.
Hoping to dent the female vote base of the ruling BJP, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra of Congress launched the ‘Ladki hoon, lad sakti hoon’ (‘I am a girl, I can fight’) campaign. She announced 40 per cent of the assembly tickets should be for women and promised two-wheelers and electronic gadgets, amongst other things, to female students in the party manifesto. However, nothing could help the Congress party do well.
The Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (an initiative by the Government of India aimed at providing ‘affordable housing’ to the poor) gave monetary assistance to around one million people in UP. In small rural areas, Rs 1.2 lakh (1,20,000) was given for the construction of homes; while in small urban areas, Rs 2.5 (2,50,000) lakh was distributed.
The Hindutva ideology, the building of Ram Mandir (temple for Lord Ram) and Hindu Rashtra (Hindu Nation) also appeals to the majority of the middle class in UP.
In Punjab, we saw a big shift from the traditional parties. The Aam Aadmi Party (Common Man Party) scored a massive victory, throwing the ruling Congress out of power and relegating the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) [right wing, Sikh (dominant community in Punjab) centric, political party in Punjab] to a single-digit tally.
AAP, which first entered the Punjab poll arena in the 2012 Lok Sabha elections, went on to become the main opposition after the 2017 Assembly elections. The AAP has now swept the state with a record 92 seats, the best ever performance by any party after the reorganisation of Punjab in 1966.
Punjab, which has been seeing a decline in its per capita income over the last two decades, largely voted for the Delhi model of development promised by AAP. The voters of Punjab now want a party that can promise them quality education, health and employment, and not mere ‘freebies’.
Days after the results, the Congress Working Committee met and decided that the party president will immediately take up corrective measures to revamp and re-strengthen organisation.
Uttarakhand, Manipur, and Goa
In Manipur and Goa, where the Congress had emerged as the single-largest party in 2017, the BJP (known as the ‘Saffron Party’) improved on its performance. While it crossed the majority mark in Manipur with 32 MLAs in the 60-member Assembly, it won 20 constituencies in the 40-seat Goa Assembly.
In Uttarakhand, the BJP won with a comfortable margin, even though the Chief Minister, Pushkar Singh Dhami, lost his election from the Khatima seat.
In Manipur, during the Congress regime under Okram Ibobi Singh, bandhs, blockades and extrajudicial killings were common occurrences, which now have become a thing of the past. Though it was stopping even before the BJP came into power, in 2017, the BJP benefited by arriving at the scene at the right time. Like other small states of the Northeast region, Manipur often votes for the party that is in power at the centre. Voters feel safe that way.
In the Goa Assembly elections, the BJP performed better in Hindu and Catholic Christian-dominated regions of the state. The ‘Saffron party’ had fielded twelve Catholic Christian candidates, mostly in South Goa. Though the party’s vote share didn’t increase, the BJP’s seats went up to 20 from 13.
Just as in UP, in Uttarakhand voters were attracted by LPG supplies and clean drinking water being handed out, plus clean toilets being built for those living in far-flung and remote areas. Providing free rations also attracted the voters.
It just shows the dire situation in which the people were living before. A little boost to their living standards pushes them to vote for a religious, authoritarian party.
Though the Indian left parties still have working-class support to a certain extent, they have offered them no alternative policies. There is an urgent need to build a new mass workers’ party to fight for a genuine socialist alternative – for the abolition of capitalism and landlordism.