Indian Elections: Is BJP Paying For Its Overconfidence?

Featured & Cover Indian Elections Is BJP Paying For Its Overconfidence

There is little doubt in the minds of many today that this election is turning. It will not be the cakewalk that the BJP imagined it would be for the party. Seeking a third straight term, which was only recently seen as a given, is no more an easy task. There are many numbers being tossed, but almost all of them bring the BJP to and below the magic figure of 272. The only question that is being asked is how much can the party go down from that half-way mark required to form a government.

All indicators point to the ruling party taking heavy losses this time. What looked like rock-solid confidence has evaporated almost overnight. One clear indicator is that there is no talk anywhere in the BJP circles of a “char sau paar” (past the 400-mark) that was the hallmark of the BJP campaign as it began this run.  Yet, it is good to add a cautionary note. There are still five phases of voting left and a month to counting-day itself. Anything can happen. The election will need careful monitoring and is all set to becoming a thriller.

Voter turnout in the first two phases of the election has been lower than expected. There are many ways to read this. One is the view that since the BJP put in so much effort in declaring right at the beginning that there is virtually no contest, and the message was sent out with the full force of its rather rich, well-funded campaign and machinery, the BJP voters were less than enthused and decided – what is the point in working since the end result is given? The other is the weather – the summer has been unusually hot this time. The third is that the BJP itself has not been able to move its cadres, one reason being that the election was declared as won before the first vote was cast, and the second and more important one being the influx of all kinds and varieties of non-BJP workers who have joined the ranks on their own accord or have been lured/forced to move to the BJP.

The odd mix of “Intruders” versus cadres Is In part causing a mismatch of chemistry, and so building a sense of despondency within the committed workers who now feel excluded from the party they have worked in and for over a number of years. The last reason could be despondency among a broader section of the electorate, and if this is the cause, then the lower turnout could go any way in terms of influencing the results.

Bad news for BJP

But as the week drew to a close, there was more bad news for the BJP. On one hand, Rahul Gandhi was virtually on fire, demanding that the Prime Minister Narendra Modi apologise to every girl and woman in the country for seeking votes for Prajwal Revanna, a “mass rapist”, and further saying that votes for Revanna would strengthen Modi. That was at an election rally in support of the BJP’s new ally, the JD(S), where the prime minister made as clear an appeal as he could in support of JD(S) candidates, including Revanna, who is the grandson of the former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda. Revanna fled to Germany the day after polling ended in his constituency of Hassan in Karnataka on April 26, just as tapes of his advances and assaults against women were leaked. The BJP has not been able to respond to the questions on support for Revanna, which particularly exposed the prime minister himself, given that it has emerged that the party was warned well in advance of Revanna’s conduct and the allegations against him, and went ahead with endorsing his candidature.

On the other hand, bad news for the BJP also came from the failed attempt to stir up a controversy over allegations that the Congress wanted to redistribute wealth, or take it from the middle class and give it, as the BJP alleged, to minorities.  This blatant and desperate attempt to bring in religion into an issue that has more to do with rising inequality, which has been highlighted by Rahul Gandhi, backfired with a laughable protest march by a section of students from Galgotias University, which claims to be NAAC Grade A+ with more than 300 national and international awards. Students in the protest march could barely read the placards against the Congress and knew nothing about the issues they said they had gathered to protest against! This deplorable display has not only highlighted the state of higher education, but the wages of a system under which fake news is fed and spread right from the very top of the political order, with students asking no questions and learning with no interest or curiosity. The university website begins with this headline: “Excellence is what we strive to achieve”.

In many ways, the BJP is suffering from the impact of its own over confidence, and its liberal use of communalism to get over the slide that it appears to be facing now. As Modi himself goes to the extreme in his attacks on the Congress (he claimed that the Congress manifesto “has the stamp of the Muslim League”), the party seems not to have calculated that there will be some price to pay for its role in the electoral bonds, the arrest of opposition leaders like Arvind Kejriwal and its attempt to get power at any cost, like it did in Maharashtra. Maharashtra is one state where the Opposition is getting huge traction.

Boast backfiring?

The story of how the BJP collected Rs.8,000 crores via the electoral bonds, revealed by the force of the Supreme Court, has led to the widespread view that the party is at its core corrupt. The “BJP washing machine” that cleans up the corrupt the moment they shift sides and join the BJP has also cost the party in terms of its image and standing, even among loyalists. The boast that it will get more than 400 seats has backfired because it has led to fears that this mandate would endanger the Constitution, with the BJP then in a position to trifle with some of the basic guarantees, like reservations. Further, there is also the huge fear of an impending dictatorial style being embedded into the nation’s democratic fabric should Modi get a third straight term.

All in all, the issues on the agenda are very different from the issues that the BJP thought would be on the agenda. The finals could go down to the wire and there will be many lessons learned once the votes are counted and the results are declared.

(The writer is the Managing Editor of The Billion Press. Views are personal. By special arrangement with The Billion Press)

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