Assembly polls 2018: BJP and Congress are battle-ready
In a packed public gathering a few days ago, when Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath described Karnataka as Hanuman’s birthplace, he received huge applause. The same day Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah said in Agartala that all the ministers in Tripura’s Left government were corrupt. The BJP will send them to jail as soon as it come to power in the state (where elections are due this year), he added. Rahul Gandhi’s salvo was fired in Bahrain two days later. The country is in trouble, he told the NRIs, it needs your help. Bahrain has a lot of migrants from Karnataka, who wield huge influence over their families and friends back home. Rahul will also be travelling to Karnataka later this month.
In their own style, both the BJP and the Congress have sounded the poll bugle. By using Yogi Adityanath prominently, the BJP has made it clear that it will serve the voters a familiar cocktail of Hindutva, administration and development. On the other hand, the Congress will focus on the issues of unfulfilled promises, communalism and social justice. Those who want elections to be contested on real issues may again be in for disappointment.
Since they take place 12 months a year, elections in our country have begun to evoke boredom and fear. Most days, in the garb of political discourse, we keep listening to such discussions that were once unacceptable. Not just India, the entire world is infected by this malaise. How beneficial this tendency will prove for democracy is a subject that can be discussed another time. For now, let us focus our attention on the assembly elections that will take place in eight states of the country this year.
An extremely efficient electoral machinery has emerged in the form of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah in the last four years. After the Lok Sabha elections, this partnership has gone on to form governments in 14 states. Even if they’ve faced defeats in Delhi, Bihar and Punjab, they’ve more than made up with a regime change in Bihar and winning the civic body elections in Delhi. They are again ready to jump into the electoral fray eyeing victory. No wonder they succeeded in forming a government in Goa and Manipur despite losing the elections. Will the Congress manage to successfully challenge this duo?
The Congress is brimming with hope these days. Its members feel they can repeat their Gujarat exploits in the days ahead. The country’s oldest party benefited from the sparking of caste unrest during the Gujarat elections. Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakore and Jignesh Mevani are all products of this unrest. The anger within the communities where Alpesh and Jignesh come from is not as surprising as the Patidar agitation is. For the first time in Indian politics, youngsters from a section of society that has shared the fruits of power for a long time are stepping out of their homes armed with placards and banners. If such agitations crop up in a few other states, it will turn all the political permutations topsy-turvy. The question is, are the tensions between the Marathas and Dalits in Maharashstra a sign of a bigger conflict? I hope Meghalaya, Tripura, Nagaland and Mizoram stay away from such venom-spewing. The Northeast has witnessed a lot of bloodbath for a long time. Fiddling with democratic values in the region can be a source of enormous trouble.
Another significant development is that Rahul Gandhi has emerged as a mature leader during the Gujarat elections. Mani Shankar Aiyar was associated with his party and family for many decades. He uttered an expletive and was immediately suspended. In Himachal, when seasoned MLA Asha Kumari had a scuffle with a constable, the new Congress president compelled her to publicly apologize. Clearly, he is busy creating the image of a disciplined, graceful and rational politician. The year 2018 will also decide how useful this image will be for the Congress when compared to the aggressive combination of Modi and Shah.
These elections are also a huge opportunity for voters. Tired of politicians mouthing clichéd slogans during the Gujarat elections, the voters adopted a unique strategy. More than 500,000 people pressed the NOTA (none-of-the-above) button to send out a meaningful and strong message. Had the Congress got these votes, it would have come to power. Had the BJP received them, its victory would have sounded more respectable. Clearly, if our politicians get a few more similar jolts, they will be forced to change the way they function. I am not advocating the use of NOTA here. Still, the message that the people of Gujarat have delivered cannot be ignored.
Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan.
His Twitter handle is @shekharkahin.