Without sounding parochial, I think that by virtue of being a Gujarati, I read elections better. The reason is simple. I have been watching Prime Minister Narendra Modi work from 1992. I have vivid memories of the time he formed the first majority BJP government in Gujarat in 1995 and ruled from 2001 till he moved to New Delhi as the Prime Minister. It was therefore not that difficult to gauge that though Akhilesh Yadav of Samajwadi Party would give a good fight, the BJP would have the last laugh in Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest and most populous state.
In 2017 and 2022, my calculations about Uttar Pradesh turned out to be correct because as a Gujarati, it became easier to understand the BJP style of functioning. Let me say that I became more familiar with the way Narendra Modi and Amit Shah worked. And I have gradually got familiar with Yogi Adityanath’s way of working. The monk turned Chief Minister was introduced to me by a very secular Gujarat cadre officer of the Indian Police Service.
Of course, Yogi Adityanath is worthy of more praise. But let us not forget that Modi, Yogi and Amit Shah are united. Never get carried away by anecdotes or tales that they have differences. Such stories are deliberately planted. The BJP is steered by a person whose control cannot be questioned. He has the political sense and the patience to listen to workers for eight hours at a stretch and then take corrective action. Modi and Shah are very focussed warriors.
Yogi’s bulldozer victory is important because this is the first time since 1951 that the saffron party (then the Jansangh and now the BJP) did not have the Ayodhya Mandir and Article 370 as their election agenda. It would however be wrong to say that Hindutva did not work in Uttar Pradesh. The BJP has moved on to new age welfare. This is something that has been well received by the public but missed by the opposition.
A Dalit farm labourer in Barabanki who has always voted in favour of the Bahujan Samaj Party told me that it was necessary to vote for Yogi and Modi to stop India from turning into a country like Ukraine. I did not understand what he meant. He says that giving power to anyone other than BJP would mean making India vulnerable to an attack from Pakistan. We often make the mistake of dismissing such beliefs. The only ‘panwala’ in Delhi’s Pandara market told me that Gujarat is very progressive and will never give a majority to Aam Aadmi party because AAP stands only for slum-dwellers. DId he actually mean that people from Gujarat care for money more than ideology?
Despite COVID mismanagement, disturbing images of bodies floating in the Ganges, violence against women and a minister’s son mowing down protesting farmers, it seems that the masses finds BJP more credible, stable and trustworthy. This is what the results reflect. The poll outcome has shown that it is not Akhilesh Yadav or Mamata Bannerjee that can provide an alternative but Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal. The AAP has snatched away Punjab from the Congress.
Narendra Modi has sounded the election bugle in Gujarat. Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party is enthused but not adequately prepared to play the role of the main opposition in the country. India’s grand old party, the Congress has lost its influence not just in Gujarat but in the northern belt. And this is not surprising.
The way the Dalits cast their vote has in fact been most surprising. In Punjab, they did not support Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi who lost both the seats. In Uttar Pradesh, the Dalits have gone with the BJP. The results of Goa, Punjab and Uttarakhand reflect the lethargy of the Congress.
Sources say that the headless party is being run by Rahul Gandhi who takes micro level decisions without consulting people. He has sadly reduced himself to being a Wayanad MP and this has reflected in the results. Congressmen fear that this may also reflect in the party performance in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh which go to the polls in a few months.
The most important lesson that these election results have shown is the age-old theory. Do not confuse crowds with votes. This is the mistake that Akhilesh Yadav’s supporters made. In a democracy, it is majority that matters. And the majority is often minuscule. In a scenario where there is 60 per cent voting, it means votes are going to be hugely divided and the winner is not going to be the real representative of the majority but this is how democracy works.
Senior journalist Radhika Ramaseshan who travelled and reported for Vibes of India was clear after the second phase. People in UP were happy with the Yogi government’s ration distribution and aggressive bulldozer approach towards a particular minority community. The voters are smart these days especially when they talk to television journalists who are known faces. They speak what they want the journalist to hear. This is the reason why all pollsters got it correct and many ground reporters got it wrong. We have seen this in Gujarat in 2017 and in Uttar Pradesh now. To undermine the intelligence and integrity of voters in a democracy would be criminal.
The ‘You get what you deserve’ phrase is a good ideological consolation but reality needs to be accepted with grace and understanding.
For non believers, here is a case in point. Instead of endless celebrations, the BJP has got down to business and is already focussing on tactical moves for polls in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. It has completed the booth management exercise in Gujarat whereas Congress has not even started it. Congress psycophants in Gujarat do not give a clear picture of how disoriented the party is in the State. Aam Aadmi Party and AIMIM will further dent the Congress vote. These are things that the Congress needs to know and work upon but perhaps, the party high command may not feel motivated to work after the UP election results.
My key takeaways from these elections results are as follows
1. Yogi Adityanath has mettle. His ration, bhashan, kada prashasan prachar (propaganda on ration, oration and strict governance) has worked. No propaganda works in a vacuum. This means that the voters believe in Yogi. The results have elevated Yogi’s stature and his visibility is expected to increase in Gujarat and Himachal both. For the first time, Modi has found in Yogi a legacy that can match his own. This is a very significant point.
2. ‘Modi hai to Mumkin hai’ is still a phrase that holds weight. His popularity which had been dented a little after the West Bengal elections, has been restored. Modi believes in what Sun Tzu wrote. “Appear weak when you are strong. Know your enemies better than you know yourself.”
3. To read the entire elections as a victory of Hindutva would be wrong. Hindutva is largely a northern belt phenomenon but considering the way Hindutva has now reached from Gujarat to Assam, this northern and upper belt of India is enough for Modi to be whatever he wants to be.
By 2024, the strategies the BJP in north and south will be completely different.
4. Despite the inflation, rapes and crouching economy, the middle class, youth and women have stood with the BJP. That all the seven Assembly seats in Lakhimpur have been won by BJP despite the fact that a minister’s son had mowed down agitating farmers here speaks volumes about the UP voter’s psyche. They continue to remain enamoured by BJP especially Yogi.
5. Yogi is now the second most powerful politician in India followed by Amit Shah. Arvind Kejriwal is evolving and it will be interesting to watch AAP.
6. Rahul Gandhi and Congress are no more the main opposition. Journalists have been prescribing that Congress needs to reinvent itself and Rahul Gandhi needs to sharpen his political instincts. Rahul and Priyanka are great human beings but they lack not only a native political instinct but a close team that tells them the truth. The Congress is finished. Congress is responsible but it lacks responsiveness, aggressiveness and does not have workers that present the true picture to the leaders. Everything in an Indian election is not about scientific strategy. It is about having the right equation with voters or at least a perception which both Rahul and Priyanka lack.
7. Morality, integrity and secularism does not matter in India. The new UP model consolidates what Gujarat has consistently proved since 2001. Elections have no moral compass. Criticising BJP’s new welfare schemes or their closeness with Adani and Ambani does not fetch votes. The agitation by farmers and rapes have led to protests but these factors have not impacted votes. This is surprising but a harsh reality.
8. Opposition unity is hard to forge and that is why the BJP will continue with its winning streak. Like it or not, this is the reality.