For those who are opposed to the Narendra Modi government but do not belong to the Indian National Congress, the outcome of the elections to the Assemblies of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh could not have been better. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Prime Minister and the BJP President Amit Shah have been shown their place. For them, the road to the 17th Lok Sabha elections scheduled to take place in April-May 2019 has become perilous. At the same time, Tuesday’s results clearly indicate that for the Congress, there is no room for complacency.
Many regional parties and the Left apprehended that if a Chhattisgarh-like sweeping victory for the country’s “grand old party” had taken place in the large states of Rajasthan and MP, the Congress leadership would have become arrogant and started believing that it would be a smooth ride to the next general elections. That would have made it easy for those in the party who are yet to reconcile themselves to the dharma of coalition politics to convince Rahul Gandhi to bargain hard with existing and potential constituents and allies of the United Progressive Alliance. The Congress should also realise that opportunistic alliances bereft of an agenda can backfire and weaken it – as it did in Telangana.
For the BJP and its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the choices ahead seem rather limited. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s campaign and his attempts to make the Ram mandir at Ayodhya an election issue has clearly not worked. The so-called moderate elements within the Sangh parivar will surely acknowledge in private that the real issues that matter to much of the electorate in the three Hindi heartland states are two: the agrarian crisis and the absence of jobs. Yet, they also know that little can be done in the next four or five months to address these issues, even if the government manages to “raid” the Reserve Bank of India headed by a pliant Governor and announce more grandiose schemes for farmers, women, the youth and small enterprises before and during the vote-on-account (in lieu of the annual Union Budget).
At the same time, the BJP and the parivar cannot – and will not – rein in the Hindu fanatics and cow rakshaks. In UP and elsewhere, there will be pressure on law-enforcing authorities to look the other way as more episodes of the kind that took place in Bulandshahr occur. These are unlikely to become widespread communal riots like the ones in Gujarat in 2002. The Ardh Kumbh will become a Maha Kumbh of sorts when the world’s largest congregation of Hindus assemble in Allahabad in January. Modi will never be able to shed the mantle of the RSS pracharak that he grew up with.
Simultaneously, the divisions within the BJP could become sharper and deeper not so much on account of differences on the party’s Hindutva line but because of excessive centralisation of power in the hands of two individuals and the need to apportion blame and responsibility for the unfavourable poll outcomes in the three Hindi states. The BJP also knows that it will not be possible for it to repeat its electoral performance in the most populous state in the country, that is, UP.
Do Modi and Shah know that no matter how much money is spent, these may not “buy” the party enough votes even if the funds are gleefully accepted by the recipients? Perhaps, no. So, will a substantial section of the saffron party become more reckless? Very likely. Will such a strategy include escalating tensions with Pakistan and link these with unrest in the Kashmir valley? Almost certainly.
These developments would be along expected lines and surprise few. However, the extent to which BJP would be benefitted in the run-up to the Parliamentary elections is an open question. The political environment is certain to become more turbulent. Social tensions could escalate. Things may get worse before they improve. Be prepared.