Misreading the new

The rise of BJP, the decline of Congress, demand fresh ways of seeing.

Written by Sanjaya Baru | Updated: March 15, 2017 11:13 am
Uttar Pradesh election results 2017, UP election results 2017, Uttar Pradesh election results, Narendra Modi, Amit Shah, Congress, Uttarakhand election results, BJP Modi, BJP Uttar Pradesh victory, Indian Express, India news The time has come to seriously understand the roots of the decline of the Congress and the rise of the BJP. (Source: PTI)

So much of the instant analysis of the Uttar Pradesh assembly election results echoes the bewildered commentary that followed Narendra Modi’s historic victory in the Lok Sabha elections of May 2014. Familiar arguments, such as the communal polarisation of the electorate, getting caste combinations right, the resort to “populism”, even the “stupidity” of the Congress party’s inept leadership, are being trotted out as explanations for the persistence of a trend.

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None of these was an unknown factor in the run-up to the elections. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has always unabashedly appealed to the “Hindu” vote, at least partly in the hope of neutralising the “caste” factor, regional parties have always been about caste and ethnic loyalties, every successful politician has been a “populist” at the hustings, even if a “reformer” in office, and the Congress has had a crisis of leadership for at least five years. Serious analysts must come forward with a better explanation for what is clearly a new trend in Indian politics — the secular decline of the Indian National Congress as a national party of government, and the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party as a mainstream political party, with a vote base across the country.

But for any such serious analysis, political science requires new data and new tools. As in economics, so in political science, we see the persistence of old theories seeking to explain new realities. The discipline of economics at least got used to the idea of a paradigm shift from time to time: When facts changed, as John Maynard Keynes famously put it, theory caught up. The Keynesian revolution was one such paradigm shift. Then, after the implosion of the Soviet Union and the Chinese Communist Party’s embrace of market economics, even if with Chinese characteristics, the statist paradigm in economics went out of fashion. More recently, following China’s rise, the trans-Atlantic financial crisis and the slowing down of Europe, the so-called Washington Consensus and the “neo-liberal” economics it was built on have met their comeuppance.

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Yet, the ideologically conditioned economists of the left and right persist with their old ideas, while the more pragmatic ones, with their ear to the ground, have been able to walk a new path. Economics, as a discipline, has been in disrepute over the past decade — this has challenged practical economists to come up with new ideas. However, we do not as yet see signs of a similar soul-searching among political scientists studying India. Most of them remain prisoners either of an ideology or of statistical surveys.

While ideological blinkers blind one to change that one does not wish to see, statistics and opinion surveys too have their limitations in a complex polity like India. If ideology ends up convincing someone that a tree is a pillar, statistics can end up making one miss the woods for the trees. Not surprisingly, therefore, contemporary political analysis continues to use theoretical tools from inter-war Europe or statistical tools from post-war American political science to explain the rise of the BJP and the popularity of Narendra Modi. Given this crisis in political science, journalists have become political pundits — and political pundits have become journalists.

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The time has come to seriously understand the roots of the decline of the Congress and the rise of the BJP. Neither is a cyclical or transient phenomenon. A senior Congress spokesperson said on TV that what goes up must come down and in politics, what goes down can come up; so, why worry. The next time round, the Congress will win and the BJP will lose.

It is a comforting thought for those in the Congress who sit in the Rajya Sabha and live in Lutyens Delhi: It is, however, not what the average Congress worker in Siddipet or Silchar, Sholapur or Sonepat thinks.

The Congress faces three very different, but inter-related challenges. First, it has no national leadership of any standing left: Sonia Gandhi’s appeal has faded and Rahul Gandhi has been demonetised. Second, the party’s regional leaders and cadre in many states, including traditional bastions like Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Telengana, are a dispirited lot. Third, the Congress has not been able to craft a new political platform even as Modi cherry-picks every good idea of the Congress and replays it as his own. In short, it is not the “timidity and stupidity” of the Congress leadership, as some analysts seem to believe, that is responsible for the party’s decline — the decline has been a long time in the coming and will continue till the party is able to re-invent itself under a completely new leadership. That is what Modi did for his party in 2013.

Finally, the BJP’s rise too is not just because Modi is Indira Gandhi Mark II, implementing the UPA’s manifesto and successfully communalising a large majority of Hindus. The BJP has come this far based on the strength of its cadre, its regional leaders and its appeal to a “new India”. On top of this, Modi has been able to project himself as both a strong nationalist and a pro-poor political leader. It is also clear that the BJP has a long-term policy perspective on all fronts, including economic, foreign and social policy that it hopes will give it the same political longevity the Congress enjoyed after Independence.

Taken together, these very different trajectories of the two national parties constitute a paradigm shift in India’s political economy and a power shift in politics. Given India’s diversity, there will always be space for other political parties in one part of the Subcontinent or another. Even the Congress had to yield space to other parties after the first general elections. The Communist Party of India defeated Nehru’s Congress in Kerala in 1957. By 1962, other parties unseated the Congress and a large number of powerful regional political leaders emerged. Yet, the Congress remained the dominant player.

Much the same could happen over the next decade, with several parties retaining regional relevance, even as the BJP emerges as the dominant national player.

Baru is author of ‘The Accidental Prime Minister: The Making and Unmaking of Manmohan Singh’

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  1. A
    Ash
    Mar 17, 2017 at 7:32 pm
    Congress was the leader in 3 out of 5 states.Is that a sign of a dying party,especially against Modi who campaigned extensively?Govt ministers may still think that to be true,but how do you explain the rout in Punjab,and the defeat in Goa.lt;br/gt; In Goa,the CM and 7 ministers lost their seats.Does that sound like a wave?
    Reply
    1. A
      Ash
      Mar 17, 2017 at 7:52 pm
      Sab ka saath is just a slogan for Baajpa,not a golden rule to follow.We decry when an innocent Indian is killed in the USA,due to race hate,and yet some here are propagating the same hate.Do we want to live peacefully as we have?
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      1. M
        MyTake
        Mar 15, 2017 at 6:34 pm
        At least BJP has given something for the Indian intelligentsia to think about! All these years they mostly l a z y b u m m e r s!
        Reply
        1. K
          K SHESHU
          Mar 15, 2017 at 2:08 pm
          A strong opposition is needed in a democratic set up. The opposition must have serious debate to form viable oppositon to check the ruling governments .
          Reply
          1. N
            Ninad
            Mar 15, 2017 at 10:07 am
            yes, more than one party but not too many parties
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            1. A
              Ajay G
              Mar 14, 2017 at 8:51 pm
              Congress may be reduced to a regional party as well. With death of Jayalalita, TN may become a hotbed for Cong. lt;br/gt; lt;br/gt;Rajasthan and MP may become other 2 regions for them to remain relevant.
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                ak dev
                Mar 15, 2017 at 1:30 pm
                People loosing trust in Congress is largely affected by the loss of credibility of its leaders who lies and lies and opposes the ideas that they claim Modi has stolen from Congress. Congress behavior today is liked by those only who profusely hate RSS. Rest of the Indians have understood that Congress leaders are anti-nationalists.
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                1. A
                  Amar
                  Mar 15, 2017 at 3:10 pm
                  "Inclusive Growth" could have been a plank for Congress. Insistence of Sonia to include Raja in ministry messed it up.
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                  1. A
                    Amar
                    Mar 15, 2017 at 3:13 pm
                    Planks of "Secularism and Socialism" that kept Congress alive are at peace now.
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                    1. a
                      a_D
                      Mar 15, 2017 at 9:29 am
                      Two things stand outlt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;1) UP is not India.....there is Punjab, Goa and Bihar also that shows the por will of people in the other directionlt;br/gt;2) 40% of UP is not the will of all of UP:...60% still think otherwise.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;While Modi managed to consolidate hindus through communalism.... UP and amlt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;the silverlining--gt;his rolling juggernaut has left no option but for the secular, consutional forces to consolidate.....Maywati and akhilesh will be left with no option other than join hands in the next round of 2019lt;br/gt;and most likely in a larger coordination with Mamta, Nitish, Kejriwal etal......lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;the last chapter will be written in 2019
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                        a_D
                        Mar 15, 2017 at 12:43 pm
                        that's true congress did not get the majority votes.....but was ideologically aligned with the majority.......Mulayam, Mayawati, Nitish, Lalu etal......had political differences with Congress....but were all on the same side of Sovereign-socialist-secular-democratic...definition of India.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;BJP / Sangh's ideology does not represent the majority and hence it willl be untenable throughout the country
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                        1. B
                          Baiju
                          Mar 15, 2017 at 11:36 am
                          and then this country will be in doldrums...now build temple at Ayodhya for Lord Rama...Lord Rama would himself cursing Valmiki
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                            Chandrasekaran Subramanian
                            Mar 15, 2017 at 2:32 pm
                            59% voted against the so called nationalists hahahs. Scoundrels who were bootlicking the British are today ultra nationalist. All nationalist Indians should be ashamed for having voted these rsscals into power.
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                            1. R
                              rag
                              Mar 15, 2017 at 10:08 am
                              yeah, i hope you used the same yardstick when MMS was PM - it wasnt a majority opinion that favoured the UPA.lt;br/gt;Such is democracy.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;And you continuing to parrot the w 'secular' agenda which has run its course is at best, laughable.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;judging the electorate to be stupid is the biggest mistake the UPA made. How long will religious bias be tolerated byt the poce rather than a focus on development ?lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Time the INC, SP and BSP realise this and change accordingly. Till then, this juggernaut will role, and the more worrying aspect - there will be no credible opposition.
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                                Dr.Damodar Biswal
                                Mar 15, 2017 at 6:27 am
                                Yes,sir.BJP may continue winning if they stop talking of Ram Mandir,uniform civil code,hate muslims n above all continue its image of non corrupt governance.
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                                1. R
                                  raj
                                  Mar 15, 2017 at 12:27 pm
                                  hi guys, lt;br/gt; one more joke, this old man dreaming of CONGS, lt;br/gt;conges has done too harm then good for hindus. they treated us second cl citizen, staying in our land, they critize lord RAM, critized lord durga, crtized all hindus. SONI I, RUL I BY NAME ARE HINDUS, BUT BY ACTION INTERNAL MUSLIMS. lt;br/gt;SO JUST IMAGINE, HINDUSTAN RULED BY MUSLIM. CAN WE TAKE TI ANYMORE. ?? NOT POSSIABLE. ONE FOR ALL CONGRES MUKT BHARAT.lt;br/gt;JAI HIND
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                                    Deeply Concerned
                                    Mar 15, 2017 at 3:40 pm
                                    But for mive rigging in UP Congress as single largest party in Punjab, Goa, and Manipur is resurgent. The unprecedented post poll analysis by tv media is very suious as if to prepare people mentally for a rude shock of BJP win in UP. By no stretch of imagination that Modi is por but as a comedy piece
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                                    1. D
                                      DA
                                      Mar 15, 2017 at 6:23 am
                                      The Mandal movement of the late 80s and 90s broke up caste hierarchy as we knew it. The economic dependencies between castes that had held together Indian society for millenia was ruptured. There were artificial fault lines created between castes, and that has dictated politics in the following decades.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Now that various caste groups are no longer inter-dependent, they do not get to blame other caste groups for their economic misery and lack of social empowerment. They blame the government in power. The rise of global Islamic Jihadism would have served as a wake-up-call; we are better off together as a cultural nation. lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;This had to happen, with a little nudging from the Sangh. TV and social media have catalysed this. I am glad that this healing of our society happened in my own life-time. To be honest, I had given up hope.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Over the next decade the challenge should be to integrate Muslims into the mainstream narrative. Form of prayer has never formed basis of discrimination in India, there is no reason why it should, now.
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                                        Bajaj R
                                        Mar 15, 2017 at 3:45 pm
                                        Electoral victory is one thing, being politically correct another. Congress has been politically incorrect but can rectify itself. lt;br/gt; lt;br/gt;BJP has a few victories under the cap but under Modi can not correct itself.
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                                          Bajaj R
                                          Mar 15, 2017 at 4:32 pm
                                          Sab Ka Saath - Modi stole it from there.
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                                            Bajaj R
                                            Mar 15, 2017 at 4:39 pm
                                            Socialism was first discarded by Cong only with Economic Reforms under PVN and MMS.
                                            Reply
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