If 2015 saw the BJP suffer several setbacks with resounding electoral defeats in Delhi and Bihar and a series of local elections, the party gained considerable ground during 2016. The year was also marked by the BJP’s confrontation with the Opposition and its clashes with the judiciary, universities or other institutions. The core message to emerge at the half way point of its stint at the Centre is its impatience to implement its core agenda.
The year concludes on a note of confusion and apprehension over how Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s demonetisation exercise will affect the party’s prospects in upcoming Assembly elections. Five states — Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur — will go to the polls early next year and BJP’s posturing over demonetisation has already made these elections a sort of referendum on demonetisation.
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Earlier in the summer, the party won a famous victory in Assam, opened its account in Kerala and saw a rise in its vote share in West Bengal – all of which have helped Modi and party President Amit Shah regain confidence after the poor electoral performance in Bihar last year. The party’s showing in Assam and Kerala has also made its ideological parent, the RSS, happy as both states have always been crucial to its ambitions. The victory in Assam is seen as the BJP’s entry point into the north-eastern states and Shah is making a big push in states like Tripura, Arunachal to consolidate this year’s gains. The failure of the Left-Congress combine in West Bengal has buoyed the party and the RSS as they had feared that such an electoral alliance would prove formidable.
Apart from Assam, it won by-elections across the country. The party’s performance in civic polls in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra and in most recently in Chandigarh has prompted the party leadership to claim that it has a won a “stamp of approval” for Modi’s demonetisation move and his anti-corruption drive.
However, in another state where the BJP had entered into a historic alliance, the party has faced its biggest challenge. In Jammu & Kashmir, the BJP-PDP alliance suffered a number of setbacks, foremost the political uncertainty after the demise of former chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and the violent unrest following the killing of Burhan Wani in July.
Both the state and the central governments have still to recoup lost ground or regain the trust of the people of the Valley. The strains in Indo-Pak relations have worsened the situation.
However, the increasing disquiet within the party over the poor rolling out of demonetisation could spoil its game plan in politically crucial Uttar Pradesh. The good news for the BJP, as of now, is the credibility enjoyed by the PM and the people’s trust in him as a leader.
The last 12 months have seen the ruling party and its government at loggerheads with the judiciary and other institutions. While the government and the judiciary continue their turf war over the appointment of judges for the higher courts, both the Centre and the party faced huge embarrassment over the proclamation of President’s Rule in Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand—both of which were struck down by the courts.
The central government’s intervention in universities and elite institutions has pitched the BJP against a section of students and lent renewed vigour to students’ politics—the emergence of former JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar as a poster boy is a case in point. Critics say that developments in IIT Chennai, JNU and Hyderabad University were clear indications of the BJP’s eagerness to pursue the “RSS agenda”. The RSS mouthpiece Organiser had written a number of editorials and articles on the need to cleanse campuses of Marxist influence. An editorial in the weekly had justified the crackdown on the Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle (APSC), an outfit of Dalit students, saying it propagated “anti-Hindu” and “anti-Bharat” ideology.
BJP’s mishandling of the situation post the Rohith Vemula suicide – its leaders vied with each other in questioning Vemula’s Dalit status – and the public flogging of Dalit youths by self-proclaimed cow vigilante groups have challenged attempts by Modi and Shah to woo Dalits ahead of key elections in UP and Punjab.
At the end of 2016, the BJP cannot afford to rest on its laurels for the real test lies ahead in these forthcoming Assembly elections.