A hundred-day journeyhttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/a-hundred-day-journey-state-assembly-election-results-2018-congress-bjp-madhya-pradesh-chhattisgarh-rajasthan-5495524/

A hundred-day journey

They can live with poverty and betrayed promises of development, but they cannot live in a situation of perpetual conflict.

Madhya Pradesh: Several state ministers lose their seats
Supporters of India’s main opposition Congress party celebrate after initial poll results at the party headquarters in New Delhi, India, December 11, 2018. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

Congress-mukt Bharat was always a chimera. The BJP, and particularly its two leaders, Mr Narendra Modi and Mr Amit Shah, tried to sell the fatuous idea that the Congress party can and will be wiped out of the electoral map of the country. The Congress rubbished the argument. Even the RSS distanced itself from the provocative slogan. The people of India, however, seem to have taken offence to the BJP’s plan.

When the opportunity arose, the electorate in the three states of Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh voted decisively in favour of the Congress, that was locked in a direct fight with the BJP. Readers may demur at the use of the word ‘decisively’, but I do so deliberately and after a careful analysis of the results.

DECISIVE VERDICT 

Consider the following facts:

In Chhattisgarh, the Congress won the highest number of seats by any party, (68/90) with 43.0 per cent of the votes polled, since the formation of the state.

In Rajasthan, the Congress inched ahead of the BJP both in the popular votes (13,935,201 vs 13,757,502) and percentage of votes polled (39.3 per cent vs 38.8 per cent). Besides, the Congress gave away five seats to its allies who polled 184,874 votes, which must be added to the Congress’s tally.

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In Madhya Pradesh, the Congress contested one seat less than the BJP, yet the Congress got more seats (114 vs 109) and polled an almost equal number of votes (15,595,153 vs 15,642,980).

Considering from where the Congress started the race in the three states, the fact that the Congress pulled level with the BJP is the decisive nature of the people’s verdict. The results would have been even more decisive if the BSP had allied with the Congress. In Rajasthan, the BSP won six seats (4.0 per cent and 1,410,995 votes) and in Madhya Pradesh two seats (5.0 per cent and 1,911,642 votes). An alliance between the two parties would have added 29 seats in Madhya Pradesh to the Congress’s number of 114.

REASONS BEHIND RESULTS

Enough of the numbers. Let’s ask ourselves why the people voted so decisively in favour of the Congress. The principal causes in the Hindi heartland are well known — farmers’ distress, unemployment, and insecurity among women, Dalits, tribals and minorities. Beyond the Hindi heartland too, the same factors are at play. Whether an incumbent BJP government at the Centre would be able to resist the powerful negative wave is the million dollar question in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections in 2019.

At a deeper level, I think there are several other factors at play. Do not make the mistake of assuming that the average citizen is concerned only with the bread-and-butter issues of prices and jobs. She is concerned, certainly at the subliminal level, with other issues.

Consider, for example, the effect of Mr ‘Yogi’ Adityanath, the Chief Minister of the largest state, Uttar Pradesh. Mr Adityanath was a tireless campaigner like Mr Narendra Modi and addressed more rallies than Mr Modi did. When such a person speaks — and speaks only — of protecting the cow, building a Ram temple, erecting the tallest statue of Lord Ram, renaming states and cities, banishing Muslim leaders from their states, etc., he does not convey a message of hope or development or security. On the contrary, he raises the spectre of constant conflict, violence, riots, and polarisation and division of society, and drives fear into the hearts of average citizens. Such fear, in my view, is a potent factor behind the voting behaviour of the very poor: they can live with poverty and betrayed promises of development, but they cannot live in a situation of perpetual conflict.

WE MUST BANISH FEAR

On the rest of the electorate too, the effect of a Mr Adityanath is nearly the same. Add to that, speeches of the kind delivered in the last phase of the elections by Mr Modi and Mr Shah, and the picture is complete and terrifying. If you think that fear does not affect the voting behaviour of the senior citizen or the homemaker or the ambitious professional or the aspiring young student, you are wrong. In the last week, a number of usually discreet business persons and bankers have warmly shaken my hand and whispered their congratulations to the Congress party! An educated young lady, pushing her trolley, raced to catch up with me to say how happy she was with the election results and to wish the Congress the best of luck. Senior citizens at lunch stopped me to say they were thrilled by the results and hope there will be change in 2019. Journalists, the most hardened and cynical among the observers of the political situation, have sought interviews (although I do not yet know what their proprietors think!).

Make no mistake, the BJP will fight back with all the instruments in its hands — laws, ordinances, promises, searches, prosecutions and above all with more money thrown into on-going programmes. As for more money, the chances of the government raiding the so-called ‘excess reserves’ of the RBI have improved with the exit of Dr Urjit Patel.

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The BJP has a hundred days to fight back. The Opposition also has a hundred days to take the battle forward. The verdict of 2019 will decide the fate of the Constitution of India and its values.