The recently concluded elections in the states of Himachal and gave both – the parties and the people – many lessons in political observation and prediction. Let’s have a look on the assembly election results 2017 a little depper to understand its impact on 2019 election.
Gujarat, the home turf of the Bharatiya Janata Party mirrored to a large extent the expected trends of 2019, which we can safely say, will be replicated in the rest of the country, plus or minus the unique social mechanics of each state. At the same time, it would do both the diminished-but-not-yet-defeated BJP and the resurgent-but-not-yet-risen Congress, well, to tread the path of caution.
Himachal, on the other hand, has stuck to its tradition of booting out the incumbent. As expected the BJP won well, but here too the defeat of Prem Kumar Dhumal in his own seat, as well as the routine horsetrading and factionalism that haunts the politics of the state have posed challenges in understanding its political behavior.
Of course, the lessons learned from the election experience in both states, despite the apparent all-out victory of the BJP is that the road to 2019 is hard and the “acche din of BJP”hasn’t arrived as fully as were promised, at least not for all Indians. Unless this realization is fully accepted by all electoral players, the near future of the world’s largest democracy looks unsteady.
As the BJP bastion for years now, a defeat, or even the smallest sort, is extremely significant in the state of Gujarat.
One can’t deny that 99 of the total 182 seats are still firmly in their hands, but it is undeniable that the BJP “wave” or so is far from its peak in 214, when it successfully managed to sweep across the whole nation.
The credibility of Modi is still significantly high, but it has certainly lost the galvanizing shine it once possessed, and that also has to do with the gradual acknowledgment of other players in the field.
The following factors are what primarily drove the elections :
- Economic turbulence – demonetization, GST, general slowdown, etc.
- Social agitations – Hardik Patel, Jignesh Mevani, Alpesh Thakore
- Emergence of the Congress as an alternative
One can easily see that they are interlinked and influenced each other as well as the overall outcome of the election results 2017. Let us deal with them sequentially :
Impact of Economic Turbulence on election results 2017 :
The havoc, caused on the entire economy by what, in retrospect, appears to be poorly planned and executed move, is today understood very clearly by most of us, but apart from maybe having to stand in a queue for cumbersome hours, most of us perhaps have no other memory, of the economic activity, that single-handedly, shrunk the GDP of one of the world’s largest economies, by an estimated 2%, which is a very drastic and not easily reversible move.
But what about the countless small traders and shopkeepers, daily wage laborers and farm workers, for whom cash in the hand was the only way the world worked?
The middle to upper-middle class sections of Indian society could forget it, but the real impacts of demonetization, and its younger cousin, the Goods, and Services Tax, were clearly borne by the marginalized ( economically and politically) sections of society. The effectiveness of demonetisation as being the one-stop solution for black money, and that of the GST, in reducing corporate and bureaucratic red -tape to ease the inflow of foreign investments, is a debate to be saved for another time, but the electoral pain of such a decision was inevitable in the state of entrepreneurs – Gujarat. This reality was paramount and inescapable here, where traders and businessmen, of almost all communities, made their grievances clearly known and felt, by pinching the electoral pockets of the once unshakeable BJP, in the same manner, that it had pinched theirs.
Impact of Social Dynamics in election results 2017: Majoritarianism in a state of 40% OBCs
Gujarat is a polarising and often polarised state. Hindutva made its ugly and crude presence clearly felt in the election campaigns, but one has to realize that the BJP has in recent times, made significant shifts away from relying on it as its sole or even most important electoral plank. “Development” is the agenda it tried to put across even in the communally sensitive state of Uttar Pradesh.That said the reality is that Upper-Class Muslims – the rich traders and businessmen like to believe that the “development” agenda is what should concern them the most.
This might tempt one into believing that perhaps caste and communalism are dead and gone but that is far from the truth.The agitations by upper caste leaders of the dominant communities in the state(economically speaking the land-owning and socially speaking the status and power possessing sections) in the state has put paid to the assumption that caste calculus doesn’t apply in modern India. These youth face a crisis similar to the Jats of Haryana, where a lack of penetration of education and social welfare schemes, combined with the unemployment and economic slowdown have produced similar levels of social discontent, that continues to have political translations.
These leaders have antagonized the BJP, and for now, seem to be allying with the Congress, which we discuss in the section ahead.
Emergence (or Reemergence) of the Congress influencing election results 2017
Despite the virtual pariah status that this party was relegated to post the drubbing in 2014, U.P, Goa and Manipur, and the near total contempt with which its new leader Rahul Gandhi was viewed, the party and Rahul himself have re-emerged with a vengeance.
Once the butt of countless social media jokes, the new Congress President Rahul Gandhi has vastly improved his own social media presence and is trying to emerge as a competitor to the sway of Narendra Modi on various forums. He may not yet possess what some deem the “charismatic allure” of Narendra Modi, but his journey on the path to becoming that has well and truly begun.
It is still too early to say that the Congress party has fully gained ground in Gujarat where the BJP has lost it, but the change in the electoral winds is undeniable. The hostility that once characterized the view of ordinary people to the Congress has certainly been diminished.
The OBCs belonging to the economically weaker sections as well as the newly formed upper-caste alliances in the state all look to the Congress, as the only real credible alternative to the BJP.
Overall view of election results 2017:
Yes, the BJP won the battle, but the war was won by the Congress.
Emerging in even the smallest significant way, in a state so clearly “owned” by the competitor means that the long due rebirth of the Congress has taken place.
However before you dismiss me as some hopeless optimist, let it be known, that the cards, at least for Gujarat are still in the hands of the BJP. Trips and falls like demonetization and the GST aside, the organizational framework and door-to-door footsoldier drive that it possesses, far outnumbers the Congress’s, which might I add, has no local leader worth his name in the state as yet.
Another small reprieve that I shall give to the BJP is that the Uttar Pradesh elections which took place when demonetization was still in the air, also went their way, despite the pitfalls and pains which that economic strategy had produced. So, one can grudgingly forgive them for a move, which however disastrous, produced no short-term electoral losses, at least not in Uttar Pradesh.
In the end, both the Congress and the BJP have a long way to go, in terms of gaining and losing electoral ground. Hopefully, the “ripple effects” of this “wave” will be learned by them before it is too late.
The hill states of Himachal and Uttarakhand have as many similarities as dissimilarities but most majorly, their recent affinity for the BJP makes it tempting to say the hills have truly turned saffron.
Economic blues and unemployment are the major driving forces here and the other players like caste are also present.
Himachal enjoys a high literacy rate on one hand, but the difficult terrain and aging population contribute to generally low voter turnouts. Despite this, the BJP has secured victory here and apart from the usual CPI-M presence, the Left’s presence was not really significant.
That said while the victory margin may have been fairly wide, challenges like opportunistic politicians and the sad loss of Prem Kumar Dhumal in his own home seat add to the woes of the BJP. Horsetrading and infighting among its own members, as well as the lack of young energy and drive, means that this victory may well be short-lived.
Add to that, the routine anti-incumbency and the graft-tainted image of Virbhadra Singh and we may get a fuller picture of what actually drove the BJP’s victory in the state, and what that victory means for the near and distant future.
While Himachal may yet be struggling to find its Chief Minister, despite giving a thumping majority to the BJP, owing to the confusion and infighting presently afflicting it, the BJP must renew its electoral strategies, if it really has seen the writing on the wall. And if it refuses to do that, it well risks losing, if not absolutely, then quite significantly in 2019. Hopefully, for the sake of this country, if not for any one party it won’t
As for the Congress, it must learn what rules the minds and lives of voters and citizens today, and to emerge as a credible alternative to the BJP behemoth. And no amount of social media posturing can compensate for ground-level penetration that can only take place if the Congress stops pretending to be the party of the hoity-toity and high-and-mighty and pulls up its socks in the real world of an India which wants to go global but fails to address crises local.
And lastly for the enlightened voters reading this, please vote out of choice and not compulsion.
But for rational voters, the majoritarian tsunami sweeping the world can’t be stopped or even survived.