Looking at the electoral results from Haryana and Maharashtra along with 51 assembly by-elections in 17 states and two Lok Sabha constituencies in Bihar and Maharashtra that were sort of a mini referendum on the federal character of the country, seem to have given a clear message that regionalism is strong and it cannot be wished away by a rhetoric of nationalism.
Haryana and Maharashtra were ruled for the last five years by a BJP government whose chief ministers, Manohar Lal Khattar and Devendra Fadnavis respectively, were personally handpicked by the duo of PM Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah. The ruling party high command chose to repeat the two presenting them as the ideal delivery boys of a strong, efficient and performing India.
In Haryana, the BJP had a clear majority in 2014 by winning 47 seats in a 90-member state assembly and had everything going for it. The Congress and the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), comprising the main opposition, were in a state of total disarray. The electorate appears to have rejected the RSS inspired vision of strong nationalism. People have also forced the BJP to join hands with the very forces that it swears day and night to eliminate. The BJP could win only 40 seats five short of a clear majority, while in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls the saffron party had won all 10 seats.
To rub salt on the wounds, Haryana electorate has given 31 seats to the Congress, a party which Modi wishes to decimate. Two times chief minister of the state Bhupinder Singh Hooda, was given freedom to conduct the electoral battle by the interim party chief Sonia Gandhi only few weeks before the electoral battle. There were serious differences and dissidence within the Congress at the state level. Former Pradesh Congress chief Ashok Tanwar, ex-Lok Sabha MP and a Dalit leader, had quit the party on the eve of the poll, giving Hooda a serious challenge, but the dominant Jat community chose Hooda over Tanwar who proved to be a cropper as majority of the Dalit voters seemed to have deserted him.
The BJP could retain power only by offering the post of deputy chief minister to the head of the 11-months old Jannayak Janata Party (JJP) Dushyant Chautla, whose father and Grand Father Ajay and Om Prakash Chautlala has been in jail since 2013 after being convicted by Delhi High Court for graft in connection with illegal recruitment of 3000 teachers. Ajay Chautala even come out of jail on two weeks furlough just few hours after the two parties stitched together an alliance. The JJP has inherited the political legacy of a prominent Jat leader and former deputy Prime Minister Devi Lal whose family has been in power for decades and thus make up a classic dynastic outfit.
In Maharashtra, the BJP’s oldest Hinduatvawadi ally Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, has reminded the saffron party of its pre-Lok Sabha promise of sharing power as per a 50:50 formula, which means having the chief minister’s post for half the term. The demand came up after BJP lost 17 seats from its 2014 tally of 122 seats. However, at present the BJP’s national leadership is in quandary and is delaying the formation of a government.
Not only has the tally of both the BJP and Shiv Sena came down, compared to the alliance’s performance in 2014 assembly elections, but even the vote share has come down in comparison to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. At the same time, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress improved their respective tallies considerably, with the former winning 56 seats compared to 41 seats of 2014 and the latter winning 44 seats against its 42 seats in 2014. The NCP’s performance, particularly seen in the background of a spirited campaign of its founder leader Sharad Pawar, has been a serious reminder that regional parties cannot and should not be dismissed as light weights. At the same time, it is a blow to the arrogance of the RSS-BJP combined, that had continued to swell after winning two successive general elections.
In 51 assembly bye-elections spread over 16 states and one Union Territory of Puducherry, the BJP and its allies have managed to win 30 seats, with the rest of the 21 going to the opposition with regional parties giving a tough fight to the saffron party. The Congress won 12 seats particularly three seats in Gujarat, where one of its defector backward caste leader, Alpesh Thakore who had switched loyalty to the BJP from Congress party failed to retain his seat by losing to the Congress candidate.
Even in two parliamentary bye-polls of Samastipur in Bihar and Satara in Maharashtra, honours have been shared by two regional parties. While in Samastipur, the BJP’s ally Lok Jantantrik Party won, the NCP retained the seat defeating Udayanraje Bhosale (a descendent of Chattrapati Shivaji), who had resigned from his Lok Sabha seat within months of his victory in 2019 Lok Sabha general elections that he had won on an NCP ticket.
The message that the people seems to be giving to these parties is that Anti-incumbency cannot be defeated by changing candidates or by leaders defecting to the BJP is also not a guarantee of an electoral victory.
Now, with these developments we can say that the Modi-Shah combination is no longer invincible, provided the opposition is ready to work hard in taking up issues of employment, health, education, transport and seamless governance. In their message to the political parties and their respective leaders, people appear to have categorically conveyed that arrogance is not acceptable to them and that empty rhetorics too has a shelf life and its retributions are bitter and disappointing to its adherents.
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