NO matter which way you slice it, the results for Assembly Elections in five states give confidence and fresh energy to the anti-fascist resistance and people’s movements in India.
The defeat of the BJP in three Hindi-belt states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, in particular, is an indictment of the policies and performance of BJP Governments at the Centre and States, and calls the bluff of BJP’s and Prime Minister Modi’s claims of invulnerability and invincibility. The BJP faced a shock rout in Chhattisgarh, and a loss in Rajasthan. Even in Madhya Pradesh where the contest was closely fought, the Congress has emerged as the single largest party, poised to form Government.
The BJP is of course, now trying to insulate Modi from any accountability for its electoral losses, claiming that the results are due to “anti-incumbency” faced by the respective state governments and state-level BJP leadership alone. The BJP is especially anxious to deny that the Assembly results have any implications for the Parliamentary elections to be held five months from now in May 2019. But these assertions ring hollow for a number of reasons.
It cannot be forgotten that Amit Shah and the BJP triumphantly claimed that the Assembly election results in Maharashtra, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh were a referendum on the Modi Government; how, then, can the same BJP now claim that the latest Assembly elections have no bearing on the Modi Government? The attempts to shift the discourse towards Ram Mandir, away from the Modi Government’s unleashing of disaster on the poor, its complicity in rampant corruption, its erosion of democracy and of institutions, and the non-confidence motion it is receiving even from its own hand-picked men such as Urijit Patel have been clearly visible to voters.
Moreover, it is Modi himself, along with his fellow star-campaigners Amit Shah and ‘Yogi’ Adityanath who made the Assembly election campaigns all about national politics (Ram temple; Muslim-baiting changes of names; branding Muslims ‘illegal immigrants’ and ‘biryani-eating terrorists’; pitting ‘Ali' against ‘Bajrangbali’; ‘Urban Naxal’, Patel statue, and Nehru-bashing) rather than about state-level governance.
The Chhattisgarh verdict is perhaps the most decisive and significant rebuff to the central BJP leadership’s political agenda. Chhattisgarh was slated in exit polls to be a closely fought race, so the Congress sweep in the state was not anticipated. Even the sitting Chief Minister Raman Singh barely able to save his own seat. Campaigning in Bastar, Modi himself demonised ‘Urban Naxals’ - obviously referring to Sudha Bharadwaj and other human rights activists and journalists who have been arrested or exiled from Chhattisgarh. Bastar’s and Chhattisgarh’s voters have delivered a sound rebuff to the ‘Urban Naxal’ bogey propagated by the Prime Minister, his pet media houses and the police. In Chhattisgarh, Adityanath also demonised the state’s Christian population, accusing them of ‘forced conversion’ of adivasis to promote ‘rakshasi rule’ that Ram had defeated. The RSS has boasted of Hinduising and communalising adivasis in Chhattisgarh and other states, and Adityanath implied as much when he declared Hanuman, the monkey god to be a forest-dwelling adivasi. At the same time, BJP Governments have unleashed the worst state terror and plunder on adivasis in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and other states. The Chhattisgarh results signal a distinct mandate of the adivasi people against the communal-corporate agenda of the Sangh and BJP.
In MP, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Telangana, Adityanath addressed 74 rallies, Amit Shah 56 and Modi 31. These three were unquestionably the ones chosen by the party to carry its central poll message. Adityanath rallies harped on the ‘Ram’, Mandir, and Muslim-baiting themes. Both Adityanath and Amit Shah implied that the Congress and Rahul Gandhi were un-Hindu and pro-Muslim. Amit Shah stoked hatred against those he called “illegal immigrants” (communal code for Muslims) as ‘cousins of the Congress President’ and promised to “throw them out.” Modi’s main theme was to attack the Congress Governments and leadership from Nehru downwards to Rahul Gandhi, even as he refused to acknowledge the demonetisation and GST debacles, or the mounting evidence of massive corruption in which he and his own office are clearly complicit.
The Congress was voted out in Mizoram and the ‘Mahakutami’ alliance in Telangana could not compete with the TRS which swept the polls. The party is choosing to interpret its revival in the Hindi-belt states as a vindication of its politics of ‘Hinduism vs Hindutva’, which included temple-hopping, and displays of the Brahminical ‘sacred thread’ and the ‘gotra’ of the Congress President all to prove his Hindu-ness. The fact is that the Assembly elections in these states could resist the vicious communal climate created by lynch mobs, large sections of the media as well as the BJP propagandists both in its top leadership and its social media cohorts. A considerable part of the credit for this goes to the farmers’ movements which gave a consistent and united platform to farmers’ anger, and the sustained campaigns against communal divisive politics, anti-Dalit and anti-women violence, and the profiling of activists as ‘Urban Naxals.’
With the victory of the CPIM in two Rajasthan seats, it is encouraging and welcome that the Left, and the peasant movement, has a share in the mandate against the fascist BJP. In Rajasthan, the victory of a new party - the Bhartiya Tribal Party on two seats is also a notable and welcome development.
The Modi-Shah combine and the BJP is likely to become more desperate in the wake of this defeat - and as the Parliamentary polls draw nearer, people of India must brace themselves to resist even more intensified campaigns of communal hate and violence and fake news propaganda. But the Assembly elections are a timely busting of the myth of Modi’s invincibility - and a reminder to us, that the people can and must fight, and win!