BJP’s nationalist narrative driving TV debates but may not get party the result it wants
This election is expected to be 'local'
This election is expected to be 'local'
As you move away from Delhi, one understands that election has become regional and local despite the powerful narrative of nationalism married to Hindutva injected by BJP continues to dominate social media and TV screens.
It also holds true for the Congress which has decided to push Nyuntam Aay Yojana (NYAY) as its main electoral plank against BJP. Like nationalism driven campaign, it also hangs as one of the themes of the Lok Sabha elections. As of now, as the battle for phase one begins, regional issues have started to gain ground, making elections diverse and less Modi-centric.
For example, with SP-BSP-RLD combine in play, BJP cannot repeat its performance this time in UP. Unlike 2014, where election revolved around Modi, caste, candidates, local issues and delivery programmes of the government are also participating in the campaign in the state and not to mention the problem of stray cattle.
Same is the case with other states. Both Telangana and Andhra Pradesh are contesting elections on strong regional issues revolving around regional pride, regional discrimination and welfare schemes. BJP has seen green shoots in Kerala, but there too, the issues are regional. Even Sabarimala has not been able to acquire sentiment of national proportion which Ayodhya did in the 1990s. Though BJP is expected to open an account in the state.
The story in Tamil Nadu is also similar. It is a fight between two regional parties over regional issues and both the BJP and Congress claim a very small role. So whatever the result may be, a regional player will be the winner.
The state of Karnataka saw BJP’s resurgence during assembly elections but it had more to do with its brilliant performance in SC seats than because of urban voters - who these days are voting for BJP. Nonetheless, Karnataka is like UP where BJP can give a tough fight to the JDS-Congress alliance
In states like Odisha and West Bengal, where BJP has made inroads, election again is being fought on regional issues. Both BJD and TMC are fighting elections on pro-welfare agenda in the state. Though BJP again expected to do better, has not gone beyond criticism of Mamta Banerjee.
Another example is that of the North East, an area where BJP had done exceptionally well. Even there, the issues are regional like, cross border migration and citizenship amendment bill. Before the citizenship amendment bill, BJP was all set to sweep the area but now it is difficult to say which way the election will turn after protests broke out in NE over the bill.
In Bihar, BJP is strong and well entrenched but it rests on the shoulder of Nitish Kumar, unlike 2014 when it swept the state on Modi’s name. Both Haryana and Punjab are voting on regional issues too. Haryana has witnessed strong pro BJP consolidation on anti-Jat line and in Punjab Congress has gained because of anti- SAD sentiment continues to persist and AAP has completely collapsed in the state.
Even big states like Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat and Rajasthan are being fought on regional issues ranging from caste reservation, agrarian loans, candidature, hard Hindutva and etc. It is not to say that the direct benefit schemes introduced by the Prime Minister including welfare projects will have no impact on the electorate but will short when it comes to the creation of a wave like 2014. Even in the 2017 assembly election, the results were more out of Hindu-Muslim polarisation than the success of Ujjwala scheme.
More so, the injection of hard Hindutva in body politics by BJP will add and subtract votes at the same time which was not the case in 2014 elections which were solely focussed around New India.
The states like Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh too will be fought on the basis of candidates and performance of the respective governments. Jammu and Kashmir is the only state that will respond to the policy decision of the BJP and promises it is making during national elections.
If one looks at the election history, victory comes often at the time when things seem lost. No one thought within the Opposition that they would be able to defeat the Congress in 1977. Even Rajiv Gandhi did fathom his scale of defeat in 1989. His campaign, Mera Bharat Mahan was a royal flop. Narasimha Rao felt that he was winning the election in 1996. In 2004 every political pundit wrote off Congress party but it was BJP who lost elections under the weight of Shining India campaign. Even in 2009, not a single political pundit gave Congress more than 200 seats and very few people believed that BJP would get a simple majority in 2014.
There is no doubt that propaganda of BJP is loud, and the Congress party’s electoral campaign is weak and badly coordinated. In fact, the campaign does not stand anywhere close to BJP but even then, voters have a way of surprising powerful people.
This election holds the capacity to put regional parties at the forefront of decision making as gain and loss of both BJP and Congress ‘can’ be incremental because of regional placement of the elections.
BJP is trying to polarise it on the national security issue, but it has not been able to create a surge in the electorate. Even the Kargil war did not help Vajpayee during elections. In the case of BJP and Congress getting confined within 270 to 300 seats, regional players will emerge as the king makers. This is scenario one.
But if Lok Sabha elections follow the old hard pattern of Indian politics, then BJP may end up with a shocking result which is - where a losing side ends up with a huge loss and gainer ends up with most.
It happened with BJP in 2014, wherein it got a simple majority and Congress who thought it may end up with 100 seats ended up with 44.
If this scenario is reversed with current issues in play, India is looking at a fractured Parliament where the difference between BJP and Congress can stand anywhere between 50 to 70 seats with BJP in the lead.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)