The recent elections results in Haryana and Maharashtra are a clear pointer that BJP’s popularity has been on the wane. Obviously, the rural distress along with too much emphasis on Hindutva and the repeated insistence for having a National Register of Citizens (NRC) has not been accepted by the electorate. There can be no doubt that some of these issues have not gone down well with a substantial section of the population, specially the educated living in urban areas.
Experts believe that had the economy been doing better, the Jat vote in Haryana and local issues that pulled the BJP down in some regions in Maharashtra would have had less impact. More than GDP growth, the agricultural conditions including farm distress in both the rural areas of these States has been far from satisfactory and this situation continues to prevail for more than past two-three years. Sadly, the government has done very little to ameliorate the conditions of small and medium farmers while whatever concessions have been announced has been cornered by rich farmers.
It is not just rural distress but also the industrial sector, the performance of which has had a sharpening slowdown. As is well known, Maharashtra is India’s largest State economy and the financial capital of the country with strong industrial base. But here too, the performance has been rather poor with virtually no improvement in production and output.
However, it cannot be denied that the State and national verdicts have started going different ways repeatedly but the message from the current results must be sees as an eye-opener for the ruling party. It needs to be mentioned here that Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh voted the BJP out last year but all the States voted overwhelmingly for the party in the Lok Sabha elections. But there would be near agreement that both economic and social conditions in the country are far from satisfactory with slim possibility of the situation improving in the immediate future.
The State Assembly elections are, no doubt, a warning for the ruling party to change its outlook and work as a truly national party in both letter and spirit, keeping in view the country’s ethos and culture that has emerged over the years. It needs to be stated that Prime Minister Modi should not be misled by a section in the party, who feel that an aggressive Hindutva would bring in dividends. The ascendancy of Hindutva and the mythological characterisation of history are indeed quite distressing in such a modern age. This is the wrong path to follow as social cohesion is imperative for the country as also the party’s vision of progress and development. Analysts are questioning, and quite rightly, whether we need to propagate Hindu nationalism in a country where 75 per cent are Hindus?
The ruling BJP and in fact the NDA must take into account the rising international criticism about the government’s outlook towards the minorities and the subtle way, sometimes, of course, more naively, of curbing rights of dissent. Many intellectuals have recently written to Prime Minister cautioning against its impact.
Another important factor which the BJP should have considered is a pronounced pro-poor approach, considering recent reports about malnutrition and childhood wasting in the rural areas of the country. Also its failure to implement decentralisation and genuinely give more power to the panchayats and local bodies in decision-making process has been near absent and the goal far from achieved. This has been evident, not just in the economic and political realm but also in the case of universities and institutes of higher learning.
Additionally, the tendency to curb independence and autonomy of various institutions has come in for severe criticism from various quarters. It is surprising that a cadre-based party, with strong networks in most States, wants to concentrate power among a handful of politicians, mostly in Capital city, Delhi. Does this go down well to boost the image of the party, is a question asked?
While the BJP has to reorient its political and economic philosophy to retain its popularity and image, the Congress too needs to chart out a revival strategy. The Assembly elections have sent a clear message that control by one family needs to end. The Gandhi family must recognise that strong tier of leaders, with mass connect, a towering personality and the ability to express and comment on national and regional issues with deft promptness need to be encouraged and promoted to make a difference. In this connection, and in the backdrop of the party’s poor performance in the Lok Sabha, where many of its MPs had to bite the dust, the selection of senior parliamentarian Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, as Leader of the party in the House should set encouraging signals to the cadre.
This is the time for the Congress to act and draw up its electoral as also political strategy for the ensuing State Assembly elections. And, while the NYAY scheme, drawn up by Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee on behalf of the party did not reach the masses, it needs to be publicised at the grass-root levels more aggressively to demonstrate its commitment towards the poor and the impoverished.
The Government must be clear in its thinking and should be open to accept other political parties’ understanding of the economy and social situations and take these on board. For starters, the NYAY concept needs to be seriously contemplated for putting the country’s inclusive approach in the right track. This would be very much relevant to tackle crucial issues such as rural poverty, agricultural distress, widening inequality, children’s malnourishment and under-nutrition etc.
Experts agree that the government is chasing wrong priorities when more basic development issues need to be dealt with. It is time that the Modi government give more focussed attention in adopting an action plan to resolve these problems over a time-bound period. If the BJP fails to take urgent action and continues with its somewhat arrogant attitude, it will be difficult for the party to retain its foothold over the masses, who all aspire for acche din (better days) and certainly a better standard of livelihood.