After being in power at the Centre for over seven years, the Bharatiya Janata Party appears to be showing signs of feeling the heat. For the saffron party, the Covid pandemic, which refuses to ebb and reappears in phases, has been making the going difficult, as it has hit people’s livelihood, particularly the poor. Add to this, there is a rising discontent over soaring prices of essential commodities and unemployment, the latter being a burning issue even before the pandemic.
Battling under these pressures, the BJP gears up to face the voter in the five States of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Manipur and Goa. Barring Punjab, the BJP is ruling in all the others. After failing to gain power in West Bengal, where it went whole hog, it can ill-afford to lose the biggest State, Uttar Pradesh, where there have been rumblings within the party. At the same time, it doesn’t mean that retaining Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur isn’t equally important for it, even though these are much smaller States. If the BJP fails to retain at least two of these, if not all, the message that the party’s dominance is weakening would gain more prominence. In fact, the setback the party got in West Bengal, there is a growing perception that Narendra Modi-led BJP is under challenge now.
In politics, perceptions matter and the saffron party knows it too. To turn this perception into a myth, the BJP has to retain Goa, Uttarakhand and Manipur along with the most crucial Uttar Pradesh. Not only this, but the BJP also faces the challenge to increase its presence in Punjab, a State where the party has always been a negligible player and was dependent on the Akali Dal, which has severed its ties with it in 2020.
That the BJP was never a dominant force in this north Indian State was one of the main reasons that the three farmer laws passed by the Modi government utterly failed to convince the farmers, who were stoutly against these. As a result, this anger finally resulted in the withdrawal of the laws. That’s why the BJP, which lacks a credible face in the State, is now banking on former Congress leader and Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, who now leads a new party called Punjab Lok Congress, to help make inroads.
Coming to Uttar Pradesh, the most crucial state, the BJP is facing discontent, particularly for the lapses of the Yogi Adityanath-led government during the second Covid wave. In the Jat-Muslim dominated Western region of the State, where voting would be held in the initial phases, the alliance of Jayant Choudhury-led Rashtriya Lok Dal that has a presence within the Jat community with Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party, which has a stronghold among Muslims, has, undoubtedly, emerged as the strong opposition against the BJP.
In this region, the discontent is particularly due to Jat farmers’ dissatisfaction with Yogi government’s sugarcane support prices. In the eastern region of the state, where the voting would be held in the ending phases, the new look of the SP under Akhilesh trying to penetrate into the non-Yadav OBCs by allying with smaller parties is now threatening the prospects of the Yogi government. As a result of the SP’s resurgence under Akhilesh, the BJP, apart from relying on the Modi-Yogi combination, is also hoping that Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party would at least help to divide the anti-BJP votes, particularly the Muslim votes.
Notably, BSP, which in this election has been relegated to a third player in its earlier stronghold, has as of now given tickets to Muslims, more than the SP. Congress is also trying to get back the votes of the Muslims, who were once its loyal voters, by giving as many tickets as possible to the candidates from the community.
True that the BJP is still ahead in the race of Uttar Pradesh, as in recent years, the State has turned into its stronghold, where it even fetched a 50% vote share in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections against the arithmetically strong SP-BSP-RLD alliance. The question is why now the BJP is facing a challenge from the SP, whereas the battle should be easier. The BJP can’t deny this bitter truth. Otherwise Union Home Minister Amit Shah, also the NDA chairman, wouldn’t have clearly said that the doors of NDA are open for the RLD. In fact, BJP is avoiding attacking Jayant and his party directly.
In Uttar Pradesh, one of the main reasons for discontent is said to be the centralisation of power by Yogi. If at the Centre, the BJP is completely dependent on Modi, in Uttar Pradesh, the party is mostly banking on Yogi. This dependence on the two leaders by the party in the State also has its limits. Often MLAs and ministers too, due to the myth that Modi and Yogi wave would help them sail through the elections, haven’t done justice to their constituencies or the people. As a result, the BJP appears to be facing anti-incumbency at local levels. Almost the same situation is being seen in other States, whether Goa, Uttarakhand or Manipur, where the ruling party, failing to deliver, expects Modi to sail it through these elections.
To overcome the heat, it is being seen that a section of party leaders are banking more on polarisation of votes, the hindutava agenda and catchy communal slogans. One such slogan is 80% vs 20%, used by UP Chief Minister Yogi. The Muslim population in the State is around 19% and it is widely believed they vote, generally, against the BJP. Clearly, the 80% vs 20% is aimed at Hindu vs Muslim polarisation. Such slogans may help reach out to the Hindu vote bank, but overshadow the so-called development work being claimed to have been done through welfare schemes for needy sections, irrespective of caste and religion. The BJP has to ponder on this. Although it would be wrong to say the communal card is being played out only by the BJP. Recall, Akhilesh and SP, which has a sizeable Muslim vote bank, raised the issue of Jinnah in these upcoming elections.
Despite the odds, the BJP exuberates confidence that the voter would re-elect its governments and so also in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. This confidence is mostly due to the lack of a credible alternative against the BJP with the Opposition unable to come together and the Congress failing to get back its fortunes. However, burning issues such as growing unemployment and rising prices need to be addressed. The brewing discontent cannot be over looked and over confidence can be fatal.