Debating India

VERDICT 2004

A reversal of fortunes

Dionne Bunsha

Friday 4 June 2004, by BUNSHA*Dionne

THINGS are not so good in the laboratory of Hindutva. The chemistry seems to have gone awry.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has ruled the State for more than 10 years, suffered a major reversal of fortunes in the Lok Sabha elections. It just about managed to retain its edge over the Congress(I), winning 14 of the 26 seats. In the 1999 elections, it had gained a thumping majority with 21 seats. The BJP’s slide has come as a surprise for even the Congress(I), which has more than doubled its previous tally.

Perhaps a similar result was on the cards in the December 2002 Assembly elections? Then too, the BJP was losing mass support. The Congress(I) had swept the district and taluk panchayat elections in 2000. It won every subsequent byelection. A nervous BJP central leadership brought in the hardliner Narendra Modi as Chief Minister to rescue the sinking ship.

Then the Godhra massacre happened. The BJP used it to engineer a communal pogrom across the State. The places where the Congress(I) would have won, such as Mehsana, Banaskantha, Kapadvanj, Dahod, Godhra, Kheda, Anand and Chottaudaipur, were precisely the places that were targeted during the communal clashes. Ahmedabad and Vadodara, the only other places affected by riots are BJP bastions. The hysteria and terror generated helped the BJP stem the tide of anti-incumbency.

The frenzy has abated now. The anti-establishment wave has returned. Indeed, the BJP has to deal with the morning after.

The Congress(I) has recovered its hold over the Adivasi vote, which had shifted to the BJP after the Ayodhya campaign in the early 1990s. In each of Gujarat’s four zones, it has managed to capture a few seats. In north and central Gujarat (Anand and Chottaudaipur), the party has emerged stronger.

An anti-government wave has ensured an effortless comeback for the Congress(I). "There’s an old Gujarati saying that goes: `While yawning, you got a sweet’. That is what has happened to the Congress(I). The seats have just fallen into its lap. If it were more organised, it could have won even more seats," says P.M. Patel, a political analyst from M.S. University, Vadodara.

COMPARED to the last Assembly elections, when the BJP was voted in with an overwhelming majority, the current results show a fall in its popularity. The elections were held just months after the communal carnage. The BJP pursued an aggressive communal campaign to divert attention from the real problems and squelch simmering discontent.

Now, that discontent has returned. Voters seem to have become wiser. Many are still reeling from the economic after-effects of the violence. Chief Minister Narendra Modi has not delivered much more than gimmicks and propaganda. Water scarcity and unemployment are the two major problems affecting people.

Shankarsinh Vaghela, Congress(I) leader said: "If they had not raised the communal issue, the BJP would have lost the Assembly elections. The people realise now that they were fooled. The BJP governments at the State and the Centre have done nothing about the unemployment and law and order problems."

Within the BJP as well, there has been a lot of dissent. In fact, soon after his election, Narendra Modi faced opposition from the farmers’ wing of the BJP, the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS). The BKS’s agitation against his decision to double power tariffs for farmers and install meters in farms lasted several months. Narendra Modi, known for his authoritarian ways, took an adamant stand. Finally, central BJP leaders had to intervene to broker a compromise. However, farmers are still angry. Many are bankrupt and deeply in debt. During this election, BKS supporters may not have worked for the party.

"Sangh Parivar workers were also not as motivated as they normally are. They were upset because the Supreme Court is opening up riot cases, and the government that they thought would shelter them has not been able to do much. Also, they felt let down on the Ayodhya issue," says Achyut Yagnik, activist and sociologist.

The BJP blames its defeat on poor voter turnout. This time, 45 per cent voted, as compared to 61.5 per cent in the 2002 Assembly elections. "The BJP supporter is easy-going and waits till the end of the day to vote. This time, people may not have gone out because of the summer," Suresh Mehta, the party’s campaign manager, told Frontline. He refused to comment on whether the BJP’s downturn might have been caused by voter discontent.

In several places, the BJP’s margin of victory has also reduced. For example, the vote share of Kashiram Rana, who was elected from Surat for the sixth consecutive time, has fallen. In Baroda and Dahod, the BJP won by small margins. Top BJP leaders like L.K. Advani and Haren Pathak managed to increase their vote share in their traditional stronghold Gandhinagar and Ahmedabad.

This setback might make the BJP re-work its formula. Will it forget the `feel good’ factor and go back to Hindutva?

See online : Frontline

P.S.

Pic 2 : V. SUDERSHAN ; Congress leader Shankarsinh Vaghela.

in Frontline, volume 21, Issue 11, May 22 - Jun 04, 2004.

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