The election fever in the five states of Chattisgarh, MP, Rajasthan, Telengana, and Mizoram, which are holding their Assembly polls in November/ December 2018 is at a high pitch. The results will be out on Dec.11th, which is less than six months before the Lok Sabha elections due in May 2019.
The election battle, and the challenges ahead
The election fever in the five states of Chattisgarh, MP, Rajasthan, Telengana, and Mizoram, which are holding their Assembly polls in November/ December 2018 is at a high pitch. The results will be out on Dec.11th, which is less than six months before the Lok Sabha elections due in May 2019. It is therefore being seen as a kind of semi finals, before the final battle begins. Calculated together, these 5 states represent around 16 percent of the country’s voters. In the three hindi speaking states of Rajasthan, MP and Chattisgarh, the BJP is the ruling party, and also holds 62 of the 65 Lok Sabha seats. The TRS had won in Telengana. In Mizoram, Congress holds power. The outcome of these polls has a significance far beyond the boundaries of these states, which explains the high decibel campaigning on every side. What will the voters’ decision be? Political pundits are hard put to make predictions. The point of concern for democratic and progressive forces is the danger of BJP succeeding in its communal propaganda, using the RSS brigade without hesitation, blaring out its achievements from every media channel to overpower the voters, and finally undermining the democratic process with clever manipulation of the EVMs. The process and the final outcome has to be closely watched and closely studied, as it will give us a sense of what we have to prepare for in the finals!
Battlefield Chattisgarh- hindi heartland
The longest serving BJP Chief Minister, Raman Singh in Chattisgarh, has been heading the state for the past 15 years, and is aiming for a fourth term in office. The field is set for a triangular contest, with the Congress on one side, and the former Chief Minister Ajit Jogi’s Janata Congress Chattisgarh teaming up with the BSP on the third side. Though the dissatisfaction with the Government is high, the BJP has been adopting sophisticated methods to address anti incumbency. A very skilled micro management of candidates and constituencies has been undertaken. Much interest has been generated by the arrival of a high profile, high paid data analytics expert team in Raipur, who have planned number driven strategies right down to the booth level. Local level caste and community realities are assessed. Raw feeds from social media networks such as Whatsapp are being taken to identify the issues people are talking about. Content on these is generated and pushed through platforms like Facebook and Whatsapp to influence voters.
Sample this: A Sanchar Kranti Yojana ( SKY) was launched by the state government on July 26th under which around 3 million smartphones were distributed to women and students. This targeting was because past analysis of state elections had suggested that the BJP gains whenever there is a greater poll turn out of women and children. It has fielded more women and youth as its candidates this time. The party also plans to boost its social media campaign.
Thus, despite the rampant corruption, unemployment, and lawlessness, the repeated maoist violence, the widespread inequalities deriving from from tribal underdevelopment, Raman Singh is laying claim to victory at the polls. The JCC BSP combine, and the Congress would have to contend with all the BJPsponsored strategies, and come up with alternatives that will persuade the voters in their favour. An uphill task, indeed.
Mayhem in MP
The scenario in MP, where too the BJP Chief Minister , Shivraj Singh Chouhan is bidding for a fourth term, the prospects are wobbly. The huge farmer’s agitation, and the subsequent police firing in Mandsaur have not been forgotten. The Vyapam scam, though it is being contested by the BJP, has sent out ripples of disquiet among many sections, especially the educated youth. The illegal sand mining issue is yet another skeleton in the BJP cupboard. However, the BJP and its different wings have been hyperactive on many fronts, and have tried to take attention away from these grave misdemeanours.
The RSS and the Sangh affiliates have set up a network of NGOs – the Jan Abhiyan Parishad- which is taking up a mammoth Systematic Voters Education and Electoral Participation Programme, code named SVEEP. While openly working with state government and the Election Commission, the network is staffed by RSS members, which will help the Sangh contact the voters directly via a Government set up. While Mamaji, as Chouhan is popularly called, maintains that they are contesting the elections on the twin planks of development and welfare, the reality is somewhat different. The state leadership has kept absolutely mum on demonetisation and GST. Huge campaigns and social media thrust has been given to welfare schemes like the Sambhal Yojana, which was launched in June this year. Out of 50.3 million voters, 22 million are registered as beneficiaries under the scheme, which targets the unorganized workers sector. A number of benefits have been included, like maternity pay outs, school and college tuition fees, waiver of electricity dues, etc. But over and above this, there is a return to themes like “intruder” and national citizen’s register, seeking to consolidate the Hindu vote. The hindutva forces are without doubt ascendant. An unfortunate indicator of their power over public consciousness is the trend towards soft hindutva that has been adopted by the main opposition party, the Congress, in the state. Whether the big turnouts for Rahul Gandhi’s road shows will translate into votes remains to be seen.
The Rajasthan arena
BJP here is seeking re election with Vasundhara Raje as the Chief Minister. Rajasthan has been one state where the voters have consistently shifted their support between the two parties in every Assembly election, and ensured change of government regularly. The ruling party has been trying hard to deflect the strong anti incumbency wave with a three pronged strategy_ divide the Opposition, balance caste equations, and project itself as the only party that cares for Hindus. In fact, BJP has encouraged an opposition Front emerging around one of the local satraps of the Beniwal caste, in an attempt to divide up the pro Congress votes. They have also recognized and rewarded Rajput leaders, and have been appeasing the jats with appointments in officer postings. There is no dearth of poll sops either. Just before the mode code of conduct came into effect, a direct benefit transfer of Rs 10,000 for 1.2 million farmers was implemented, and loans of less than Rs 50,000 were written off by the Raje Government. The emphasis on appealing to Hindu religious sentiment is very pronounced. The leadership is trying to convince voters about the extraordinary steps it has taken, like abolishing triple talaq, and preventing cow slaughter, in angling for their votes. Top leaders invariably mention how the Raje Government budgets funds every year for the upkeep of religious places. The voters of Rajasthan are being overwhelmed by the noise levels, the bars of which are being raised by both the BJP and the Congress leadership.
The TRS in Telengana under Chandrasekhar Rao has gone in for early elections with the confidence that their performance in the state will garner them the support of the voters. Their advantage derives from a divided opposition, since there are four cornered fights in most of the constituencies. The only North Eastern state that has not fallen into the BJP hands as yet is Mizoram, where the Congress is banking on the experience of the two time Chief Minister,Lal Thanhawla. A key role is being played by the BJP election strategist Himanta Biswa Sarma who was instrumental in installing BJP Governments in 4 northeastern states, including Tripura.
In a nutshell, therefore, the BJP is pulling out all stops in these Assembly polls. Both Narendra Modi and Amit Shah have been proclaiming the 4 year achievements of the Modi Government non stop in their election rallies. They have been running down opponents in the most insulting manner as well. Amit Shah has shown how low he can stoop in the quest for votes, as he parades through the states.
Brushing real issues under the carpet
The BJP is well aware that these elections will be an opportunity for people to express their discontent over rising fuel prices and growing inflation, crisis in agriculture due to their economic policies, unrest amongst youth who are running from pillar to post in search of a job, violence against women has reached a new low in terms of barbarity and has peaked in numbers, the public education and health systems have been left to the mercy of capital in very innovative ways, and the anger with BJP over demonetization and imposition of GST continues to simmer in people’s minds. Now, the Rafale deal has hit the headlines despite all the pro Modi media efforts to curtail it, and it may well puncture the balloon of Modi’s claim to providing a corruption free Government effectively. It is in such a precarious situation that the country is witnessing the rebirth of the Ram temple controversy, with the BJP stoking the fires of communalism relentlessly.
In the name of Ram
An affidavit was filed in the Supreme Court, which came up for hearing on October 29th , pleading for an urgent hearing on the Babri Majid Ram janma bhoomi title dispute case, which was rejected by the SC bench. The CJI has stated that the SC will decide the future course of the hearing only in the first week of January, on the appeals filed against the Allahabad High Court verdict in the Ayodhya land dispute verdict.
But are the hindutva wadis going to wait for the law to take its own course? In September, RSS President Mohan bhagwat declared that the Ram temple should be built at the earliest. All the different branches of the Sangh parivar are working overtime to assert that the building of the Ram temple is not a matter for the courts of law but rather a matter of faith, and the belief of one community matters above the rights of another community.
On Nov 25th, the VHP has called for a Dharam Sabha in Ayodhya, - exactly 3 days before the MP election date. Huge campaigns have been launched across the hindi speaking states of the country, while in UP itself, the VHP members are knocking on each and every door with turmeric and akshat, inviting them to the Dharam Sansad, The tacit approval of the PM, the open support of the CM, are all indicators of the road that the BJP is bent on pursuing, as elections draw closer. Stickers on vehicles and walls being printed and pasted in millions say: Ram lalla ke vaaste,khaali kar do raaste. Clear the roads for Ram lalla.
So the matter is now being taken out of the hands of courts and into the hands of hindutva zealots., who are making this the burning issue. Just forget everything else. The Shiv sena leader Uddhav Thackeray who is visiting Ayodhya before the Dharam Sabha recently proclaimed – The babri masjid was destroyed in 17 minutes- how long will it take to bring law for Ram temple.
In effect, we are seeing a new turn in the Indian polity where constitutional rights are trumped by religious considerations, and minorities have to bow down to the inevitable. This dangerous argument is being used for a political purpose by the BJP in states like Kerala also, where the Sabarimala temple entry for women has become the kernel for mobilizing the faithful masses against the constitutional rights of women .
The nation is poised on the cusp of a political paradigm shift, away from democratic and constitutional principles that have governed us in the post independence era. The Lok Sabha election battle will be a crucial factor in this face off. The just concluded Assembly elections will give us an indication of where the Left and democratic forces stand, and whether election engineering, and diversion from real issues will actually distract the voters. Those of us who have fought relentlessly for the basic rights of all sections of the Indian people, especially the women, to a life of equality and emancipation from poverty and discrimination, have a very momentous and difficult task ahead of us. Let us get prepared for the showdown, dear comrades.