By Mihir Bholey
Each election is unique in itself. And the 2017 assembly elections were no different. The results, particularly in Uttar Pradesh (UP), were astonishing because of the unprecedented historic mandate that was given to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Moreover, these elections emphatically underlined the need to change the jaded narrative and strategies of caste and communal politics. It may not be the final victory against the divisive tactics but surely serves as an expression of popular sentiment against those who hijacked and subverted these lofty ideals. It must be noted that social issues are not just confined to caste and religion. Parties and leaders who failed to recognise it, stand devastated today.
BJP’s historic mandate – Fuelled by the opposition?
There is no doubt that Narendra Modi’s personal charisma, Amit Shah’s skilful strategy, BJP’s agenda of development along with its stance on running a corruption-free government so far has had a great appeal in this election. However, if a party receives a landslide mandate, there have to be reasons beyond the obvious. The reasons this time were both national and local, implicit and explicit.
Many BJP supporters state that one cannot ignore the incessant attacks by the opposition parties and their regional allies to ‘delegitimize’ a democratically elected government. They even felt that the voters in UP found the opposition to be derailing BJP’s agenda of development. It seems, despite the opposition’s desperate attempts to pitch along the narratives of intolerance, award wapsi and demonetization, voters have chosen to go ahead with the Modi brigade.
The minority vote
If Bahujan Samaj Party’s (BSP) supremo Mayawati is to be believed, BJP has been voted for in the Muslim majority areas too. If her information is correct, it would mean that at least a section of Muslims has refused to be treated as captive vote bank of the opposition parties. It also means they have decided to rise above communal sentiments and fatwas, rejecting the politics of fear that alienate minorities like them from the mainstream of development
The BSP had fielded 97 Muslim candidates but only 5 managed to secure seats. On the other hand, by not fielding even a single Muslim candidate in UP, BJP has given a strong signal to the minorities as well as to the other political parties. At one level, it means the party can come to power — with them, without them, or in spite of them. It applied the same strategy in Gujarat and succeeded in running the government for years. While the other parties banked on wooing the twenty percent minority vote, BJP focussed its social engineering and party strategies on the rest.
The net outcome is neither good for the Muslims nor for the inclusive secular polity of India. In a democracy, issues of mutual concern and interest can be addressed by engagement, negotiation and persuasion. Neither alienation nor rejection from either side can be fruitful in the long run. It is now amply clear that minority vote bank politics inevitably leads to counter polarisation of the rest because it threatens minority interests too. On the other hand, it also reduces the political representation of the minorities. Once the heat and dust settle down, in the larger interest of the nation, BJP and Muslims should initiate a sincere dialogue.
Demystifying the caste nexus
In the past few years, Modi’s discourse of development politics has created a formidable new constituency. It has attracted the youth cutting across their caste and communal affiliations. This is a promising start to a future in which development takes over other divisive political promises. In this election, both Modi and Akhilesh were equally pitching for development. Modi’s ‘Sabka Sath Sabka Vikas’ and Akhilesh’s ‘Kaam Bolta Hai’ were confronting each other. Though Akhilesh lost the elections, he still has the ability to retain his image of a young pro-development politician. This would need him to rise above his father’s and party’s legacy of caste and communal politics. These results have also demystified the MY (Muslim-Yadav) invincibility. In fact, over the years it became synonymous with caste and communal politics that it alienated the rest.
It is time that politicians surviving solely on caste and communal politics realise this fracture. Nevertheless, if the Indian democracy has to thrive, people must reject the caste and communal agenda and unprincipled opportunistic alliances. Capability, sincerity, dedication and vision for inclusive development should be the qualities to look for in the leaders, not their caste or religious identity. Let us hope this result changes the political narrative.
Dr Mihir Bholey is Senior Faculty, Interdisciplinary Design Studies at National Institute of Design.