The world is competitive and nasty and to gain an edge, one has to take a deep look at one’s interests and safeguard and protect them at all times. This is what the Modi-led government of India’s BJP has done since winning the general elections in 2014. The results are there for all to see – the BJP is not only in control in the Centre, it is also doing very well in all the state elections. Whether in civic polls in Odisha, Maharashtra, Chandigarh or panchayat polls in Gujarat, people have come out in bulk to vote for the BJP and ensure its electoral victory. And, if anything, the latest victory of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh, where it captured 312 out of the 403 seats in the state assembly, is nothing but emphatic. What then are the reasons for the BJP to continue to do well in almost all post-2014 polls? Many political pundits in India are crediting Modi for bringing in such glorious and rewarding change of fortune for the BJP. He is being termed as the ‘biggest vote-getter.’ The Modi-led electoral victory wave is being termed by Indians as ‘TsuNaMo’. This is a term that uses the initials of Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. But is it only Modi and his political charisma or is this a carefully calibrated and diligently implemented effort by the BJP to spread its footprint across the country?
At the heart of the current Indian politics is the tussle between a party that has adopted dynastic succession (Congress) as against an alternative - the creation of a leadership that is domestically popular and merit-based (BJP). The same political tussle is evident in Pakistan between the two popular dynastic parties - PML(N) and PPP and PTI and MQM. The focus of attention, besides other important factors among the people of India as much as the people of Pakistan, is meritocracy. This will be evident as long as the political parties are structured and organized to promote that people willingly bind themselves as the political audience that subscribes to this healthy change and vote in bulk in the hope of political deliverables.
Modi and his BJP government give this hope to the people of India. This is a powerful state and its constitution reflects that it is not just the state that is important but also the human beings – the people of the various states that make India a federation. Ironically, the government of India Act of 1935 was an Indian call to federation (although some princely states didn’t give their consent). The constitution of India ‘bestowed on India a federal structure with clear divisions of subjects between the center and the states.’ There are 97 items under the Union as against 66 items of the state and 47 items on the concurrent list where both Union and state can make laws.
The states in India were created on linguistic and cultural lines and it is for this reason that for BJP to do well in polls in states like Maharashtra, Haryana and Assam where it always played as second fiddle to the regional parties, is a matter of great success and political accomplishment. Being popularly dubbed now as the pan-Indian party, the BJP is fast spreading its roots in the eastern as well as southern states. The coming elections in the state of Karnataka may further determine this and put a stamp of approval on the growing popularity of the BJP.
PM Modi won the 2014 elections on the political slogans of revival of the economy, ease of doing business and fighting corruption. The way forward has been uneasy and the political road bumpy but the Indian electorate continues to believe more in the ability of the Modi-led BJP then the Congress. The Aam Admi Party or the other regional parties failed to address their woes. To extract political benefit, the BJP is likely to implement its reform policies more intimately and aggressively in the states that are now directly under its control (Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Assam, Haryana). Modi, even if he can’t get certain reform bills passed through the parliament, can get the state assemblies to legislate them and get the reforms going. Setting trends of such reforms in BJP controlled states would encourage other states to look forward to these developments and may force the electorate of these states to fall in line so that they are not left out of the growth race and become recipients of the BJP extended reforms – all possible if they vote in bulk for the BJP.
PM Modi has already vouched for a new form of “cooperative and competitive federalism.” He believes that if the states are pitted against each other in a competitive spirit – the true beneficiary will be the federation. The flip side of the coin though is that there exist (unlike the USA) huge disparities between various states in India. For example, how central schemes such as ‘beti bachao’ would apply to an enlightened state like Kerala. Tamil Nadu also asks for fairness in budget allocation and Himachal Pradesh has requested Modi to ‘consider resource allocation to the state on the lines drawn by the planning commission. There are also complaints that the centre in Delhi arm-twists and exerts command through the LG system, thus sending very wrong governance signals to the states. One author based in New Delhi suggests that ‘inter-state councils must be put to use more often and the centre must empower the states to deal with them as they deem fit and that the centre-state cooperation must be based on mutual respect.’
The BJP so far should be pretty much satisfied with the results of its performance in many elections that have been held since it came to power in 2014. The results of these elections clearly indicate that its political strategy – with promises of good governance - is working and helping it to spread its footprint across the country and this can only help the party to capture power in more states. Modi and his party are basking in their invincibility – 220 million voters of Uttar Pradesh have endorsed Modi’s political message of good governance and reform. The result in Uttar Pradesh elections sends a loud message to the political opponents of the BJP – it will further reach out to the people with renewed confidence to win elections.
On a lighter note – the Hindu-nationalist BJP did not field a single Muslim candidate in Uttar Pradesh (that has a Muslim population of over 40 million). Given this, would calling Indian society egalitarian be all right?.
The author is a PhD in International Relations.