ELECTIONS to the Maharashtra and Haryana State Assemblies were widely expected to be cakewalks for the BJP. The exit polls by and large reflected this prevalent political estimation of the corporate media. In Haryana, the BJP was predicted to win a sweeping majority, with one exit poll putting the number as high as 83 in Haryana’s 90-member Assembly. In Maharashtra, the prediction was for an independent majority for the BJP alone. The final results have turned out to be a pleasantly surprising reality check. The BJP has had to find a new post-poll ally in Haryana and in Maharashtra, it finds itself compelled to deal with enhanced demands and intensified bargaining by the Shiv Sena.
The surprise lies not just in the eventual tally of seats but more in victory margins of opposition candidates reflecting the intensity with which rural Maharashtra and Haryana appear to have voted against the BJP. In parts of rural Maharashtra, the rejection of the BJP assumed the proportions of a veritable electoral revolt. Consider the case of the Latur rural constituency. Perhaps for the first time in India’s electoral history, NOTA finished second pushing the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance candidate to a very distant third position while the Congress-NCP alliance candidate romped home to victory with a margin of more than one lakh votes. Another case in point is that of Pankaja Munde, prominent BJP candidate, scam accused minister and daughter of deceased Maharashtra BJP stalwart Gopinath Munde. Despite Modi and Shah both campaigning for her, she lost by a margin of 60,000 votes.
The BJP had expected to reap high electoral dividends for its ‘Kashmir victory’, for the legislation incriminating triple talaq and for the promise to deport so-called illegal infiltrators through the combination of NRC and Citizenship amendment. For Maharashtra, there was the added announcement of a Bharat Ratna for Savarkar. The voters evidently have not felt amused and have meted out the punishment the BJP governments deserved for their total non-performance and arrogant indifference to the sufferings of the people. Maharashtra has long been reeling under an acute agrarian crisis. The banking crisis, epitomised by the embargo on withdrawals from the Punjab and Maharashtra Cooperative Bank, and the severe economic slowdown and the damages caused by floods have added to the misery of millions. The jingoistic communal campaign of the BJP only added insult to this injury and the people clearly vented their anger in these elections.
The BJP’s Kashmir plank came unstuck most spectacularly in the BDC elections held in Jammu and Kashmir. The elections were held to showcase what the Modi government describes as ‘normalcy’ and ‘democracy’ in caged Kashmir. In an election boycotted by all major parties in the state except BJP, the administration claimed near-total voting in an electoral college that comprised only elected panches and sarpanches. The BJP’s terror tactics enabled it to win a few seats unopposed, most notably in Shopian district in the valley, but the overall outcome showed the BJP finishing second as independents dominated almost across the state. The BJP could win only 81 seats while independents won as many as 217 of 307 blocks in all three regions. The BJP was trounced not just in the valley, but right in its stronghold of Jammu (independents won 88 of the 148 seats in Jammu, while the BJP bagged 52 and the Panthers Party 8). Even in Ladakh, independent candidates won 20 of 31 seats, with the BJP bagging only 11.
The BJP is of course not willing to listen to the messages of these elections, if anything it is desperate to push ahead with its disastrous agenda of privatisation of the economy, plunder of precious resources and communal polarisation of the society. Isolated and condemned internationally for its despotic Kashmir policy, the Modi regime is trying to secure certificates from discredited and fascist forces in the world. In a scandalous move, the regime has just played host to a group of handpicked far right Members of the European Parliament notorious for their rabidly Islamophobic anti-immigrant political positions, invited privately with the help of a dubious NGO and a self-styled international broker, taking them on a conducted tour of Jammu and Kashmir even as the leaders and common citizens of Kashmir remain arrested and opposition Indian parliamentarians and independent journalists are denied entry into the state. The Supreme Court is getting ready for its verdict on Ayodhya, and plans are afoot to push through the communal Citizenship Amendment Bill in the winter session of Parliament.
Indeed, the message of the elections is meant for the people and the forces of the opposition. Haryana and Maharashtra clearly showed what a determined and spirited opposition campaign and bold and sustained activism could have achieved. In Haryana, the BJP has barely managed to hold on to power, thanks to the opportunist acrobatics of the fledgling party of the Chautala family (Ajay Chautala has been granted furlough for two weeks from Delhi’s Tihar jail even as his son became the Deputy CM of Haryana in a BJP-JJP coalition government). In the wake of the marginal BJP escapes in Haryana and Maharashtra, it is now for Delhi and Jharkhand to deliver a telling blow to the despotic arrogance of the Modi-Shah regime. Most crucially, the unity and resolve of the people fighting on the streets must be strengthened further in the coming days. Whether it is the devious NRC-CAB design, the politics of communal polarisation over Kashmir or Ayodhya or the economic ruin caused by the anti-poor pro-corporate policies, the united struggles of the people will teach a fitting rebuff to the disastrous Modi-Shah regime.