THE MODI ‘WAVE’

Modi’s win in Ut­tar Pradesh en­hances BJP rul­ing party’s po­si­tion, por­tend­ing a stronger showing in the next gen­eral elec­tion

New Straits Times - - Opinion - The writer is a se­nior fel­low at S. Ra­jarat­nam School of In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies, Nanyang Tech­no­log­i­cal Univer­sity, Sin­ga­pore. This ar­ti­cle first ap­peared in RSIS Commentary

RE­SULTS of four state elec­tions in In­dia an­nounced last week gave Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s rul­ing party a mas­sive vic­tory in Ut­tar Pradesh, In­dia’s most pop­u­lous state. His Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won 312 of the to­tal 403 seats in the state, a mon­u­men­tal win con­sid­er­ing it gar­nered only 47 seats in the last state elec­tions in 2012.

In the wide-rang­ing de­bate over the fac­tors which led to the win, many at­tribute it to Modi’s per­sonal charisma and his sin­gle­handed abil­ity to swing votes for his party. They called it the Modi “wave”, like in the 2014 gen­eral elec­tion, al­though BJP suf­fered set­backs in other states.

There are three broad pos­si­ble im­pli­ca­tions — short, medium, and long term — of this BJP sweep in Ut­tar Pradesh.

In the short term, the scale of BJP’s vic­tory will have sig­nif­i­cant in­sti­tu­tional and leg­isla­tive im­pli­ca­tions. Most im­me­di­ately, this elec­tion re­sult con­fers a pop­u­lar man­date for Modi’s de­ci­sion to de­mon­e­tise 86 per cent of all cash by cir­cu­la­tion value in In­dia. This move, rep­re­sented as Modi’s per­sonal de­ci­sion to up­root ram­pant cor­rup­tion within In­dia, was met with much crit­i­cism and scep­ti­cism within both aca­demic and political cir­cles.

Some com­men­ta­tors also spec­u­lated that Modi’s political cap­i­tal would be sig­nif­i­cantly dented by the hard­ship ex­pe­ri­enced by large sec­tions of In­dia’s less eco­nom­i­cally ad­van­taged pop­u­la­tion as a re­sult of this pol­icy. The scale of BJP’s elec­tion vic­tory will si­lence much of this crit­i­cism.

Modi’s rep­u­ta­tion as a leader will­ing to take dif­fi­cult and un­pop­u­lar de­ci­sions will be fur­ther con­sol­i­dated. There will thus be less re­sis­tance to fu­ture poli­cies that Modi will un­der­take, es­pe­cially from within his party and the wider range of par­ties and or­gan­i­sa­tions af­fil­i­ated with BJP. In 2018, when 56 mem­bers of In­dia’s leg­isla­tive up­per house, the Ra­jya Sabha, are set to re­tire, BJP’s vic­tory in Ut­tar Pradesh will al­low it to wrest at least half of th­ese seats. This is sig­nif­i­cant given that im­por­tant pieces of leg­is­la­tion be­ing un­der­taken by BJP are cur­rently be­ing held up in the Ra­jya Sabha, where BJP is in a mi­nor­ity.

As the term of In­dia’s cur­rent pres­i­dent comes to an end in July, BJP, to­gether with its al­lies, as a re­sult of the vic­tory, will be in a very strong po­si­tion to form the ma­jor­ity of the elec­toral col­lege which will elect the next pres­i­dent of In­dia.

In the medium term, the vic­tory pro­vides a huge mo­men­tum for BJP’s hopes of win­ning the next gen­eral elec­tion in 2019. It also ce­ments fur­ther Modi’s po­si­tion within his party, and largely rules out any chance of a lead­er­ship chal­lenge to him from within the party. This will trans­late into BJP stay­ing in power in In­dia till 2024.

To­gether with a ma­jor­ity in In­dia’s up­per house and hav­ing a pres­i­dent of the party’s choice, the will also be seen as a sign of BJP’s abil­ity to wrest con­trol of state gov­ern­ments not run by BJP. It will also fur­ther ce­ment BJP’s con­trol of states it more re­cently has tasted vic­tory in.

The states of Jammu and Kash­mir and As­sam will be two states in which BJP will at­tempt to con­sol­i­date fur­ther con­trol post-2019. In th­ese re­cent state elec­tions, BJP in­creased its share of seats in the north-east state of Ma­nipur and is on the verge of form­ing a gov­ern­ment there for the first time to­gether with the sup­port of a few smaller re­gional par­ties.

There is, how­ever, a need to ap­pre­ci­ate some re­cent set­backs to BJP in th­ese state elec­tions. In Goa, where BJP was an in­cum­bent, it came in se­cond to the Congress Party, al­though even there it seems to be on the verge of form­ing the gov­ern­ment with the sup­port of smaller re­gional par­ties. In Pun­jab, BJP and its ally, Akali Dal, suf­fered a bruis­ing de­feat to the Congress Party. Post-2019, BJP will hope to use its mo­men­tum in this elec­tion and the up­com­ing gen­eral elec­tion to wrest back some seats in th­ese states.

In the long term, the vic­tory could sig­nal a pe­riod of sus­tained hege­mony for BJP in In­dian pol­i­tics. The dis­en­chant­ment and dis­ar­ray within the Congress Party and the in­abil­ity of emerg­ing par­ties like the Aam Aadmi Party to mount a serious all-In­dia chal­lenge to BJP could pos­si­bly trans­late into a pe­riod of BJP dom­i­nance, very much like that of the Congress Party’s for much of the three decades since In­dia’s in­de­pen­dence.

Within BJP and within the larger “fam­ily” or “pari­var” of ide­o­log­i­cally-minded par­ties and or­gan­i­sa­tions, there would pos­si­bly be pres­sures to pur­sue a hege­monic BJP agenda at the na­tional level. There seems to be a con­tra­dic­tion be­tween the pro-de­vel­op­ment, mod­ernising ef­forts on the part of Modi and sec­tions of BJP and the “Hin­dutva” agenda driven by iden­tity pol­i­tics on the part of sev­eral or­gan­i­sa­tions like the Rashtriya Swayam­se­vak Sangh and some univer­sity stu­dent bod­ies al­lied to the BJP.

The fact that BJP did not field a sin­gle Mus­lim can­di­date dur­ing the Ut­tar Pradesh elec­tions has given rise to con­cerns about the party’s view of the place of Mus­lims in In­dia. The fact that BJP won in 31 of the 42 seats where Mus­lims were at least a third of the elec­torate, may how­ever, guide BJP’s fu­ture elec­toral cal­cu­la­tions and plans.

BJP might prob­a­bly evolve to push more of the pro-de­vel­op­ment mod­ernising agenda and shed el­e­ments of the nar­row iden­tity pol­i­tics strat­egy as it strives to ce­ment its hege­monic po­si­tion in In­dian pol­i­tics into the medium and long term.

As the term of In­dia’s cur­rent pres­i­dent comes to an end in July, BJP, to­gether with its al­lies, as a re­sult of the vic­tory, will be in a very strong po­si­tion to form the ma­jor­ity of the elec­toral col­lege which will elect the next pres­i­dent of In­dia.

APPIC

In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi (cen­tre) ad­dresses a gath­er­ing at the Bharatiya Janata Party head­quar­ters a day af­ter the party’s land­slide vic­to­ries in key state leg­is­la­ture elec­tions in New Delhi on March 12.

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