Why turn state poll into a presidential face off?
On December 11, 2018, the Indian electorate will deliver its verdict in five states — Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Telangana and Mizoram. Like in 2003, 2008 and 2013 there would be fevered speculation as to what would be the impact of these results on the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
If you go by past precedents it’s been a mixed bag. In 2003, the BJP won Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. Those days Delhi also used to go to polls in this round of Assembly polls itself. The Congress retained Delhi for the second time. It had won it for the first time in 1998 from the BJP that had formed the first government in 2003 after Delhi got its first ever Assembly in November 1993.
Taking the Assembly results as an affirmation of its governance at the Central level too, the NDA/ BJP almost hustled a very reluctant Atal Behari Vajpayee into calling for an early general election by proponing it by a good six months. The proponents of calling for an early election believed that India was shining while it was actually wounded and simmering. As it turned out in May 2004 Prime Minister Vajpayee had to make way for his successor Dr Manmohan Singh.
Again in 2008 the elections to Chhattisgarh were over but Madhya Pradesh voted on November 27, Delhi on November 29, Mizoram on December 2, Rajasthan on December 4, and Jammu & Kashmir, that has a six- year Assembly cycle between November 17 and December 24 with five out of the seven phases voting between November 30 and December 24, 2008. Why these dates are germane is because the worst terror attacks on India unfolded between November 26 and November 29, 2008 in Mumbai. 166 people were brutally butchered and many more wounded. The attack was telecast live into every home and hearth. It was perhaps the worst security moment for India in its recent history. The then UPA government was naturally on the back foot. An even more than usually belligerent BJP sensed an opening and went for the jugular.
However, when the results of the Assembly elections were declared it was a mixed bag. The Congress retained Delhi and Mizoram, and wrested Rajasthan from the BJP. The National Conference and the Congress formed an alliance government in J& K. The BJP held onto both, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. It was a mixed bag. However, the real surprise came in 2009 when the Congress actually increased its tally from 145 seats to 206 in the Lok Sabha elections.
In 2013 the Assembly results produced a different dynamic altogether. In Delhi, a new party, the Aam Aadmi Party ( AAP), formed a government with the outside support of the Indian National Congress. The BJP retained Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh and wrested Rajasthan from the Congress. The Congress was able to hold onto only Mizoram. The BJP followed it by forming its first majority government at the Centre albeit on the narrowest electoral base possible for a majority government since 1952.
The reason that I have chosen to relate this history going back 15 years in time is primarily because it is quite evident from this grandiose political sweep that Assembly elections do not seem to have a bearing on the eventual outcome of a Lok Sabha election. However, what makes these Assembly elections different is that Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the past 54 months has made every election contest — local or state — about himself. Since the Gujarat Assembly elections last year he has increasingly turned to the politics of victimhood — trying to paint himself as the underdog to obfuscate his non- performance.
Why then is there an attempt to turn every state election into a national contest with allegedly profound implications on the future and the destiny of the country? A part of the problem is the way our television media is structured. The print media still continues to be quite local in its footprint notwithstanding a few print publications that have a national presence. It is the broadcast media that has a unique residency. There are over 400 cable and satellite news channels in India and each of them whether they curate regional content or dish out more pan national infotainment up
What makes these Assembly elections different is that Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the past 54 months has made every election contest — local or state — about himself the footprint of each of them has a structured national or even a pan Indian reach.
For over the past 25 years now there are two parallel discourses that seem to be playing out in every election. A discourse that is in the ether and for commercial and other imperatives is very heavily invested in converting every local, state or national election into a presidential face off rather than respecting the fundamental basis of the Westminster style of democracy.
The other is the discourse on the ground that largely is unseen and even unheard in the ether for that is the interaction people still have on the common area of the village where they gather after a hard day’s work. It is the conversations that play out on the local WhatsApp groups mainly focusing on local concerns. It is also the dissection of local newspapers by groups of people at teashops and paan shops. Despite the proliferation of the social media this is a reality that has still not changed and still plays the most important role in electoral choices that people make.
Will this change any time soon? The answer is no. The high priests of the media in the United States were unanimous that secretary Hillary Clinton’s victory was a foregone conclusion. Her transition teams were scouring the world, trying to understand what tweaking of the world order is required. However, they were disconnected from the ground game not plugged into either the narrative in the field that President Donald Trump very acutely was. The result of that is in front of us.
The writer is a lawyer and a former Union minister. The views expressed are personal. Twitter handle @ manishtewari The farmers have been demanding for implementation of the recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission for a long time. One of the most important recommendations of the Commission is land reforms that can indeed heal the wounds of agrarian crisis. Land reforms make China such a strong country in spite of its huge population and size. India needs land reforms to enhance the productivity of the land by improving the economic conditions of farmers and tenants and also to ensure distributive justice. THE RESULTS of the exit polls in five states must bring cheer to the Congress. While the party appears all set to wrest Rajasthan, it could also gain in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. However, a photo finish has been predicted in MP, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram and this could lead to a Goa- like situation triggering horse- trading. In Telangana, the ruling TRS was projected to be ahead of the Congressled grand alliance. If these forecasts hold true, the Congress could see a change of fortune in 2019.
N. J. Ravi Chander