Political parties in India have started gearing for five provincial elections in: Uttar Pradesh (UP), Punjab, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa. These elections are scheduled for early 2022 and will pose as a sort of a semi-final ahead of the 2024 general election. The stakes are almost too high in UP, India’s largest state with a population of 204.2 million.
A fortnight after the Opposition Congress party convened a meeting of its Working Committee, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) also summoned its National Executive to decide their strategy. The meeting was attended by senior party leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
Government’s Failures and Amends
Recently, UP has attracted international attention. During the second wave of Covid, from March 2021 till June 2021, visuals from UP shook the world. Under an ultra-rightist chief minister, UP experienced complete mismanagement. There was a breakdown of administrative machinery. Patients faced a lack of hospital beds and facilities. Even the dead were deprived. Thousands were forced to abandon their dead, without cremation. Images of lifeless bodies floating in the river, and dumped along river banks shook the world.
The border state of Punjab is also proving to be a headache for the BJP. The party lost its long-standing ally, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) in the province. Additionally, the farmers’ agitation has put a nail in BJP’s popularity in Punjab.
BJP insiders said these issues were discussed at the National Executive meeting. Members expressed concern that the Opposition will take advantage of government failures. BJP leaders, however, expressed confidence in the construction of Ram Temple at the site of the demolished historic Babri Masjid. They said this will culminate in the Ramjanam Bhoomi movement and play in favour of the party. The model of the upcoming temple is being displayed across districts to lure Hindu voters and to combat any anti-incumbency.
The temple will be opened to the public in 2024, months ahead of the general election. “If things go as per plan, in 2024, Modi will initiate a Rath Yatra starting from Ayodhya covering major religious centres of the Hindus, just like Lal Krishna Advani’s Rath Yatra of 1990,” a senior BJP leader told The Friday Times on the condition of anonymity.
Modi Asks BJP to Connect with Voters
While addressing the meeting, Modi asked BJP members to reconnect with citizens. The slogan he approved is, “Sab ka sath, Sab ka Vikas aur Sab ka Vishwas.” A loose translation would read, “Taking everyone together, development for all and to win everyone’s trust”.
“The BJP today is missing on all these parameters and everyone present in the meeting was aware of the misses that we have had in the past one and a half years. But the leadership wanted to make sure that the moral of the members remain high and members have been asked to go out and speak to people about the party’s achievements,” said a leader present in the meeting.
As of yet, the party’s actions do not match this slogan. To fortify the Hindu vote bank, party leaders have openly been speaking against all kinds of minorities.
Last month, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, referred to Muslims as ‘abbajaan’. He said that before he came to power, the benefits of all the welfare schemes were drawn by the Muslims. “Ration sabko mil raha hai? … tab toh abbajaan kehne wale rashan hazam kar jaate the [Is everybody receiving their share of food rations? Earlier all the ration was drawn by the Muslims].
In the same vein of discrimination, Sikh farmers sitting on the border of Delhi for the last one and half years have been labelled as Khalistani sympathizers. Additionally, many including university students protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act have been branded anti-nationals.
Symbolism with Political Resolution
The political resolution at the National Executive was piloted by Chief Minister Adityanath, this was done in order to best convey the message to party workers. In stark contrast to reality, the resolution lauded the Modi government’s handling of COVID-19. The resolution appreciated India successfully administrating vaccines to one billion people and providing food grains to a population of 80 crores under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana.
BJP and the government have been facing criticism for the controversial farm laws that led to the farmers’ agitation mostly from Punjab. In response to this, BJP President JP Nadda said that the party was approaching the Sikh community. He listed a series of measures including expediting action against those accused in the 1984 Delhi riots, facilitating foreign grants to gurdwaras, and keeping langars (community kitchens) outside the purview of the Goods and Services Tax.
Earlier this month BJP lost the by-poll of Ellenabad Assembly in Haryana, the state neighbouring Punjab. The loss further underlined the impact of the farmers’ agitation on electoral dynamics.
Indian National Lok Dal leader, Abhay Chautala, a former BJP ally, resigned from office in support of the protesting farmers. He won back his seat by defeating the BJP by a margin of over 6,000 votes. This defeat further ingrained among BJP leaders and workers, that electoral success is only possible if they consolidate Hindu voters by raising emotive issues.
Pulwama Attack was a Game Changer
Two researchers Jamie Hintson and Milan Vaishnav recently found that the February 2019 Pulwama attack was a critical point for the Narendra Modi government to sweep the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Subsequent developments leading to the airstrikes and then the release of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthman gave an electoral edge to Prime Minister Modi, who had lost considerable clout as the Election was approaching.
Over the past year, Modi’s popularity has seen a drop of 42 points, according to a new poll by India Today. “In my 20-plus years of opinion polling, I cannot recall such an instance of a nosedive in any prime minister’s popularity,” noted Yogendra Yadav, a pollster-turned-politician.
With the provincial elections approaching, everyone in India has their fingers crossed. Maybe another Pulwama-type attack or showcasing the construction of Ram Temple, will help the BJP seek a consecutive third term to rule India.