The Left could not translate popular mobilisations to electoral gains
Clearly, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has won a single party majority in the 16th Lok Sabha. This is happening for the first time after 30 years, since Rajiv Gandhi rode on a sympathy wave following Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984, securing 405 out of the 542 Lok Sabha seats then.
The people across the board during the campaign were looking forward to a government that can provide them relief from the continuous onslaughts on their day-to-day life. The track record of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, particularly during the last two years, was one of imposing unprecedented economic burdens through relentless price rise, economic slowdown and consequent unemployment on the one hand, and large-scale mega corruption leading to the loot of people’s resources, on the other. The resultant people’s discontent was successfully exploited by the BJP to gain this electoral victory.
In this background, the BJP mounted an effective campaign backed by an unprecedented display of money power and the building up of a media hype. The successful projection of its prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, was forged through a combination of the Hindutva agenda and the promises of ‘development’ and ‘good governance.’ On the first count, Mr. Modi, since the 2002 Gujarat communal pogrom, has always remained the mascot of Hindutva communal polarisation. On this score, therefore, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the BJP found it unnecessary to mount any further public campaign, as his projection as the future Prime Minister in itself was sufficient. This continued to be the strongest undercurrent of the BJP campaign.
The second count was aimed at a larger audience, as past experience confirms that the Hindutva appeal alone remained unsuccessful in garnering a majority. This time around, the BJP succeeded in building a myth of the Gujarat development model which can be replicated all over India if only Mr. Modi became the Prime Minister. Gujarat was depicted as the El dorado, a land of flowing milk and honey. As the Washington Post correspondent Rama Lakshmi points out in the ‘Making of the Modi Mythology,’ BJP’s campaign managers brilliantly mobilised Indians around the belief in a piece of land and a deity, i.e., Gujarat and its presiding deity Modi – not unlike Ayodhya and Ram.” By mounting such a spectacular and untiring mythology of Narendra Modi, the people’s ‘bijali, sadak and paani (electricity, roads and water) concerns were mythologised and projected in the voter’s mind as Gujarat – “the land of milk and honey, an earthly paradise, a Shangri-la of sorts where there are jobs and electricity for everybody, farmers live blissfully in a subsidy less existence, highways that match the best in the world, and a place that is untouched by the epidemic of corruption.”
The Congress campaign, on the other hand, was utterly ineffective and unable to take on this challenge of myth building. Though it tried to counter by doling out statistics showing the real picture of Gujarat ‘development model,’ the sheer fact of its track record robbed the Congress of any claim to credibility.
Further, the Congress leadership failed to enthuse its own cadre and following in even communicating to the people the extension of Constitutional rights — right to education; the right to information, the right to tribals to forest land and produce, the right to rural employment etc. — however halting and inadequate they may have been. In the first instance, all these measures were initiated by the UPA-I government under the influence of the Left parties. Their implementation spilled over into the UPA-II government. Nevertheless, loath to give the Left any credit, the Congress could have claimed some for itself. The fact that it could not do so once again reconfirms that these measures only saw the light of the day due to the Left parties insistence. These elections, however, throw up some important issues that merit serious consideration for the future of Indian parliamentary democracy. The display of money power has been unprecedented. This permitted the mounting of the BJP campaign as an `event management’ exercise (to borrow L. K. Advani’s description). On the other hand, such monetary resources were used for unethical ways of enticing voters including direct monetary payment for votes by some other parties as well. The Election Commission had seized an unprecedented amount of cash, apart from liquor and other enticements, during these elections.
Additionally, the use of terror and intimidation as weapons of political mobilisation were in full display in states like West Bengal. The consequent widespread rigging and violence targeting the Left parties led to a distorted result. Unfortunately, despite a plethora of complaints to the Election Commission, these distortions could not be rectified. Despite large-scale popular mobilisations against the economic miseries of the people due to price rise etc and against massive corruption, the Left could not translate these into electoral gains. While the Left retained its position in Tripura with larger victory margins and registered major gains in Kerala, these elections highlight the need to identify and overcome its weaknesses.
(Sitaram Yechury is a member of the Polit Bureau of the CPI(M).)
Keywords: BJP, NDA, Narendra Modi, 2014 Lok Sabha Elections, Lok Sabha election results, Elections 2014 results, LS poll results, UPA government, Congress, Rahul Gandhi, Left parties, CPI, CPI(M), West Bengal polls