A note of caution

Updated - November 16, 2021 05:48 pm IST

Published - September 17, 2014 12:36 am IST

Despair rarely follows euphoria this closely: within four months of having recorded its best-ever electoral performance in Uttar Pradesh, the Bharatiya Janata Party seems to be >struggling to retain its traditional bases in India’s most populous State. After taking 71 of the 80 seats in the Lok Sabha election, the party could win only three of the 11 Assembly by-elections. The BJP fared worse not only in comparison to the Lok Sabha election but also in relation to the 2012 Assembly election, in which it had finished a poor third behind the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party. Far from being able to repeat its success in the Lok Sabha election, the BJP is ceding ground to the SP even in some of its traditional strongholds. The SP, battered and bruised in the Lok Sabha polls, won eight seats in this round, netting gains at the expense of the BJP. The results from Rajasthan likewise gave the BJP little reason to cheer. Of the four seats, the party could win just one; the Congress, which won the other three, can now seriously believe it is on the comeback trail in the State where it had drawn a blank in May. In Gujarat, the BJP won six of the nine seats, but if the 2013 Assembly election is the reference point, the tally is down by three. The Congress is still playing catch up in Narendra Modi’s home-State, but the signs are ominous: the BJP is slipping in Gujarat, the State it had presented as the governance model for the rest of the country.

No one will claim that these results indicate a sudden onset of nationwide >disenchantment with the Modi government at the Centre or with the BJP as a party. But several developments have taken place in Uttar Pradesh since the Lok Sabha election, including a renewed thrust by some of the middle-rung leaders against religious conversions and the so-called ‘love jihad’, supposedly a scheme to convert young Hindu women to Islam through Muslim men professing love and marriage. The vote in the Lok Sabha polls for the BJP was a vote for change, a vote for improved governance and development. A return to the politics of polarisation was certainly not what was expected of the party. Coming after the earlier round in Bihar and Karnataka where its performance was not too impressive, these results should certainly serve as a note of caution to the BJP leadership against indulging the likes of Yogi Adityanath who specialises in making hate speeches in communally sensitive areas. The big message in this round of by-elections is that the BJP cannot take the voters for granted. People were quick to gather behind Mr. Modi’s promise of growth and development. But if he cannot deliver on his promise or if his party returns to its politics of communal polarisation, they will just as quickly move away.

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