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Opposition parties failed to engage the BJP ideologically

For the BJP, the challenge in this election was to compensate for possible losses in Uttar Pradesh and other Hindi heartland States by gaining new seats in West Bengal and Odisha. In U.P., the BJP won 71 seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha election; this time, it was not too short of that mark. In West Bengal, where it has been working assiduously for the last two decades, the BJP won two seats in 2014; this time, it was leading in 18. The party’s minor losses in Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh have been compensated for in Odisha, where the BJP was leading in nine seats.

The Congress’s poor decision

The results in U.P. suggest that after its wilderness years in the 2000s, it has now returned to the sort of strength that it commanded between 1991 and 1998. In 1991, it won 51 seats; in 1996, 52; and in 1998, 57. In 1999, with a rift in the party, its tally came down to 29. The BJP’s score sank further to 10 in 2004 and 2009.

But even though the BJP’s vote percentage in U.P. has increased from 2014, its seat tally has decreased a little because of the alliance between the SP, the BSP and the RLD. The numbers also suggest that had the Congress not fought separately, at least another eight seats would have gone to the Opposition alliance. The SP would have probably won Badaun, Banda, Barabanki, and the BSP would have probably won Basti, Dhaurahra, Sant Kabir Nagar, Sitapur and Sultanpur — all of which have now increased the BJP’s tally. Simultaneously, the figures also show that despite the Congress’s focus on U.P. — it brought in its star campaigner Priyanka Gandhi Vadra at the last moment — the party’s vote share has not increased and, to make matters worse, party president Rahul Gandhi has lost his Amethi seat.

Indeed, even in the absence in the Opposition camp of a convincing counter-argument as well as a face to match Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s strongman image, his promise of a stable government, special brand of majoritarian politics, and the BJP electoral machine, a greater degree of demonstrable Opposition unity would have further increased the Opposition’s tally in U.P. It would have produced less confusion among the roughly 50% of voters who were not inclined to vote for the BJP.

U.P. also provides the prime example of the Congress’s failure to provide leadership to the Opposition. Compare its reluctance to accommodate regional parties in States such as Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan last year, or in Delhi and Haryana in these Lok Sabha polls, with the BJP’s sacrifice of five seats to the JD(U) in Bihar, which paid huge dividends.

Left to Right

Even as it successfully stemmed its downward slide in U.P., the BJP kept its focus on West Bengal. Taking its inspiration from its electoral success in the 2018 Assembly elections in Tripura, another State with a majority Bengali population, the BJP was leading in more than a third of the 42 seats in the State. If the ground had been laid by the RSS and its affiliates which have been working in the State since the early 1960s, the BJP got a special boost there when it came to power at the Centre in 2014. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Bannerjee’s blatant appeals to Muslims helped the BJP create a wedge between Hindus and Muslims by promising a National Register of Citizens that would send “infiltrators” back to Bangladesh, while retaining the “refugees”. This is a State that had been ravaged by Partition, and it was easy to revive memories long suppressed by the uncompromising 34 year-long rule of the Left Front. Money power, muscle power and the message of Hindutva followed. If “Amar Nam, Tomar Nam, Vietnam, Vietnam (My name, Your name, Vietnam Vietnam)” had once rung through the State, now it was “Amar Nam, Tomar Nam, Jai Shri Ram (My name, Your name, Jai Shri Ram)”.

Back to the drawing board

If the Congress had disappeared as an Opposition party in West Bengal, the CPI(M), which still has the remnants of an organisation, decided that it first needed to fight the Trinamool before it took on the BJP. As a result, its supporters shifted their votes to the BJP. These elections demonstrate that the Congress and the CPI(M) need to not just go back to the drawing board, but focus on the ideological battle with the BJP. Otherwise, they both look set to face extinction.

Smita Gupta is Senior Fellow, The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy

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Printable version | Nov 26, 2020 2:45:18 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/opposition-parties-failed-to-engage-the-bjp-ideologically/article27226646.ece

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