BJP rout: Challenge and the opportunity

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he BJP’s rout in the by-elections has been hailed as the victory of secularism and the defeat of everything that the saffron activists have perpetrated in the name of Hinduism and nationalism. Given that the latest round can be considered a national sampler in the sense of its geographical spread, the results should send a chill down the spine of the ruling party, particularly the so-called Modi-Shah poll machine, which seems to be losing its cutting edge of late. But, upon a closer look, it signals a return to the stranglehold of caste arithmetic, which is not particularly good. Kairana is a wake-up call for BJP, but it has lessons for others, as well.

Electoral politics in Uttar Pradesh, the state that virtually decides who should rule India, has always been powered by caste equations until Narendra Modi changed all that in 2014 with a new political narrative, which caught the imagination of most Indians. Modi did that by selling a dream: a new hope for the masses to live a more dignified and fulfilling life. But, four years down the line, that dream has soured and people have woken up to the harsh reality of uncouth happenings, including exploitation, subjugation and denial of justice. The Modi narrative, itself, got hijacked by saffron elements, who pursued their own divisive agenda and alienated large sections of the people from the BJP.

The results have come as a shot in the arm for those who are eager to unite all parties to take on Modi and the BJP in the 2019 General Elections. Gorakhpur, Phulpur and Kairana in UP, Jokihat in Bihar and Bhandara-Gondia in Maharashtra have all provided the template for successfully fighting the BJP. But these are only a handful of seats and have been fought in by-elections. General Elections are a different ball game altogether.

The grotesque drama over ministry formation in Karnataka, hailed as a game-changer in Indian politics, came as a big embarrassment for all Opposition unity enthusiasts. While bringing out the inherent contradictions in the makeshift arrangement, it gave a foretaste of what could happen if all the anti-BJP forces were to come together on a common platform. Opposition to the BJP is, no doubt, a compelling reason, but that is not good enough to bring disparate forces together and bind them into a coherent set-up. With no ceiling applicable on personal ambitions, a royal fight is in order when it comes to deciding leadership of any possible permutation-combination. Dynastic claims apart, sub-nationalistic instincts of dominant players could also become stumbling blocks to any easy resolution of the issue.

But then, it all depends upon whether Prime Minister Modi can bring in yet another narrative to excite the masses. It is by no means easy, but, given his persuasive power, it is not impossible, either.