The BJP’s victory in the 2023 assembly elections in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan brought a few factors and some facts to daylight that can’t be ignored before the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
Usually in December, the media recaps the year’s special stories, so readers can retrospect the bygones. But do the political events of this December carry important indications for the coming year? Political pundits are in a frenzy over analysing the results of the recently concluded five-state assembly elections. The topic of everyone’s interest or discussion is the electoral victory of Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in three states–Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. The BJP’s victory in the 2023 assembly elections has brought to the fore many political questions which need to be answered at this moment.
Which equation made the BJP’s victory in the 2023 assembly elections possible?
There are many reasons behind the BJP’s victory in the 2023 assembly elections. Many of the political experts claim that the BJP won the assembly elections in these three states by playing the Hindutva card, spreading the venomous fumes of Islamophobia in the public mind.
Now, while it is difficult to find the substance of this allegation, there is no point in denying that Hindutva propaganda played a major role in the BJP’s victory in the 2023 assembly elections.
But did the BJP win the elections in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan riding only on Hindutva? Is the BJP just bringing home the harvest of communal polarisation? Blaming communal polarization for the BJP’s electoral victories in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan would be an oversimplification on the one hand, and would leave many politically-important questions unanswered.
This report will try to look at the political processes behind the BJP’s victory in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan without looking at statistics to find out the real reasons behind this phenomenon. However, in order not to make this essay too long, many trivial matters will be omitted.
What are the reasons for the BJP’s victory in Chhattisgarh?
The Congress had ousted the BJP government in Chhattisgarh in the 2018 assembly elections. Before that, the BJP had ruled Chhattisgarh for nearly 15 years. The Congress came to power based on the anti-incumbency wave against Raman Singh as a result of his long rule, particularly in the Bastar region, where the state repression of the tribal people increased during his tenure.
During the last five years, the BJP failed to build any kind of movement against the Congress-led government in Chhattisgarh. Many complained that the BJP was not even planning to win the elections in Chhattisgarh. But the game turned, the Congress still lost because of its severe internal strife, as well as allegations of various scandals against Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel – one of which was his association with a betting app called Mahadev.
The conflict between Baghel and his rival TS Singh Deo within the Congress party continued to take a fierce form and the party’s high command had to mediate between Baghel and Deo time and again. As a result, there was no unity within the party.
At the same time, in various surveys, Baghel reportedly came to know that he had the support of the people of the state before the election, so he went to fight the polls with a lot of swagger.
Congress’s weakness is BJP’s strength. From accusing the Congress of showing sympathy towards the problem of Maoist extremism, the BJP started various Hindutva campaigns in the name of forming a strong government. Modi himself was the trump card in this.
He did not put forward any local leaders in Chhattisgarh, like Rajasthan or Madhya Pradesh, as the face of the party before the election. He claimed that he was fighting the election from each seat, which helped the BJP to perform better than ever. Modi showed that he alone can fight against the Congress party and others.
What is the reason for BJP’s victory in Madhya Pradesh?
The Congress was confident that the BJP’s 18-year-old government in Madhya Pradesh would fall. Congress leaders thought that they would be victorious because in 2018 the Congress defeated the BJP in Madhya Pradesh, but in 2020 a rift emerged within the Congress and Jyotiraditya Scindia joined the BJP and toppled Kamal Nath’s government. So the Congress thought that the voters would punish the BJP for its misdeeds and reinstate the Congress.
An overconfident Nath, who decided the election strategy and tactics himself, didn’t take the opinions and suggestions of his party colleagues. He didn’t trust his colleagues and retained his authoritarian command over the Congress organisations. He held rallies where he wanted them and made the party high command dance to his tunes by dangling the bait of victory before them.
Where Nath ran with such arrogance, out of fear of losing, especially due to the anti-establishment atmosphere, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan jumped into the election campaign, despite being out of place in the party, not in the first list, with the sheer desire to survive. He took charge and managed to achieve victory, which Nath couldn’t.
The Congress’s opposition to the BJP in the Madhya Pradesh assembly elections was extremely mild and lacked combustible substances. Instead of going against BJP’s extreme Hindutva propaganda, Nath went on the path of peddling soft Hindutva propaganda and tried to portray Congress as a softer version of the BJP itself.
Besides, the Congress under Nath’s leadership has not mounted any state-wide anti-BJP movement, especially against frequent attacks on the workers, farmers or minorities, in the last five years. Rather, Nath’s controversial past, his alleged involvement in the 1984 Sikh genocide, helped the BJP in building mass opinion against the Congress party’s leader in various parts of the state.
Restricting itself to a war of statements and counter-statements, the Congress helped the BJP government to reform the labour laws and make workers work for up to 12 hours and remained mum whenever the Hindutva camp attacked the Muslim community every year on the occasion of Ram Navami, Hanuman Jayanti, etc., or the Christians by accusing them of conversions.
As a result, using the bait of Hindutva on one hand and developmental programmes on the other, Chauhan saved the BJP this time and was able to prove his mettle to the central leadership. Apart from this, the BJP leadership nominated heavy-weight leaders of the party, especially Union ministers, in Madhya Pradesh so that the anti-establishment sentiments could be blunted.
And the BJP won that game!
What is the reason for BJP’s victory in Rajasthan?
Although it is said that the government in Rajasthan changes every five years, this time Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot was very optimistic that the Congress would easily win Rajasthan based on promises like the restoration of the old pension scheme, subsidised cooking gas, schemes for women or the one of conducting the caste census.
But his hopes were not fulfilled. The BJP won. There are two major reasons behind the BJP’s victory in Rajasthan.
Firstly, Hindutva forces have gradually increased their strength in Rajasthan over decades. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal have created a sort of parallel administration centred around militant cow vigilantism. Especially on the Jaipur-Gurugram National Highway. These forces have been involved in gory incidents of lynching Muslims, which captured the national headlines.
Apart from this, in December 2017, Mohammad Afrazul Shaikh, a migrant labourer from West Bengal was hacked and later burnt alive in Rajsamand by a Hindutva terrorist. It became an incident unparalleled in terms of horror and shocked the conscience of India.
However, despite these incidents that helped in polarising the Hindus, the BJP lost to Congress by a narrow margin in the 2018 elections as there was there was a strong opposition to then chief minister Vasundhara Raje’s leadership. It was said that BJP workers would vote for Modi but could never tolerate Raje. As a result, even though the BJP lost in the state in 2018, it won most of the seats in Rajasthan during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
The BJP also started an intense Islamophobic campaign from 2020 onwards. The VHP and Bajrang Dal fuelled communal violence in various parts of Rajasthan on the occasion of Ram Navami or Hanuman Jayanti. Along with this, in 2022, two Muslim miscreants identified as BJP workers killed a Hindu tailor named Kanhaiya Lal for siding with BJP leader Nupur Sharma, who made derogatory remarks regarding Islam’s Prophet Mohammad.
From the violence in the Nuh district of neighbouring Haryana to the murder of Lal, the Hindutva camp, including the prime minister, didn’t spare a single opportunity to peddle Islamophobia and polarise the Hindu votes. The strategy paid rich dividends!
Secondly, the Congress camp was already weakened by the conflict between Gehlot and Tonk MLA-elect Sachin Pilot. A youth icon of the Congress, Pilot has been in politics for a long time with a desire to be at the centre of power, and he was used by the Congress in various ways in Rajasthan. But Gehlot’s ambitions prevented Pilot from getting any important posts.
In 2020, the Congress government ran into a big problem when Pilot indicated toppling Gehlot by moving towards the BJP. The high command and Gehlot together saved the government in that journey. But somehow Gehlot refused to give up power to Pilot even in 2023.
As a result, infighting within the party and the downgrading of Pilot intensified antipathy towards the Congress among his Gujjar community. The Congress party couldn’t save its downfall due to this infighting amid a high tide of anti-establishment in the state.
Modi knew that the BJP was under pressure organisationally in all three states, though Hindutva propaganda and his charisma remained intact. So he put his face forward to ensure the BJP’s victory in the 2023 assembly elections. In all three states, he emerged as the party’s candidate for all constituencies.
The BJP gained in two ways from this manoeuvre. Firstly, voters forgot their dissatisfaction with local candidates and voted for the BJP because of Modi’s charisma. Secondly, since Modi made himself the face of the party in all constituencies, the onus and pressure on party workers to win the elections to rekindle the “Modi storm” ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections intensified.
As a result, the leaders and workers of different camps forgot their antagonisms, plunged into the arena and took advantage of the Congress’s non-committal attitude –contributing immensely to the BJP’s victory in the 2023 assembly elections.
The construction of the Ram Mandir (temple) in Ayodhya, the gimmick over women’s reservation, and the emergence of a purportedly stronger “New India” under Modi, apart from tickling the religious sentiments of Hindus and using radical nationalism, Modi managed to shape the BJP’s victory in the 2023 assembly elections in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
His “Modi’s guarantee” rhetoric helped the BJP to captivate the overwhelming majority of the Hindu community in these states and also to wean over the oppressed Dalits and tribal people who remained at the receiving end under the Hindutva camp’s Brahminical practices.
Moreover, Modi also managed to use his demagogy to downplay and put in the oblivion Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s allegations against him. Gandhi kept raising the issue of Modi’s alleged closeness with tycoon Gautam Adani, whose controversial port-to-power conglomerate reportedly won several big-ticket deals since 2014. However, Modi ensured that these allegations couldn’t affect the voters in most of the constituencies.
By helping in the BJP’s victory in the 2023 assembly elections in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, Modi hinted that he can use the same strategy in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Modi appeared confident when he reached the party workers on the evening of December 3rd, mocking the Opposition for failing yet again.
The road to 2024
Whether the BJP’s victory in the 2023 assembly elections will be replicated in 2024 is a matter of speculation. But what’s clear is that the BJP has been emerging as an invincible force to reckon with in the so-called cow belt or Hindi belt of North and Central India.
Although the party failed earlier in Karnataka and this time in Telangana, and it’s clear that the BJP has no future in the southern belt, the scheme of delimitation, which will enhance the political prowess—strictly in terms of parliamentary seats—of the Hindi belt, indicates that the BJP can retain power for long, even in the post-Modi years, by relying solely on religious fundamentalism and polarization of the majority Hindu vote bank.
The Opposition has repeatedly failed to create narratives and have restricted themselves to responding to the BJP’s narratives. If they fail to bring innovations in their political work before the 2024 elections, it can indeed be their farewell exercise from Indian polity. The BJP managed to win because it’s unapologetic about what it wants, but the Opposition failed because it’s yet to comprehend its political goal, beyond enjoying the fruits of power.
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