The morning of 8th December 2022 when the election results from Gujarat started pouring in was quite different much like a new dawn full of exuberance and warmth of celebration for the Ram-Laxman joti of Bharatiya Janata Party. However, its victory chariot could not sweep the hilly northern state of Himachal Pradesh that faintly sustained the fate of now largely lacklustre Congress under the new party President Mallikarjun Kharge. Nonetheless the decisive mandate of Gujarat is certain to overshadow BJP’s lesser electoral success in Himachal because its inroads into north, western, eastern and central Indian region is now increasingly reaching the tipping point of irreversible saffron hegemonic wave and the political importance of Gujarat is incomparably greater than Himachal given the dual facts that Modi-Shah belongs to Gujarat and Gujarat has 26 seats in LS than only 4 seats’ share of Himachal Pradesh in LS. So despite its losses in state elections in Himachal Pradesh or recently in Punjab, there is no gainsaying the fact that BJP’s dominance is a reality that can’t be brushed aside and it emanates from its tremendous resilience even after 2 recent powerful mass movements, viz. campaign against CAA of 2019-20 and farmers’ movement of 2020-21. Even what is noticeable to discern is that when Xi Xinping China is witnessing unprecedented youth unrest due to heavy restrictions imposed in the name of containing the pandemic, Modi’s India through this electoral victory could successfully brush the complaints of its failure to manage the same crisis under the carpet.
However, two points may help us partially to look into or seriously question the glibly crafted success story of the saffron bastion. One is the Patel factor that has helped BJP to garner the support of this socially powerful Patidar caste. Can we forget the turbulent episode of August-September 2015 when roads of Ahmedabad in Gujarat was practically put to siege by the members of this community for OBC status which renowned political sociologist D L Sheth aptly dubbed as the “perils of the backward fetish”. That movement acted as the springboard of the rise of Hardik Patel which according to some political analysts could dent the vote-bank of the BJP government of the state. Such a crucial support base having the power to make or break a government is now curiously a loyal BJP element since a political somersault changed Hardik’s course to join BJP in June 2022. We do not know whether the Patidars have received the socio-economic justice for which they were fighting or whether the central government would ever be ready to implement the reformed thought of an ‘exit policy’ to withdraw “quota benefits from certain previously backward communities who have overcome their backwardness”. But the triumph of BJP in Gujarat election certainly showed how it could intelligently win back its vote bank among the Patidars without acceding to their demands. It is miraculous engineering indeed because the party knows how and when to lure and co-opt the leaders of core voting blocs to neutralise the teeth of anti-BJP movements while putting up the citadel of smart governance to mobilize pro-corporate professional groups and new generation of growth-loving urban voters. Partially this perception endorses the views of two prominent political commentators, namely Pradeep Chhibber and Rahul Verma who “stress demographic change and structural shifts, arising from urbanization and India’s expanding middle class, which strengthen the BJP’s appeal in society”. Understood but can this imperative be juxtaposed with such communal controversy like the Karnataka hijab row, hence it seems that the top leadership of the party has become more cautious and conciliatory now than ever before. The election results show the dividend.
Second, further deconstruction would reveal another interesting phenomenon stemming from the steady rise of AAP to the advantage of BJP. However bewildering it may sound, rise of AAP is helping BJP to the extent that it is straightaway dividing the vote bank of the opposition camp by eating into the support base of Congress. Already we have seen how AAP dethroned Congress in Punjab. In Gujarat also the anti-incumbency factor against ruling BJP could not work because AAP turned out to be the main competitor of Congress. We do not think that in Gujarat votes of civil society went in favour of BJP. Rather, given BJP’s highly centralised top-down structure that is incongruous with societal pluralism, there is high probability that such votes were bagged by AAP. So even when BJP has managed to win to demonstrate its otherwise impressive numerical strength, we think given the pluralist fabric of our society, it would be too early to comment that the BJP is going to have an unrivalled ground to score. Of course, the electoral verdict might embolden the party leadership especially the Modi-Shah partnership to throw gauntlet to intra-party struggle or to Yogi Adityanath who seems to be more preferable candidate to RSS for the next LS election. So it is too early to forecast and infer whether BJP’s resolute march will continue despite latent hitches or whether the “deep state”, that is the Sangh Parivar would remain in the driver seat to keep the party under its tutelage.
(The article is solely the opinion of the authors. The views expressed here are solely personal and not in any way connected to any organisation or any political party ).