-Dr. Abdul Ruff
Year 2017appears to be an eventful one, for, India as there will be important for Indian politics. Besides facing the crucial Presidential elections, five states such as Goa, Manipur, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand have gone to polls in February-March, Gujarat (PM Modi’s home state) and Himachal Pradesh will go to polls in 2018. While Uttar Pradesh (UP), Uttarakhand and Punjab have given clear mandate to BJP and Congress party respectively, Goa and Manipur refused to give a clear mandate either Congress or BJP, but the federal ruling party BJP has got the upper hand as its governors supported BJP to form the government in these states, though the party did not get either a majority or at least maximum seats, though it has got less seats than Congress in both instances.
The BJP is the clear winner in this round of Assembly elections in five states. With an apparently decisive mandate in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and its impressive showing in close races in Manipur and Goa the party is giving all credit to the Modi wave which has apparently succeeded in combating people’s perceptions about demonetisation. For Congress, the only saving grace was Punjab.
The extremely right wing political party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with military support under a highly “sophisticated” and very energetically dynamic leader Narendra Modi has had an easy win in the by-poll held last month in 2 of 5 states in a polarized India’s corrupt polity. At the outset, the election, conducted as a referendum for his demonetization drive to check and end black money flow and stop financing of terrorism operations in the country and around, was out and out PM Modi’s “historic” win. However, many factors like anti-incumbency, indirect support of Congress and Samajwadi Party in UP, absence of any credible honest leader or genuinely people’s party at national or regional level etc, contributed greatly to Modi’s fortunes.
Today after the regional polls, Narendra Modi has become the most important leader of India, above Hazare and Kejriwal who caught the imagination of entire nation with their anti-corruption movement against the Congress-BJP governments. BJP and PM Modi do deserve well wish for the electoral victory for working for equality in the nation. In a democracy, seats in state and federal assemblies decide government formation. However, seats could be won by politicians through cheap and undemocratic means.
The outcomes of the by elections have revealed anger and disappointments of voters towards the ruling dispensations including Congress, BJP, SP, etc and opted for the opposition parties, almost everywhere. Political parties cannot take the voters for granted in polls, at least. People have displayed a great sense of responsibility in punishing the ruling class for being dishonest.
BJP has sage managed the show in Goa state even without a majority by horse trading the independent MLAs. Congress secured more seats than the incumbent BJP but it did not stake its claim to form a government while BP did exactly that and now ruling the state and now Congress has approached the court, maybe as a mere formality to fool the world. ..
Close races in Goa and Manipur but with bargaining and deflections, BJP staked claim There were four major contenders for the 40 seats in the Goa Assembly – Congress, BJP, Aam Admi Party and the smaller Maharashtrawadi Gomanthak party and the Goa Foward. While the present Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar has lost his seat, Congress’s Digambar Vasant Kamat who is also former Chief Minister, has won in his constituency, Margao. During his door-to-door campaign, Digambar Kamat repeated one mantra frequently. “Call me any time, 24×7. You need no agent to come to me. Although the Congress had 17 seats, just one lesser than BJP the latter has staked claim to form government.
Congress, as usual, played mischief and let BJP become the ruling party but when BJP became the winner, it called it a foul play by the governor who just obey he federal government’s orders. . Even as counting as underway it was expected that neither party would be close to the magic figure of 21 seats. The Indian Express reported that the MNP and smaller parties may play the king maker and that is exactly what happened.
The night long negotiations finally sealed the deal for BJP as both the MNP and Goa Forward Party agreed to support the BJP after they were promised ministerial berths by Nitin Gadkari. The Congress leaders, including party general secretary Digvijaya Singh and top state politicians, camped at the iconic Mandovi hotel in Panaji, where for five hours they wrangled over the choice of CLP leader, apart from waiting for Sardesai and other Independents. The Governor invited the BJP to form the government and current Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar will be sworn in as Chief Minister.
Goa and Manipur experiments of letting the Hindutva party control government show that there is a consensus between Congress and BJP that the latter should rule India and its states to solve many issues (like Muslims, Pakistan, China, security, etc)
In Manipur also, BJP stage managed and formed the ministry and Congress party that ruled it for many years has quietly gave in, almost signaling that its time is over as ruling party and BJP could take its place and communal pride. With the BJP and its alliance of regional parties together got 30 seats. By using ‘security issues” and using Sharmila as a serious threat to India as she wants all extra military laws withdrawn to let people live without fear, the BJP made a stunning debut in Manipur, winning 19 seats and leading in two of the 60 assembly seats in the states. The party’s concerted efforts to make inroads into the conflict state paid rich dividends. Ram Madhav of the BJP said that the performance of the BJP has been satisfactory given that the state unit was weak. Manipur too saw a record turnout of almost 86% in the second phase of polling as BJP intensified its security campaign.
The Congress has been ruling the North-eastern state Manipur for almost a decade and a half and faced a tough challenge from the BJP which, supported by the military establishment, as usual, made security issues to win poll. Since Manipur does not have any Muslim population it needs not to target anti-Muslim sentiments for Hindu votes but Sharmila gave the stuff for the BJP to talk at length about the security issues threatening India.
With communal agenda on cards, the BJP has very cleverly exploited anti-military feelings in Manipur state being represented by Irom Sharmila to expand its vote share in the Northeastern state.
On 11 March, as the results for Manipur Elections started coming in, Thoubal constituency was among the first few seats from where the results started coming in. This valley seat from where Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh was contesting the elections, had another key player who for 16 years was on fast for Manipur’s rights. Social activist Irom Sharmila Chanu aka ‘Iron Lady’ was the icon of Manipur who with her decade-and-a-half long fast against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Acts (Afspa) garnered a lot of national attention sympathy and support. Upon ending fasting, Sharmila soon formed the PRJA which garnered support and attention from national parties like Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Left and Democratic Front (LDF), etc. The party with its clear intention to revoke the draconic military law Afspa and redraft Inner Line Permit system set about campaigning through the state and gathering political funds.
In a state which is rife with violence, corruption, administrative struggles, and development deficits, her fight seemed watered down. While the BJP gathered votes by making promises about removing the economic blockade, creation jobs, removing corruption, ensuring rights to the Nagas, etc. Sharmila kept mum on all these issues.
Military played important role in the defeat of Sharmila and she lost so badly in her maiden election contest that she became panicky and vowed to quit politics altogether. Sharmila was mostly treated as a laughing stock by both Congress and BJP and its chief minister, because victory for Sharmila can be disastrous for both parties. When they all joint tempered with m voting machines remains to be investigated.
But the story in this 60-Assembly seat state is very different as there seems to be anti-democratic operations during poll day. Sharmila’s party Peoples’ Resurgence and Justice Alliance (PRJA) failed to secure a single seat in the state and its leader lost the fight against Manipur’s three-time chief minister Ibobi who won with 18,649 votes, Sharmila didn’t get more than 90 votes, giving rise to genuine suspicion of voting machine tampering during the poll by the Modi regime.
Many in the national media hailed this as a tragedy that an internationally renowned human rights activist couldn’t manage to secure even a 100 votes. However, the local populace has a different picture to share. When the 44-year-old decided to quit her 16-year-old fast in 2016 and join politics, it was welcomed by both national media and political parties. She soon formed the PRJA which garnered support and attention from national parties like Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Left and Democratic Front (LDF), etc. The party with its clear intention to revoke Afspa (through legislative means) and redraft Inner Line Permit system set about campaigning through the state and gathering political funds.
In a state that has some 1,500 cases of extra-judicial killings, she was the face of the revolt against Afspa. When she ended her fast, people perceived it as the end of the movement. This angered a lot of people. Her popularity also tanked after she revealed her plans to get married to Goa-born British national Desmond Coutinho, whom her supporters have always accused of diverting her attention from the fight against Afspa. She had plans to tie the nuptial knot after the 2017 polls but Desmond recently said the marriage would not take place before 2019. While the party has allied with the Nagaland People’s Front of the neighbouring state, it chose to not announce an alliance with the regional party in Manipur. The reason, a senior party leader said, is a clause in the NPF’s manifesto that talks of Naga integration. “That made the party a bit uncomfortable,” the party leader said. A post-poll alliance, however, is not ruled out, the leader added.
Congress and BJP one and same!
BJP could easily target both Congress and Sharmila to victory. In a state hit badly by anti-incumbency against the ruling Congress government, the neglect that the various hill tribes suffered under Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh’s government helped the BJP make inroads in the hill areas. Of the 60 assembly seats, only 20 seats are set aside for the hill areas, while the Valley has 40 seats. While the hill areas account for 85% of the state’s geographical territory, the Valley accounts for 15% of the total area.
BJP didn’t just have a national appeal, it also went door-to-door to campaign about the party. They had swayamsevaks (volunteers) who regularly held meetings to discuss local issues, way before the elections were announced. The people in the hills (Naga districts like Senapati, Ukhrul, Tamenglong) saw an alternative to Congress, which with the creation of the seven new districts in December 2016, had lost the vote of the Naga tribes.
Sharmila, who has won several international human rights awards, said in her interview with HuffPost India that both the leading national parties — the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress — were practically “the same”. However, this did not stop either of the two national parties — Congress or BJP — from using the funds in their deep pockets, to campaign extensively in the state. The state which rarely received any national attention was suddenly getting visited by senior leaders of the BJP like Amit Shah, Rajnath Singh, Narendra Modi, Prakash Javadekar, etc. Their rallies gathered thousands of Manipuris, whereas Sharmila’s PRJA went house to house to campaign for their party.
Sharmila decided to compete from a Meitei populated seat against a Meitei favourite Okram Ibobi and expected victory. In the interviews before the polling began, she reiterated that she hopes to win against the three-time chief minister. However, she forgot that the highly seasoned Congress politician had managed to snag the Thoubal constituency in two consecutive Assembly elections and that too with high margins. This time too he secured the seat with a margin of 11,470 votes against BJP leader Leitanthem Basanta Singh. Even the BJP didn’t put up a strong candidate for that seat. Sharmila’s misguided political judgment cost her MLA seat.
While the core media lords we are being harsh on the celebrated human rights activists, it is a matter of concern that the state which has a million female voters failed to support their female icon. An abysmal 90 votes are what the ‘iron lady’ got for her 16-year penance.
People’s mandate does not matter in Goa and Manipur; dictatorship or democracy?
In both Goa and Manipur BJP regime has played well to deny the party that got maximum seats to form government but let BJP form the government. In doing so, PM Modi has made the BJP ideology of”BJP only” crystal clear. The message is simple: If any other party is unable to get a clear majority BJP alone can form the government by purchasing MLLAs and MPs.
In Goa and Manipur, the BJP was in a minority. It won 13 seats out of 40 in Goa, with the Congress winning 17. In Manipur, its performance was just as poor, winning 21 out of 60, to the Congress’ 28. However, the party which rules at the centre has manipulated legal provisions to ensure that a state does not remain headless to claw its way to power against the will of the people. In Goa, it put together a coalition after negotiations with a party that had projected itself as secular – the greatest sin of the virulent anti-national, in the lexicon of most supporters of the BJP.
The narrative of the BJP (even Congress) has been that the minorities have been given too much leeway, and the trolls its leaders – including a Sikh Prime Minister – follow feel the minorities should acknowledge that they don’t deserve to be treated as more than second-class citizens. The minorities they attack include Muslims, Christians, and those unfortunates with intellect. The one democratic procedure in which the minority has no right is what follows the outcome of an election.
In a country that is becoming increasingly more bigoted and hostile to minorities, people must ask themselves what strategy makes leaders out of people who have, on the surface, no qualifications to run a country. The most powerful man in the world is Trump, a businessman with no political, diplomatic, or policy-making qualifications. The most powerful man in India is a healthy orator Modi who stays silent on the most burning issues of the day, asks others to react, recently deputing his Home Minister to handle the Kashmir crisis.
Standing in long queues in extreme weather is seen in the context of soldiers dying in battle for their country. How are the two comparable? A soldier dies in the uniform he volunteered to wear, for a country that he is defending of his volition against an enemy. When a pensioner has a heat stroke or a cardiac arrest while waiting through the day to exchange notes that he was saving for an emergency, where is his volition, whom is he defending, and who is the enemy?
Indian protests generally are just a show and never intent on real changes or reforms or at least further development. BJP’s one of the main agendas is to somehow acquire majority in Rajya Sabha (Upper House of parliament) to pass all bills and enact new bills as per RSS designs. But the move that upset the RSS agenda and brought the nation literally to a standstill was demonetisation. For weeks, even months, people struggled to pay each other. People literally died from standing in queues. Yet, despite all the chaos, there was no public protest – unlike the outrage in Venezuela, whose government attempted to follow India’s move. In that country, the people will saw the government withdraw the demonetisation move. In India, though, months after the dramatic decision was announced, when the memories of standing in queues for hours only for the ATM to run out of money before one’s turn came and notes being rationed out on a war footing are still vivid, the BJP has made a clean sweep of two Northern states. BJP has enough money to get votes.
Punjab, ruled by BJP led coalition until the poll, has now opted for Congress party – of the 117 seats, the Congress was leading on 64 seats – and brought the AAP to focus by giving it a historic status with 28 seats. Two years ago, AAP had scored a sensational victory in Delhi, decimating rivals BJP and Congress. It also debuted in parliament by winning four seats in Punjab in 2014 – the equivalent of 33 seats.
While the entire country was full of energy during the counting of votes, the social networking websites were as silent as a grave with the AAP leaders going silent on the election results. The Twitter account of most of the AAP leaders, including Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal did not show any activity since the results started pouring in.
In the initial phase of counting, it became quite evident that the AAP party scored zero in Goa while it backed 2nd position in Punjab. The exit polls had predicted that either Congress or AAP would win. Whereas Shriomani Akali Dal (SAD)- Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance which was written off by all political pundits and journalists before the elections, has sprung a surprise by becoming the second largest party in the state. While the leaders were quite excited in the morning and tweeted motivational messages on Twitter before the results, their account became dull after the initial trend. AAP leader Ashutosh tweeted in the morning saying the result will set the tone for the future politics in India. “It’s a historic day,” he tweeted. Kumar Vishwas was among the few AAP leaders who came out in open and spoke about the elections. The leader congratulated BJP and the Congress on their win. Accepting the defeat in his style, he also tweeted a poem. The AAP, which fought its first assembly elections in Punjab, was at third place with 22 seats.
BJP is increasing its national presence step by step, indirectly supported by Congress, SP and other essentially anti-Muslim outfits.
Congress party with largest black money owners’ does not oppose BJP. What is even more shocking than that is that the BJP has ensured that it will form the government in two states where another party had garnered more votes than it had. (More to come…)