There was shock and awe among other political parties after the BJP’s overwhelming victory in the Lok Sabha elections of May 2019 — 303 for the BJP alone and 353 with the allies.
Two maps were published in many newspapers on December 24, 2019, the day after the Jharkhand election results. In 2018, the BJP ruled 21 of 28 states in India; by the end of 2019, the number had shrunk to 15. In 2018, the BJP governed 69.2% of the population and 76.5% of the area of the country; by end-2019, those numbers had reduced to 42.5% (population) and 34.6% (area).
Of the big states (defined as states with 20 or more Lok Sabha seats), the BJP has its party chief minister only in three: Karnataka, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh. Three other big states — Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Tamil Nadu — are in the NDA column, but how long they will remain there is uncertain.
Shock and awe
There was shock and awe among other political parties after the BJP’s overwhelming victory in the Lok Sabha elections of May 2019 — 303 for the BJP alone and 353 with the allies. Mr Narendra Modi and the Home Minister, Mr Amit Shah, acquired a larger-than-life, all-conquering image, and the opposition parties retreated further into their corners. Mr Modi and Mr Shah wasted no time in reinforcing their image as no-nonsense, ruthless rulers. They unveiled one ‘muscular’ measure after another, that were intended to send the message that they were like the emperors of the past and their goal was to build a Hindu Rashtra or a Hindu Nation.
The first step was the Bill to criminalise instant triple talaq. Neither the Congress nor the other parties had opposed the outlawing of triple talaq — they were opposed only to the clause that sent the husband to jail. Yet they emerged out of the debate as appearing to support an anachronistic and evil practice. Next was the brutal NRC exercise in Assam that has left 19,06,657 persons ‘non-citizens’ or ‘Stateless’ persons. On August 5, the BJP launched an unprecedented assault on the Constitution of India, placed 7.5 million people of the Kashmir Valley under an indefinite siege, dismembered the state of Jammu & Kashmir, and reduced the three regions to two Union Territories. The final assault on the basic tenets of the Republic was the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill that was passed, assented to and notified as a law within the space of 72 hours.
Beginning of resistance
These were not acts of democratically elected leaders, these were acts of bullies. The dictionary defines ‘bullying’ as the use of coercion or threat to abuse, aggressively dominate or intimidate. Bullies do not heed advice, they do not acknowledge an opposite view, they do not tolerate dissent, and they are never wrong.
Bullies succeed if you allow yourself to be bullied. I am afraid that is what happened to opposition parties in the first six months of NDA II.
The first signs of resistance were seen in West Bengal. Ms Mamata Banerjee gave it back as good as she got it from the BJP. A more determined pushback was led by Mr Sharad Pawar in the Maharashtra elections. After the results, when Mr Pawar combined resistance and political craft, he dealt the first major defeat to the BJP. It was at this time that CAB was bulldozed through Parliament and students’ protests broke out across the country. The Maharashtra success and the anti-CAB protests, by all accounts, galvanised the political workers of the JMM and the Congress in the Jharkhand elections.
In less than a fortnight (December 12 to 24), the nation found its soul and stood up to the bullies. Where does the country go from here? Mr Modi has a balance tenure of 4 years and 5 months and, therefore, it is naive to expect a change of guard in Delhi. According to some observers, what is possible is that the people’s resistance may force Mr Modi to change course, although I have reservations.
State elections are the key
In my view, what will force Mr Modi to change course will be the outcome of the elections to the state legislatures that are scheduled in 2020 and 2021 (leaving aside, for the present, elections in 2022 and 2023). Here is the schedule:
February-March: Jammu & Kashmir
April-May: Assam, Kerala, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal
In each of the states listed above, the BJP is defeatable. Mr Amit Shah has created the myth that the BJP is an invincible political machine. The BJP has its strengths, bolstered by money power, but it is also plagued by the usual weaknesses of all political parties — factions, dissidents, rival candidates and, in states where it is the ruling party, anti-incumbency. In the last two months, the BJP was dented in Haryana, denied in Maharashtra and defeated in Jharkhand. This success can be taken forward if non-BJP parties rally around the strongest party in each election-bound state. That would mean, for example, the Congress in Assam, Kerala and Puducherry, and the DMK in Tamil Nadu. State-specific arrangements have to be worked out for Bihar and West Bengal. As things stand at present, the BJP is not a certain winner in any of the above states.
The ultimate goal are the Lok Sabha elections in 2024. ‘Project Hindu Rashtra’ must be stopped well before 2024. And the Constitution of India must be saved by 2024, as Abraham Lincoln did in the United States in 1865.