Right wing commentators have been gloating over the winning strategy of the Modi-Shah duo that has seen them seize power through electoral victories and non-electoral victories almost continuously since 2014 in state after state. In simple analysis, the strategy boils down to a consolidation of Hindu votes.
Hindu votes have been fragmented since at least the 1980s due to the formation of caste based parties. The SP and BSP in UP, the JD(U), RLD and LJP in Bihar, the INLD and HJD in Haryana, the Akali Dal in Punjab and the TDP and YSR parties in Andhra, the Dravidian parties in TN are all examples of caste based formations. Each of them in some combination or other with minority votes managed to snatch some semblance of power in each of the states. A few states that escaped this trend are WB and Kerala where Leftist ideologies ruled the roost for many years.
In a few other states, Hindu votes were already consolidated. These such as Gujarat, Rajasthan, and MP, are states where BJP achieved success even as early as 20 years back. The Modi-Shah strategy is nothing new but an extension of what the BJP had already implemented in these “cow-belt” states. The duo understood that if it could work in the cow-belt it would work elsewhere too.
While the strategy of the caste formations was to “pamper” their choice vote banks with goodies and the crumbs of power while claiming to be “secular”, the strategy of the BJP is to make people forget these goodies and focus their wrath on a “common enemy” which is a euphemism for minorities. Bundled in the BJP package is a promise of “Hindu Rashtra”, “non-appeasement of minorities”, and scorn for “secular” parties. A part of this strategy is to “taint” the Congress too as a party that appeases minorities and therefore “anti-Hindu”.
The electoral success of the BJP in the last three years shows that the BJP strategy is by and large working in the states. Hindu votes have consolidated and many of the caste based parties are facing extinction. Those that have survived, like Nitish Kumar’s party, have hastily hitched themselves to the bandwagon. A move that will do no more than just slow down their downward spiral to doom.
In the current political scenario, the only parties that have kept away from either fate are the Congress, the Left parties, the TMC and AAP. The Congress, due to the weight of its history has remained largely caste-neutral, though it does sometimes play the caste card in a few states such as UP and Karnataka. The ideology of the Left keeps it caste-neutral in all states. The TMC, a step-child of the Congress has inherited the caste-neutrality of its step-mother. The AAP in origin and operation remains a caste-neutral and religion-neutral party.
Given that smaller parties will be extinct sooner than later, let us look at how the future political trends will unfold.
The BJP will continue with its strategy of Hindu consolidation. This will be achieved through spreading its Hindutva ideology on the social media and “supari” TV channels. In the long term, the educational system will also be “Hindutvaized” to create loyal voters of the future. The Congress and local parties will continue to be intimmidated through the CBI and Tax agencies. Pliant local parties will be “adjusted”. And where necessary the communal pot will be kept boiling through planned “incidents”.
The Congress will continue to struggle to come out of the corner it has been painted in. The tag of “anti-Hindu” will be difficult to get rid of in the short run. Its best bet will be to break the Hindu vote by using other fault lines such as language and sub-cultural differences as Mr Siddaramiah is attempting to do in Karnataka and also revive the “ Garibi” focus which won it several elections in the past. When the focus shifts away from religion the BJP is always at a disadvantage.
The AAP will need to focus its energies on winning the hearts of people on its anti-corruption and religion-neutral profile. Though these seem to be dull agendas as compared to the “anti-minority” agenda of the Sangh, in the long run, the AAP is poised to emerge as a real contender for power at the center. It is a young party and has no baggage from the past. Hence it can be an automatic magnet for educated youth.
The Left parties will need to reinvent themselves. Though enormous opportunities are available to them to consolidate the unorganized workers and farmers under the banner of capitalist exploitation, they currently lack the kind of fiery leadership that Communists are usually associated with. A person like Pinarayi Vijayan is needed at the helm to bring colour and vigour to the Left.
The TMC will be tied up in Bengal, trying to keep the BJP at bay. Though Mamata has succeeded in largely acquiring the vote base of the Left, she too has been painted as a “minority lover” by the Sangh. This is eroding her Hindu voter base and she is struggling to come up with a narrative to keep her religion-neutral profile intact. In the long run don’t be surprised if the TMC merges once again with the Congress. There is practically very little difference between the two parties.
The Congress-TMC, the Left and AAP will represent India’s struggle for modernity and social justice in future.
Many of the other parties in the fray today may simply cease to exist in the next five years. The SP, already splintered, is unlikely to revive. Mayawati has failed to carry her Dalit agenda forward and may simply fade away. Nitish will find his vote base captured by the BJP and will become irrelevant to the Saffronites in a very short time. The Shiv Sena will rapidly lose its base to the BJP and will become a mere Mumbai party. The BJD in Orissa too will lose its relevance and will spin into oblivion. The North East will be a game of musical chairs as local parties rapidly switch loyalties keeping the national parties on tenterhooks.
Only Tamil Nadu may see continued life in regional parties. Given the distinct sub-cultural emotions of the State, the BJP will almost never make any impact singularly there. Their best bet, like the Congress realized long ago, would be to hitch their fortunes to one or the other Dravidian combinations.
What is clear is that the political scenario of the next ten years will be very different from the 80s and 90s. Where the politics so far has been Mandal vs Mandir, politics of the future will be Cow-India vs Modern-India.