Electoral failure in different universities should be a matter of concern for the BJP.
Several political events, which unfolded in different universities and states in the recent past, seem to have suddenly changed the political temperature of the country. The Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance government, which seemed extremely popular amongst the Indians in general, seems to have started losing its sheen. Voices of unhappiness, disappointment with the present government can be heard from various quarters and suddenly people have begun to ask: what has this government delivered to the people? While sentiment against the BJP seems to have started building, it would still be an overstatement to say that the government has become unpopular enough to lose the next Lok Sabha elections in 2019. What seems to still work hugely in favour of the government is the personal popularity of Mr Modi and his image of being an honest Prime Minister. In spite of not meeting the expectations of the common man, people are willing to forgive him even for misadventures like demonetisation or implementing GST in haste, only because large number of people have a lot of faith in him and his unquestioned image of integrity and honesty.
While electoral verdicts in universities are not an absolute test of the national political mood or choices, these verdicts are good enough to at least give some indication of what is going on in the minds of young Indians. The BJP-supported ABVP lost elections in Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi University and Hyderabad University. The Congress-supported National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) didn’t perform very well either except in Delhi University. The popular choices of students were varied in different universities, but the trend was clear. The wave was certainly against the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP). One must not forget the BJP marked at least JNU and University of Hyderabad as a space of troublemakers. Such electoral failure in different universities should be a matter of concern for the BJP. The ABVP would not have lost most of these elections if these were held early this year when the national mood seemed to be strongly in favour of the BJP. These defeats should ring an alarm bell for the BJP as it is important to note that young voters played an important role in the victory of the BJP in 2014. The youth voted in large numbers for the party and rallied behind Mr Modi. If these election results were not enough to make BJP uneasy, the recent incidents in Banaras Hindu University (BHU) campus seem to have only added to the problem. The BHU movement has the potential of spreading to other universities. What is even more dangerous for the BJP is the growing disappointment of students with the government due to its failure in creating job opportunities as promised during the election campaign. Figures indicate unemployment rate is at an all-time high in the last few years.
The unhappiness of farmers with the government can be seen across the country. While the main issue of farmers is their demand for minimum support price, there are various other issues that are bothering them, one of which is their demand for farm loan waiver. The government’s decision of demonetisation was a serious jolt to farmers, as cash is the main mode of transaction in the agricultural sector. In the last few years there have been farmers’ agitations across the country — from Kerala and Tamil Nadu down south to Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan in the north to Maharashtra and Gujarat in the west. Their disappointment with the government seems to be the unifying factor of farmers around the country.
There is clearly a growing disenchantment of the urban Indian middle classes with the government. The kind of disenchantment, which we witness now with the government, was unthinkable till a few months ago. The traders, who until recently formed the backbone of BJP’s support base, seem to be extremely unhappy with the government on implementation of the Goods and Services Tax, which has additionally burdened them with a lot of accounting. The common phrase used by these businessmen are: “Modi ne humko munim bana diya hai, business kare ya phir accouting kare (Modi has made us book-keepers. Should we do business or maintain accounts)”. The small traders faced a dual burden — first of demonetisation and now with GST. When the common man had to pay more while making purchases of some items due to GST, the response of shopkeepers is: “Hum toh sirf aapka paisa Modi tak pahucha rahe hain, aapka paisa to Modi le raha hai (We are just delivering your money to Modi. He is taking away all your money).” People did face problems when demonetisation was implemented, but remained silent for a very long time in the hope that they would finally get some benefit, but the problem they are facing with regard to GST has made them vent out their anger even against demonetisation.
A recent study in Gujarat by the CSDS clearly indicates that people are more unhappy with GST than they were with demonetisation. The list of those who have started questioning the government does not stop here. The Central government employees seem to be equally unhappy due to the truncated pay commission, which does not allow them any arrears.
Clearly the growing dissatisfaction amongst various sections of voters is not a good sign for the government. What has helped in stopping this wind of dissatisfaction from turning into a strong hurricane are two factors — the absence of a viable alternative leader and the personal credibility of Mr Modi.
The only question that remains is: how long will Mr Modi be able to hold down this wave of resentment with his own image and credibility? After all people want the government to deliver and are not interested in mere rhetoric.
The writer is a professor and currently director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. The views expressed are personal.