The election results will show whether such a strategy will bring dividends to the party.
Observing the campaigning in the Delhi elections, I have come to a definitive but sad conclusion: The BJP has no agenda except to divide the electorate on religious grounds. In the lead up to the elections, its leaders did not even remotely attempt to convincingly project what their blueprint for New Delhi is. They did not talk of issues of governance. They did not talk of how they can, through their plans, make a difference to the lives of the people of New Delhi. They could not come up with alternative plans of how to change the quality of life in New Delhi. All they did was to whip up passions on a divide and rule basis, making Shaheen Bagh the centrepiece of their entire electoral strategy.
The election results will show whether such a strategy will bring dividends to the party. But, there are important conclusions that need to be drawn about a party that has chosen to deliberately ignore issues of governance, and proactive agendas that belong to the secular space of administrative competence.
First and foremost, it appears that the BJP has run out of ideas relating to governance. This is particularly unfortunate for a party with Narendra Modi at its helm, that came to power with an absolute majority in 2014, on the basis of providing good governance, and making vikas or economic development its credo. Today, there are no signs of good governance. The economy is in shambles. Unemployment is at an all-time high. The GDP is scraping the bottom. Industrial production is plummeting. The investment climate is ominously dormant. Exports are falling. Imports are down. Inflation is going through the roof. GST collections are far below targets, as are direct and indirect taxes. The fiscal deficit is under pressure. Demand has slumped. Consumption is dangerously low. The government is seriously short of resources. Allocations for such vital sectors as health and education are meagre. Agrarian distress is rampant.
In response to this situation, the government is veritably paralysed. It is in denial. It believes that no such economic crisis exists, and the truth is actually false propaganda by its political opponents. Moreover, its priorities appear to be completely unrelated to what is required. It is pursuing the sterile and divisive CAA-NRC agenda, rather than applying itself to real solutions to genuine problems. This can be easily inferred from the lacklustre Budget that has just been presented. Instead of providing a radical and structured response to kickstart the economy, what we got was insipid incrementalism, statements of intent, some minor tax adjustments, and a bit of tinkering with already existing schemes.
When political parties have nothing to say about policies and programmes, or about vikas, which they claimed was their calling card to the people, they are forced to resort to diabolical means of winning elections. The focus then becomes how to consolidate vote banks through divisive policies. This is done by sowing hatred and discord, of stoking acrimony, of making everything a Hindu versus Muslim issue, or resorting to violence, of using insinuation and innuendo to divide the electorate solely for the purposes of short-term electoral gain.
This is precisely what the BJP appears to have done during the Delhi elections. A senior minister was visibly complicit in inciting people to violence. Slogans like “goli maaro saalon ko” were bandied about from a public stage. The protesters at Shaheen Bagh against the CAA-NRC divisive scheme were deliberately labelled as traitors and terrorists. It was projected that the peaceful protests across the capital city against the CAA-NRC was a conspiracy by a certain religious community against the Hindus. Anybody not supporting the government was dubbed as a “Pakistani agent”. Dissent was condemned as anti-national. Provocative language was used to consolidate the majority vote bank against an assumed enemy out to destroy Hindu India. The whole atmosphere was surcharged with hatred, violence and disharmony. Polarisation was the sole card. In all of this not a word almost was spoken about concrete governance issues. The word vikas was notably absent. And, of course, “Sabka Saath”, was completely jettisoned.
The net inference is that the BJP, in the light of its abysmal failure in governance, has become a dangerously unstable party that will do anything, however undesirable, to win an election. This does not bode well for the country. The party is unwilling to recognise that the people of India have had enough of this divide and rule game, and are yearning for good governance that impacts the quality of their lives. They want to overarch differences over religion, assert first and foremost their Indian identity, and partake in the secular dividends of the national mainstream. This change is especially evident among the young. Students across campuses in the country have spoken against the politics of hate and division. Even more significantly, they have reasserted a new patriotism that exalts the Constitution, venerates the national flag, and reveres the national anthem.
Whatever the results of the Delhi elections, these factors will have to be borne in mind as we survey the democratic future of India. It would appear that electorally, there is only one factor still in favour of the BJP nationally. And, that is the absence of an effective Opposition on a pan-India scale, with a face that can take on the still lingering charisma of Narendra Modi. The moment such an alternative with the right leader emerges, the BJP, with all the strength of its electoral machine and cadre, will face a real challenge.