Indian opposition turns the corner with key polls

Published December 9, 2022
Supporters of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) shout slogans as they celebrate after learning of the initial poll results of Gujarat state assembly election in Gandhinagar, India on Thursday. — Reuters
Supporters of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) shout slogans as they celebrate after learning of the initial poll results of Gujarat state assembly election in Gandhinagar, India on Thursday. — Reuters

NEW DELHI: Poll results from two state assemblies and a politically crucial Delhi municipal contest together with a string of verdicts from by-elections on Thursday indicated the waning of the Bharatiya Janata Party and launch of the long-awaited coming together of India’s fractious opposition.

On the face of it, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s widely advertised “magic” worked for his party in Gujarat where the BJP scored a one-sided victory winning 156 of the 182 seats.

The Congress came a distant second with 17 seats, and the Aam Aadmi Party announced its arrival capturing 5. On the flip side, the Congress emphatically evicted the BJP from power in a straight fight in Himachal Pradesh. It won 40 of 68 seats with the BJP reduced to 25.

To call it Modi magic then would require answers. Why did it work in Gujarat and not in Himachal Pradesh? Biting the BJP even harder was the Aam Aadmi Party’s win in the Municipal Corporation of Delhi where the BJP was dethroned after 15 years in the saddle. The fact that the top most BJP leaders campaigned in Delhi only added insult to the injury.

AAP won 134 seats against the BJP’s 104. The Congress again was a distant third. AAP rules Delhi and Punjab, and its wins in Gujarat have established it as a national party, a calculation based on vote share and the number of states involved.

The MCD sits on a 15,500 crore rupee budget, and AAP is expected to move swiftly to establish how it was being squandered.

Reacting to the MCD victory, AAP’s national convener Arvind Kejriwal said: “This is the fourth election we have won in Delhi on the issues of electricity, water, education and health. Only AAP is practising positive politics in the country today. To make India number 1, we need positivity; we need to focus on schools, hospitals, electricity, water and other issues that affect the common man.”

By contrast the BJP needed the release of 11 convicted rapists and killers in a controversial move on India’s Independence Day to shore up its communal campaign in Gujarat. Together with the divisive politics, the BJP has also benefited the state with the abrupt and questionable transfer of three mega projects from different states to Gujarat.

Two major states where the BJP explains its rule to Modi magic — Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka — were snatched by toppling opposition governments with forced defections, a worry that still looms over opposition parties. But that is different from the attribute of any magic or charm.

A disturbing feature in some unexpected successes for the BJP in Bihar and close calls for the opposition in Gujarat was the presence of the Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (Hyderabad-based MIM) that cut into the secular votes. Samajwadi Party won a parliament seat and an assembly seat while the BJP was able to breach Azam Khan’s fortress in Rampur.

The fire-breathing Muslim orator has spent several years in jail under the BJP’s government in Uttar Pradesh. Despondent, he didn’t have much of a say in the polls. Among all the indifferent news from Gujarat, there is something that the opposition can cheer about and it is the victory of the Congress party’s Dalit face Jignesh Mevani from Vadgam. Jignesh had shot to fame in 2016 after the flogging of Dalits in Una, Gujarat, won the election from the same constituency with the support of Congress in 2017.

Notably, reports said, the Congress Dalit leader was not only fighting BJP, he was also contesting AIMIM and AAP. AIMIM fielded Kalpesh Sundhia as its candidate and was expected to cut away Muslim votes of Jignesh. The polls over, the opposition has indicated a change of stance. In a show of unity, the Aam Aadmi Party and the Trinamool Congress, which have been questioning the Congress’s status as the lead Opposition party, participated in a meeting of Opposition parties hosted by Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge on Wednesday, the first day of the Winter Session of Parliament.

Published in Dawn, December 9th, 2022

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