Maharashtra Municipal Elections - BJP surprises
Driving through Mumbai last week one was blown away by the Bharatiya Janata Party’s publicity blitz for the BMC election. Stylish billboards featuring Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Prime Minister Narendra Modi adorned the city, outnumbering the Shiv Sena hoardings easily by a ratio of 2:1.
It was reminiscent of the 2014 Lok Sabha election. One had not seen such saturation visibility even at the time of the Maharashtra Assembly election.
The BJP had clearly put a lot, and Fadnavis his personal credibility, at stake for these elections. The reason for that was not far to seek.
The Shiv Sena behaved as a difficult spouse from day one, threatening to walkout of an uneasy marriage at the slightest provocation. Deciding to decouple for the BMC election was like throwing the gauntlet at the BJP.
Like many the Shiv Sena had banked upon (no pun intended) on Demonetisation hurting the BJP and it was safe to assume that, in case the BJP suffered a setback in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, they would pull out of the Government in Maharashtra and New Delhi.
While some recent local body and other by-elections, especially the elections in Odisha, had indicated the BJP was on a good wicket in upcountry Maharashtra, the Mumbai municipality election was a litmus test for the Fadnavis Government.
A poor performance would have undermined not just Fadnavis’s own standing within the party, but also been a severe blow to Modi, for whom every election in the country becomes a trial by fire.
On Thursday morning there was incipient euphoria even among those who had for all these years disapproved of the Shiv Sena’s parochial and chauvinist politics as it raced ahead, leaving the BJP trailing at a distance.
People suddenly started discovering different shades of saffron, one more acceptable than the other. But by the afternoon the excitement began to dissipate and the search for a 'post-truth' began as the BJP inched forward to end just 2 seats short of the Sena's tally.
Of course, the results across Maharashtra were overwhelmingly in favour of the BJP, which won 8 of the 10 municipalities that went to the polls, including Pune and Pimpri-Chichwad, once the stronghold of the NCP. The Shiv Sena scraped through Mumbai and Thane was its only decisive victory.
But, had the BJP been trounced in Mumbai it would have overshadowed all other wins in the public discourse.
That the Congress fared miserably should not have come as a surprise to any one. Whether it learns any lesson from this yet another snub by the people is also immaterial, as India’s equivalent of GOP becomes increasingly irrelevant under a fading dynasty. It will only accelerate the process of more people wanting to jump off the ship to join other parties, primarily the BJP. The Sonia-Rahul Congress will be left only with family retainers who are both unelected and unelectable.
However, more significant is the implication of this on regional politics with growing sub-regionalism and identity politics in the country. A major strategic shift of the BJP under the Modi-Shah dispensation that has gone somewhat unnoticed is the policy to fight on its own in most States. By doing so, irrespective of whether it wins or loses, the BJP is building its own grassroots organisation that otherwise tends to wither if the party remains in an alliance mode indefinitely. This is precisely what has partly contributed to the Congress’s decline, as it hardly has a grassroots organisation worth its name.
As a result, the BJP is well on its way to replace the Congress as the only mainstream pan-Indian political party.
The second important takeaway is Modi’s strategy of choosing a fresh face, a relative green-horn without any past baggage or family legacy, in place of older heavy-weights and regional satraps, has paid huge dividends. The formula has worked in Jharkhand and to a large extent in Haryana as well, though the jury is still out in Gujarat. Therefore, the upcoming State Assembly elections may see more of such experiments. No prizes for guessing where one can expect to see such a switch of leader next.
It also proves that Modi’s personal credibility is still high for his admirers and supporters to give him the benefit of doubt (on decisions such as demonetisation) and extra time to deliver on his promises. Such is the voters' level of trust in him they are even willing to suffer temporary hardship, believing in his ability and sincerity to deliver a better future for them and the country.
Finally, the Maharshtra victory demolishes any illusion about Modi’s 'win-ability' waning. Modi has now successfully moved onto an entirely different league, way above any of his contemporaries or rivals inside or outside the party.
Modi knows that it is going to be him versus the rest of the Opposition till 2019 (perhaps, even beyond). The only way they can hope to stop him in his track is by cobbling up motley alliances of doubtful longevity. Therefore, he will have to operate as a one-man vote-catching machine that is virtually unstoppable against all odds.
It is time the Opposition realises that attacking him with jibes and barbs, such as donkey or kutta, only elevates his stature and makes him look more invincible. To beat him they would need to counter him on substance and charisma and create a credible alternative.
For that, the older generation leaders are well past their sell-by date. On the other hand, the younger lot, whether it is Rahul Gandhi or Akhilesh Yadav, have a long way to go before catching up with Modi.
The Maharashtra victory has a come as a big boon on Maha Shivratri for the BJP. Many may not know, the name Maharashtra was derived from Mahadev’s Rashtra as six of the Jyotir Lingas are located within the erstwhile greater Bombay presidency.
Article first published in @ABPLive Click here