The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Congress core crumbles

Barring Delhi, it was a saffron surge all the way. Not only did the Opposition BJP manage to wrest power from three Congress governments in a single day, an unprecedented event in its 23-year-old history, it went one better.

The mantra of the 21st century is new social combinations. But these have been played in a subtle manner in an election campaign dominated by issues of basic needs: power and water in Madhya Pradesh, jobs and industrial closures in Rajasthan. But in largely rural societies, the social engineering was critical to electoral success.

The Congress would have reason to be concerned with the results. Its share of states has fallen from 15 to 12, if Bihar is counted. But the BJP’s list of state leaders shows a degree of social plurality. Two new incumbents are women: Uma Bharti and Vasundhara Raje. Bharti also increases the representation of other backward classes to two out of eight, Narendra Modi being the other. In addition, there are two adivasi chief ministers, one each in Arunachal Pradesh and Jharkhand.

What is missing is more significant. None of the chief ministers is either a brahmin or a bania, the two communities traditionally the core of the party since the days of the Jan Sangh. In fact, in Delhi, the city where such groups were its backbone, it has been decisively defeated by the Congress.

Detailed analysis indicates a major accretion for the BJP in core, traditional Congress bastions, including adivasi-dominated regions. In all, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan account for as many as 99 reserved scheduled tribe seats. The BJP took as many as 76 of them, leaving the Congress a paltry 16.

Chief minister Digvijay Singh in Bhopal had pinned hopes on adivasi voters sticking with the Congress. But the party suffered serious erosion. One factor may well have been the surge of the Gondwana Gantantra Party of the numerically significant Gond tribe. The party won as many as eight seats, of which six were general constituencies. In the process, it provided tribal voters with an option to the BJP even as it ate into the Congress vote share.

In other pockets, the Hindutva factor may well have played a key role. In Jhabua, which abuts the Gujarat border, of Madhya Pradesh, for instance, and even more so in Chhattisgarh. Contrary to Chhattisgarh’s outgoing chief minister Ajit Jogi’s hopes of cashing in on a tribal card, the promise of a cow and the long-term social work of the RSS-linked ashrams worked wonders. The BJP walked away with all but eight of the 34 reserved seats.

Dalits have a longer history of association with the BJP. But few had expected that in Rajasthan it would win as many as 26 of the 33 scheduled caste seats. The results here are less indicative of a surge of Dalit support. Unlike STs, the Dalits form a smaller proportion in the villages they live in.

But, given that chief minister Ashok Gehlot counted the creation of seven million labour days as a major achievement, it is a blow.

For the Sangh parivar, Madhya Pradesh was the key. The BJP ousted the Congress after a decade there. This was the only state mentioned at length in the Vijaya Dashami address of RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan.

But Hindutva was at play in organisational terms mainly in Madhya Pradesh and also Chhattisgarh.

For the BJP, this has been an election with a difference. It has beaten the Congress on grounds of the incumbent governments’ non-performance, rather than on the emotive slogan of Hindutva. Unlike Uttar Pradesh in 1991 or Gujarat 2002, this was a campaign centred on governance-related issues. Whether the future will see a new kind of governance or not, the campaign was built around such promises.

On election day, speaking to a journalist, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra said there was no need for her to campaign as the “good work” of the Congress governments would see the party through. Since that has not happened, the pressure on the younger members of the clan to enter the ring will only increase. But this has been a setback to the gameplan of the Congress — to capture and retain the states and then take the Centre.

As everyone gears up for the big battle for the Lok Sabha, it is the BJP that has a spring in its step.

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