In Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa, and Manipur, the BJP has won. The BJP in UP has over 270 out of 403 seats and puts Yogi Adityanath back on the throne for the second consecutive term. In Punjab, Arvind Kejriwal's AAP has pulled off a miracle (92 out of 117 seats), the kind of goofy trick the Indian electorate is famous for.
Even before the results were announced, those observers whose target audience is not their own peers knew that the BJP is the future of India’s Hindi heartland.
I have been in UP and Bihar for more than two weeks now, and contrary to the fashionable middle-class secular delusions, which urbane progressive Indians wear like blinkers, the writing has been large and clear on the freshly painted (saffron) walls of Varanasi and Lucknow, and other places where the gentle cow literally mans the traffic.
On Thursday, near Kaiser Bagh, downtown Lucknow, where many gun shops do brisk sales, someone fired a gun in the sky. I expected someone to fall dead from a terrace or balcony — a regular occurrence at marriage festivities in UP and Bihar — but nothing fatal happened unless it was the symbolic death of the Congress party. As the results were being announced and the Congress leaders went into hiding, on either side of the broad road dividing the old and new UP legislature, you would have seen crowds celebrating what they saw as an endorsement for a Hindu-India.
I had just returned to Lucknow from Allahabad, the seat of the Nehru family, and had carried back to Lucknow with me the nostalgia of Ananda Bhawan (the mansion of the Nehrus which Indira Gandhi handed over to the nation in the early '70s) and the great contributions of the Nehru family to India, and thought it ironically appropriate that the Allahabad chapter of my trip preceded the Lucknow sojourn, where the BJP had laid the Congress to rest.
The BJP victory in UP, like the one that the CPM engineered for a consecutive second term in Kerala under Pinarayi Vijayan's leadership last year, is built around populist welfare schemes. But, unlike Kerala, these welfare schemes are not given a Marxist veneer; instead, they are presented as a package of gifts awarded to the needy from the Hindu gods — including their earthly representative, Narendra Modi; or his slightly lesser assistant, Yogi Adityanath.
In Lucknow, if you went past the assembly buildings, toward the glittering Gomati River Front, you would see the crowds thinning. By the time you reached the adjoining Ambedkar Park (built by the now very rich and very quiet Mayawati, the leader of the BSP, which won just one seat) and, right across it, the great memorial that Mayawati dedicated to herself — there are several statues of Mayawati inside, all holding on to her handbag rather symbolically — there was pretty much no one. It was not a Dalit victory, even if they have had voted BJP perforce. These parks are vast fantasies of narcissism and megalomania in red sandstone and marble. And the vastness of the projects and their cold splendor can only alienate the underprivileged sections in whose names they are built. Certainly, there were no celebrations in these parks: the BSP secured just one seat.
The Dalits and other backward castes who formed the spine of the BSP and, to some extent, the Congress, have migrated from these traditional folds to the BJP. The self-styled progressives of this country must ask themselves why this has happened on their watch. The Samajwadi Party, headed by Akhilesh Yadav, which is now the main opposition party in UP with 125 seats, is now largely the refuge of Ahirs (Yadavs) and Muslims. The bitter truth is that there has been a ‘downward’ consolidation of Hindu votes, which is exactly what the BJP has been aiming at.
Late on Thursday night, at the BJP headquarters in Delhi, Modi, basking in the glory of his victory, listened, expressionless, to party president J P Nadda praising him to the skies and attributing the election triumphs to Modi’s welfare and development policies. Later, Modi spoke at length congratulating himself on his governance to loud cheers from the crowd.
One of his more interesting observations had to deal with Punjab, where AAP registered a huge victory. The party’s leader, Arvind Kejriwal, is a thorn in Modi's side. Kejriwal runs in Delhi one of the most welfare-based administrations in India. Since there is no such thing as a free cup of tea, the taxpayers will be eventually footing the bills of the generosity of their elected governments, be it Delhi, UP, or Kerala. In his speech, Modi said he would be keeping an eye on what Kejriwal and his friends would be doing in Punjab. It was a threat couched as a warning. But how Kejriwal pulls off these tricks is worth a study if not in politics, then in magic.
In UP, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Manipur, and Goa, the Congress has been destroyed as a viable political alternative. These states are indicative of the health of the party nationally as well.
This brings us to the greatest crisis of Indian democracy: the acute absence of an Opposition. The problem has been on the make since 2014. But, as of this week, the death of the Indian Opposition has been officially declared. What this means is that India is increasingly becoming a one-party democracy. The general elections in 2024 are going to be a walkover for the BJP. This is a dread prospect.
There is still a chance of cobbling up a national Opposition together if personalities like Mamata Banerjee and Kejriwal come together. But this does not look like a realistic option because these personalities are eccentric, hysteric, and without an economic vision. There are leaders like Stalin and Vijayan who might join to form a united Opposition. But none of them has a pan-national appeal.
Back to the Nehruvian Congress, and its protracted death rites enacted at each of the recent elections. It is clear that neither Sonia nor Rahul Gandhi, let alone Priyanka, has any grip on the situation. The senior leaders of the Congress, including Ghulam Nabi Azad, Kabil Sibal, or Shashi Tharoor, have no real access to the Gandhis. Those, like A K. Antony, who still have their ear, have nothing worthwhile to say. The Congress in short is vacuuming itself out. It would not be a very bad idea even now if Priyanka is elected the Congress president. This is not likely as Priyanka seems to think that her brother should become the prime minister of Indian someday. An unlikely prospect as Congress is collapsing in on itself. The Gandhis will not quit. But all the other senior leaders— say, the 23 that called for a reorganization of the party a few years ago—can. By doing this they will be forcing the Gandhis to convene an emergency session and call for inner-party elections.
The Congress needs to be rescued from its founding family. This is a tragic situation. But a continuance of the Modi regime from 2024 to the 2030s, would be a disaster. A disaster perhaps not for India economically: a nationalist economy might have its dividends. But certainly a disaster for India as a democracy.
After 2024, Modi can easily opt for a presidential form of government. And the strength of the party in both Houses of the Parliament will empower him to amend the constitution to that purpose. Indeed, the Prliament building itself would be a different one by that time, given the drastic make-over happening at the Central Vista. The future is here. And it is presidential. And there seems not much one can do about it, except watch a gun or two at Kaiser Bagh to go off, and hope no one falls off a terrace, dead.
(CP Surendran is an author and senior journalist. Views are personal.)