The 2017 assembly elections in five states have been, by far, amongst the most interesting and decisive elections in the country, with the BJP and its allies forming the government in four out of the five states and winning by a massive margin in the Hindi heartland of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Not only did BJP single-handedly win far more than the majority seats in UP, it is also forming a government in the state after 14 years, skillfully negating and realigning the caste and religious equations painstakingly crafted by the ‘secular parties’ over the last three decades. These elections have paved the way for the ruling party, the BJP, to expand its footprint across the country.
Smart Victory and New Alliances
Not only in the recent assembly elections, but in the other sub-state elections – like the BMC elections in Maharashtra and the municipal elections in Odisha – the BJP has won resoundingly, with the Delhi and Bihar elections of 2015 being the only notable exceptions to the party’s winning spree. In the current elections, whether we go seat-wise or according to vote-share, the movement has been in BJP’s favour.
In UP, the BJP single-handedly won 312 of 403 seats, with its allies securing another 13 seats. Seen in terms of vote-share too, the party has managed to repeat the miracle it performed in UP in 2014 general elections, with a marginal vote-share decline of 2.2% from 43.6% then to 41.4% now. Its seats have gone up from merely 47 in 2012 to 325 now.
In Uttarakhand too, the BJP won unprecedently in a bipolar contest with the Congress, winning 57 out of 70 seats, with the Congress winning just 11. This was a 13 percentage point lead over the Congress. The outcome was remarkable in that the BJP increased its Uttarakhand vote-share from 33% in 2012 to 46.5% in 2017, and that too, in a state, where there have always been very close contests between the two parties, with none being able to lead so remarkably in the last few elections.
In Goa and Manipur, though, the BJP won only 13 and 21 seats respectively out of the assembly of 40 and 60 legislators in these states and the Congress emerged as the single largest party, forces were allied in BJP’s favour because the smaller parties in both the states allied with the BJP and the latter formed a coalition government in these states. Many in the opposition camp are calling this the ‘murder of democracy’, saying that Congress being the largest party should have formed the government in these states. This charge, however, is baseless and foolish.
To begin with, both the states witnessed a hung assembly, with no single party winning a creditable majority. In such cases, a combination of parties with majority of seats alone can form a stable government. Moreover, in both Goa and Manipur, BJP had a larger vote-share than the Congress, even though Congress was ahead in terms of seats. This clearly shows that the overall mandate of the people favoured the BJP. In fact, in Manipur, the BJP’s good tally of 21 seats was complemented by the fact that it was the single largest party in terms of vote-share at 36.3%, reflecting the popular choices of the people. In Goa also, the BJP had 32.5% vote-share to Congress’s 28.4%. Under such conditions, it would have been undemocratic, in true terms, if Congress had formed the government in either Goa or Manipur. Punjab was the only state where BJP got the lowest tally of seats, and the SAD-BJP alliance was trumped by even the Aam Aadmi Party. In the aftermath of these elections, BJP-led governments rule a majority of the states in the country – something that would have been unthinkable a few years ago.
With this mandate, the BJP has its task cut out not only governing the country, but also of bringing about the needed social change. But what kind of a change that would be, will be clear only if we interpret this mandate correctly.
Much has emerged in the form of extensive analysis after these path-breaking elections. At the outset, almost all the analysists acknowledge that they cannot grasp how this miracle happened, with the UP election results still being a big mystery.
The win has been varyingly attributed to BJP’s success incrafting a Hindu social consolidation rising above caste lines winning the support of all but Yadavs and non-Jatav Dalits; to the BJP’s successful communal polarization campaign dividing the Hindus and Muslims; to the demonetization; to the Muslim women’s support for the BJP’s progressive stand on the issue of Uniform Civil Code and taking a stand against the triple talaq; to the anti-incumbency against SP and its poor record in law and order; its failure to rise to occasion in the Muzaffarnagar riots; and, finally, to the failure of “secular” parties to craft a ‘grand alliance” akin to the one in 2015 Bihar by-polls which defeated the BJP.
This last notion about crafting a grand alliance is not without flaw. It needs to be stressed that even the combined vote-share of these parties, under the given conditions, would not have been more than 36%, for, in the first place, the differences amongst these parties are too irreconcilable to attract voters across party lines. These hard facts have not prevented political pundits from giving themselves the simplistic solace that a Bihar-like coalition would have worked in UP.
Besides these factual analyses, there are also voices calling for introspection and questioning the politics of the last 67 years. Congress as the bastion of Indian secularism – with all other parties merely being opportunistic, fake side-kicks – has received a drubbing. Lamenting the defeat of ‘secularism’, especially after the appointment of Yogi Adityanath as the UP Chief Minister, these voices have explained how Congress practiced completely false secularism after the death of Nehru, conceding that it practiced minority appeasement without doing any real work, making it a loser for all sides. Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi together propelled the rise of BJP in politics. The beginning of the 1980s was the time when Congress sought massive support from the Hindus and remodeled itself as nationalistic for purely short-term electoral gains even though, in terms of economic policies, it remained left-wing, and continued to sell out to minority appeasement politics.
Throughout the 1980s, the politics of the country was charged up, and in the 1990s, the BJP’s rise was cemented with the Ayodhya Ram Mandir Movement. The era of piecemeal and powerless coalition politics that was crafted thereafter, ostensibly in the name of secularism, repeatedly tried to check the political expansion of the BJP, hoping to maintain the false illusion of secularism. When we look back, it now seems clear that all along, behind the political picture, BJP was rising positively through the excellent groundwork done by the RSS and in reaction – but much more effectively – to the dishonest and immoral conduct of the leaders of the Congress and the other, so-called, secular parties. After the UP elections it seems that even their so-called ‘social engineering’ among castes and religions invented to maintain, forever, their grip on power has miserably failed.
Changing the Immediate Political Landscape
Out of all the five state elections, it is the UP which is the most significant – not only because it is the largest and most important state, politically, but has also been the determining ground for shaping pan-India history since Independence. Home to a sizeable Muslim population and a mixture of castes and jatis, the state has shaped present political vote-banks as well as the dominant thinking on secularism and caste.
In this state, home to the rise of Mandal politics, where only caste-based regional parties have ruled and Muslim appeasement had become a standard political narrative, the 2017 elections reversed the thinking of the last three decades. This is the first time that there has been the rise of a united Hindu vote, cutting across caste lines – something that the RSS and BJP have been trying for the last three decades. But the difference this time was that what none of the past BJP leaderships under politicians like Advani or Vajpayee had been able to do has been done this time by Modi and Amit Shah by completely isolating the Muslim and Yadav vote bank of the SP from the main stream of the people.
Moreover, Modi has also effectively started the project of the “OBC-isation” of political Hinduism, instead of the earlier attempts by previous leaders to “Hinduise” Dalits and OBCs, which met with partial success during the Ayodhya movement. This signals a long-needed democratization of caste system in Hinduism. After this result, while some blind critics still refuse to see the reading on the wall, Muslims are fast realizing that they have been used as a convenient vote-bank by the so-called secular parties. It should not be too difficult for them to see that the so-called secular parties could not have done anything significant for them without taking the risk of a reaction from the Hindu majority. In the interest of their survival they would have been foolish to do so and did not – especially because they were hardly interested in anything more than their (Muslim’s) votes – until the coming of the UPA-II under the leadership of Sonia. With its record of an extreme appeasement of the minorities, the UPA II completely alienated the Hindu majority and made the success of Narendra Modi in 2014 inevitable. A question that is widely being asked within the community now is – if mullahs can carry on a communal campaign and receive protection from certain ‘secular’ parties, then why shouldn’t a united Hindu backlash be inevitable and why the BJP isn’t justified in doing the same?
Not just the re-writing of the narrative of secularism – which has effectively turned in BJP’s favour even in border Meitei Muslim dominated areas like Manipur – but also the other key decisions by this government, like demonetization, surgical strikes and pro-poor schemes like LPG connections through Ujjawala and MUDRA have been validated. In this sense, UP has become the testing ground for the effectivity of Modi’s developmental work so far. This is as it may be, but the real issue is not to look at the surface of things which alone most people are conscious in their nature but to look at a deeper collective Will and Consciousness of which inevitably fulfils itself leading the collectivity in the direction rarely divined or understood by men even when the collectivity is very close to some kind of decisive change.
Recognizing the Larger Movement
This collective Will and Consciousness needs to be recognized as something that in India has always been acting even during the advent of the British rule and the prior Muslim invasions. All political unity and consolidation – even the ones that helped fight back the foreign invasions – have been temporary, and the unity was broken once the temporary purpose was served. This is reflected, today, in our political system also, where, akin to the foreign invaders, the so-called secular parties have been able to wreak havoc with a basic sense of political unity, by exaggerating the caste and class identity-based differences. As if these differences and identities were an indispensable part of the original unity of the Indian spirit!
What has been missing during the long political history of India – and not without very good reasonsa – is the basic spirit of nationalism of which only now the Collective Will seems to have chosen to make Indians acutely aware. This will tend to transcend all differences and will enable Indians to rise above petty, selfish motives for the larger good of the nation. If we open our eyes and look at the world, such a thing is already very active in some of the most prominent countries like the US, Japan, China and Russia. Such a consciousness transforms the everyday civic and political life by minimizing acts of petty corruption, and changing the nature of politics too. In such countries, it would, indeed, be very difficult to defend the minority-cult or poisonous politics of the kind we have in India.
In India, right now, it is this sense of nationalism that is urgently needed to change our civic life and change the nature of politics. But, while, for other countries, this has merely become a directionless end leading to no further evolvement, for India, this is just the starting point. For other countries, the purpose they come to serve for the larger progress of humanity and for the fulfillment of great ideals is limited. For, in the final analysis, countries cannot be judged on the basis of selfish motives like how much political, economic and military success they have achieved. These are very temporary ends – a self-serving collective unit or nation always perishes once these ends are achieved, for it has nothing to give besides these petty fulfillments. “Of all the proud nations of the West there is an end determined. When their limited special work for mankind is done they must decay and disappear.”1
However, India will supply the world with her perennial light and mighty revolutions, for she is open to the Infinite and the Eternal. India’s destiny is to lead the world. “It is she who must send forth from herself the future religion of the entire world, the Eternal religion which is to harmonise all religion, science and philosophies and make mankind one soul.”2
But can India do this, under the present circumstances where the only language that the world understands is that of brute power? India needs to become the repository of power – but not this brute power. She must manifest the Shakti whose transformative action can strongly assert itself. Otherwise, all changes in political, social and economic and military systems will be temporary and common like those taking place in other countries. Such common changes can never be the basis of the way that can lead India to organise Human Unity.
Therefore, even though her strong cultural influence is already spreading everywhere, the actual action will be missing if India herself does not become a consolidated nationalistic force – which is just the starting point of her journey. Therefore, the kind of political discourse that we saw in these elections – and which appears to us as miraculous – should become the normal course of politics and the starting point of changes to come. The current elections, therefore, should in no way be seen to be limited to securing a long-term foundation for the BJP but should be seen in the larger context of the direction in which the country is moving.
“The whole basis of the Indian mind is its spiritual and inward turn, its propensity to seek the things of the spirit and the inner being first and foremost and to look at all else as secondary, dependent, to be handled and determined in the light of the higher knowledge and as an expression, a preliminary, field or aid or at least a pendent to the deeper spiritual aim, – a tendency therefore to create whatever it had to create first on the inner plane and afterwards in its other aspects. This mentality and this consequent tendency to create from within outwards being given, it was inevitable that the unity India first created for herself should be the spiritual and cultural oneness. It could not be, to begin with, a political unification effected by an external rule centralised, imposed or constructed, as was done in Rome or ancient Persia, by a conquering kingdom or the genius of a military and organising people. It cannot, I think, justly be said that this was a mistake or a proof of the unpractical turn of the Indian mind and that the single political body should have been created first and afterwards the spiritual unity could have securely grown up in the vast body of an Indian national empire. The problem that presented itself at the beginning was that of a huge area containing more than a hundred kingdoms, clans, peoples, tribes, races, in this respect another Greece, but a Greece on an enormous scale, almost as large as modern Europe. As in Greece a cultural Hellenic unity was necessary to create a fundamental feeling of oneness, here too and much more imperatively a conscious spiritual and cultural unity of all these peoples was the first, the indispensable condition without which no enduring unity could be possible. The instinct of the Indian mind and of its great Rishis and founders of its culture was sound in this matter. And even if we suppose that an outward imperial unity like that of the Roman world could have been founded among the peoples of early India by military and political means, we must not forget that the Roman unity did not endure, that even the unity of ancient Italy founded by the Roman conquest and organisation did not endure, and it is not likely that a similar attempt in the vast reaches of India without the previous spiritual and cultural basis would have been of an enduring character. It cannot be said either, even if the emphasis on spiritual and cultural unity be pronounced to have been too engrossing or excessive and the insistence on political and external unity too feeble, that the effect of this precedence has been merely disastrous and without any advantage. It is due to this original peculiarity, to this indelible spiritual stamp, to this underlying oneness amidst all diversities that if India is not yet a single organised political nation, she still survives and is still India.
After all the spiritual and cultural is the only enduring unity and it is by a persistent mind and spirit much more than by an enduring physical body and outward organisation that the soul of a people survives. This is a truth the positive Western mind may be unwilling to understand or concede, and yet its proofs are written across the whole story of the ages. The ancient nations, contemporaries of India, and many younger born than she are dead and only their monuments left behind them. Greece and Egypt exist only on the map and in name, for it is not the soul of Hellas or the deeper nation-soul that built Memphis which we now find at Athens or at Cairo. Rome imposed a political and a purely outward cultural unity on the Mediterranean peoples, but their living spiritual and cultural oneness she could not create, and therefore the east broke away from the west, Africa kept no impress of the Roman interlude, and even the western nations still called Latin could offer no living resistance to barbarian invaders and had to be reborn by the infusion of a foreign vitality to become modern Italy, Spain and France. But India still lives and keeps the continuity of her inner mind and soul and spirit with the India of the ages. Invasion and foreign rule, the Greek, the Parthian and the Hun, the robust vigour of Islam, the levelling steam-roller heaviness of the British occupation and the British system, the enormous pressure of the Occident have not been able to drive or crush the ancient soul out of the body her Vedic Rishis made for her. At every step, under every calamity and attack and domination, she has been able to resist and survive either with an active or a passive resistance. And this she was able to do in her great days by her spiritual solidarity and power of assimilation and reaction, expelling all that would not be absorbed, absorbing all that could not be expelled, and even after the beginning of the decline she was still able to survive by the same force, abated but not slayable, retreating and maintaining for a time her ancient political system in the south, throwing up under the pressure of Islam Rajput and Sikh and Mahratta to defend her ancient self and its idea, persisting passively where she could not resist actively, condemning to decay each empire that could not answer her riddle or make terms with her, awaiting always the day of her revival. And even now it is a similar phenomenon that we see in process before our eyes. And what shall we say then of the surpassing vitality of the civilisation that could accomplish this miracle and of the wisdom of those who built its foundation not on things external but on the spirit and the inner mind and made a spiritual and cultural oneness the root and stock of her existence and not solely its fragile flower, the eternal basis and not the perishable superstructure?”3
1. Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo, Vol.7, p.1086, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry
2. Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo, Vol.6, p.84, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry
3. Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo, Vol.20, pp.429-31, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry