A united Opposition is more and more a reality
Was it the development that Nitish Kumar did in Bihar or was it the simple caste arithmetic of him tying up with Lalu Prasad – the Index of Opposition Unity (IOU) – that sealed the BJP’s fate? The debate can go on till kingdom come, but Lalu Prasad’s RJD doing better than Nitish Kumar’s JDU suggests caste politics is alive and kicking – of the 243 seats, RJD got 76 seats, JDU 71 and the BJP a mere 58. The BJP was also aware of this, so after RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat went and upset the party’s plan by reiterating the RSS opposition to reservations, party chief Amit Shah tried to polarize the voters along Hindu-Muslim lines by talking of crackers being burst in Pakistan were the BJP to lose, and prime ministerNarendra Modi talked of how, were the RJD-JDU to come to power, it would take away some of the reservation for SC/ST/OBCs and give it away to Muslims.
While caste is always a factor in the absence of a wave – such as the one in 2014, in favour of development-vs-the-UPA’s-corruption, that catapulted Modi to power – the BJP always looked as if it were barking up the wrong tree by hoping voters would pay less attention to Nitish’s work, and be more worried about the return of caste politics with Nitish and Lalu tying up. Apart from the tremendous goodwill that Nitish generated among women by championing their cause through 50% reservation in panchayats and distributing lakhs of bicycles to girls to help them get to schools, electricity was a big factor. If, it was roads that were visible in earlier elections, it was electricity in villages this time around – with 1,500MW of electricity used in the state in 2010 rising to 2,700MW today, the difference was palpable. And while the BJP highlighted development in Modi’s Gujarat in 2014, using video-raths, it was not possible to do this with the Centre’s work in the last 18 months since, even if the government was functioning well, the UPA’s mess will take a few years to unravel – it is ironical that while Modi got labeled as a suit-boot-ki-sarkar, the suit-boots in India Inc feel the government has not addressed their concerns.
How and whether Modi will course correct remains to be seen, and it appears certain the award-wapsi over intolerance was given a big political push, but a few things are clear. As long as crackers-in-Pakistan and despite-being-a-Muslim statements are made, it will always be easier for disparate Opposition parties to unite as they did in Bihar. Getting the core Hindu vote, as the past has shown, isn’t enough to make the party win – that requires appealing to the middle-of-the-roaders, who want economic growth and jobs, not communal tension. Modi’s job will be more difficult now with the internal and external Opposition likely to get shriller, but he needs to take bold decisions to get the economy on track – while the SEB reforms are work-in-progress, the telecom standoff has been unfortunate and the draft aviation policy is off-target … just the government stating that things are better, as in legacy taxation cases and ease-of-doing-business, isn’t going to cut any ice.