Other than providing Narendra Modi a sweetener ahead of the BJP’s national executive meet in Goa, there are no major trends to glean from the recent by-election results, says Seema Mustafa.
A great deal is being made of the by-election results, but perhaps the only significant outcome has been in Gujarat where the Bharatiya Janata Party not just trounced the Congress but also wrested the seats it had held in the state assembly and in Parliament earlier.
There were a sufficient number of by-elections in Gujarat to indicate a pattern, in that the voters chose to repose faith in the BJP and Narendra Modi at all levels, in obvious preference to the Congress party. It is almost clear that the latter has lost ground in the state to the point of being decimated.
But it will be a little foolhardy to use the rest of the results of the by-elections in Bihar, Maharashtra, West Bengal to draw national level conclusions. A couple of by-elections in a state have never denoted a pattern with any degree of accuracy, more so as these are held entirely according to local compulsions, and in the absence of state or national level factors that have a bearing on assembly or Parliament results.
So headlines in the media claiming that the Rashtriya Janata Dal has trounced the Janata Dal-United in Bihar are erroneous to say the least, particularly as the reference to just one Lok Sabha by-election and that too in a seat held by the RJD. In this kind of a case the candidate matters, and clearly RJD’s Prabhunath Singh has managed the election because of his personal popularity, along with the fact of course that even in the wave that swept it aside earlier, the RJD was able to hold on to this Maharajganj parliamentary constituency.
Similarly a great deal cannot be made of the fact that the Trinamool Congress was able to retain the Howrah Lok Sabha seat in West Bengal, albeit by a slightly reduced margin. In fact the trend of these polls, except in Gujarat, has allowed incumbent political parties to retain the seats with the voters clearly not in a mood to bring about major changes at this stage.
The results amount to evidence really, that except for Gujarat that appears to be in a perpetual Modi wave, there has been no such impact in the other states. The BJP in fact failed to win a single seat outside Gujarat, with the Modi charisma clearly not working wonders outside his comfort zone. The regional parties continue to hold their own, with the Congress seeking solace in the one seat it secured in Maharashtra.
However, for Modi the Gujarat results serve as a Goa sweetener where the battle for supremacy and control will be fought in earnest. Modi might not need a formal announcement, but is certainly looking for unqualified support from all sections of the BJP as the ‘prime minister designate’.
Given the opposition from within, even this position is not assured and while there are vocal sections of the BJP who feel that an immediate decision is necessary, there are other who prefer playing for time. The top leaders meet in Goa is expected to shed some clarity on this, but then the going might not be as smooth as Modi and his cronies hope.
Meanwhile, Modi has started preparing for the Lok Sabha polls. Rumours that he will contest the Lok Sabha elections from Lucknow to acquire a ‘national’ profile are crowding the grapevine. The fact that he insisted on ensuring that his close aide Amit Shah was given the state of Uttar Pradesh to look after as the BJP general secretary, does give some credence to this. Modi needs desperately to dispel the notion that his popularity is limited to Gujarat.
Besides this has two added advantages: a UP contest will place Modi at centrestage of the Lok Sabha elections and it will help galvanise a dormant BJP, and unite the factions for a serious contest for the 80 parliamentary seats from UP; and it will have an impact on the adjoining north Indian states helping, what Modi and his supporters hope, will convert into some sort of a wave for the BJP in the next general elections.
However, there is many a slip betwixt the cup and the lip, as the old adage goes. And here too, Lucknow might be a long way off for Modi, particularly as both Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati will not take kindly to the entry of powerful political poachers. But there can be no second opinion, that the BJP in Uttar Pradesh is in dire need of a shot in the arm. Currently, it is a miserable, apathetic organisation of individuals who do not see eye to eye on any one issue, particularly now that there is no Hindutva symbol like the Babri mosque to unite them.
It is ironic, that a leader who really helped the BJP rise from the insignificant two seats in Parliament to form the government, L K Advani is amongst those straining to make his voice heard in the party. He is perhaps the one leader who has worked around the clock, putting his waking and sleeping hours into strengthening the party across the country.
But instead of getting respect in the twilight years of his life, he is under constant attack from his thankless colleagues who question his every move, and counter his every statement. In other words, his writ is not allowed to run with his status being reduced within the BJP to that of just another individual leader. Somehow the BJP has ensured that Advani does not realise his ambitions, with his rise in government effectively stalled by then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and his ambitions now curtailed by Modi and his clique in the BJP.
All in all a messy picture, with the Goa meet in all likelihood providing some space to the various leaders to position themselves for the finale. It is unlikely that issues of leadership will be resolved, but then who knows, the BJP might surprise itself in the final reckoning.