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'Secularism' will no longer win elections

By T V R Shenoy
Last updated on: May 20, 2014 14:09 IST
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BJP supporters during the Modi road show in Varanasi. Photograph: PTI photo

'My feeling is that these parties will not learn their lesson despite their electoral drubbing. They cannot put forward a leader. They have no record of improving their constituents' lives by providing basic services. All they offer is their "'secularism",' says T V R Shenoy.

May I start, just this once, by tooting my own horn?

Three months ago, in February, I said: '...the Congress could be decimated in Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, and Gujarat. It could do even worse than in 2009 in Tamil Nadu and in West Bengal. Maharashtra is difficult to call but I am none too sure if the Congress could repeat its success in the Karnataka assembly when the Lok Sabha elections are due. Kerala is, in my opinion, one of the few states in India where the Congress might hold its ground come the general election.'

In March, before the BJP sewed up an alliance with the Telugu Desam, I wrote: 'The National Democratic Alliance will have more Lok Sabha MPs from southern and eastern India than any formation where the Congress is a part.'

And my verdict on the Aam Aadmi Party, also in March, was: 'From anger to bewilderment, from loss of memory to corruption of the intellect -- Arvind Kejriwal is walking the path to destruction.'

I can stand by everything I wrote months ago. That said, I must confess to two errors.

Having been in the state for at least a few days in every general election since 1962, I gave Maharashtra a miss in 2014. Not visiting the state that elects the second largest number of MPs was an elementary mistake. This meant I depended on the reports of others, failing to gauge the disgust with the Congress-NCP alliance.

Second, while anticipating the fall of the Congress and its allies (both declared and undeclared) across India I did not anticipate the extent of their decline. In my defence, even Amit Shah, who scripted the victory in that state, pegged the BJP's upper limit at 55 of Uttar Pradesh's 80 seats. (It won 71, with its ally the Apna Dal picking up two more).

The extent of the Congress's fall is staggering. The party could not reach double digits in any of India's 12 largest states: Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, West Bengal, (united) Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Odisha and Kerala.

Of that list, the Congress does not have a single MP from Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Odisha.

Even that does spell out the magnitude of the debacle. Consider this: The Congress put up candidates in each of Tamil Nadu's 39 seats; 38 of them lost the deposit while the 39th, in Kanyakumari, was beaten by the BJP nominee.

This, as BJP supporters happily pointed out, means that the party is the only remaining national party, with MPs elected everywhere from Kashmir to Kanyakumari.

Humiliatingly, the total number of seats won by the Congress across all of India is fewer than the number of seats won by the BJP in Uttar Pradesh alone.

Returning to that giant state, the foundation of the BJP's victory, the story of Uttar Pradesh's eighty seats can be summed up as 'two Nehru-Gandhis, five Yadavs, seventy-three Modis'.

No, I am not joking. The only Uttar Pradesh constituencies to elect Congress MPs were Rae Bareli (Sonia Gandhi) and Amethi (Rahul Gandhi). The five Samajwadi Party seats are Azamgarh and Mainpuri (Mulayam Singh Yadav in both), Kannauj (Mulayam Singh Yadav's daughter-in-law, Dimple Yadav), Badaun (Mulayam Singh Yadav's nephew, Dharmendra Yadav), and Firozabad (another of Mulayam Singh Yadav's nephews, Akshay Yadav.)

All of the 73 other seats were effectively won by Narendra Modi. Voters -- this is true of other states too -- were electing not a MP but a PM. How did that happen?

The Congress and its allies in the secularist media want us to believe that hundreds of millions of voters were fooled by advertising. But even the greatest marketing campaign cannot sell a bad product. And Narendra Modi had a great product.

Gujarat presents a compelling story of the Modi vision to everyone who visits. A large number of migrants work in the state, and they took home tales of smooth roads, water flowing through taps, and electricity around the clock. Above all they spoke of jobs.

The Congress, the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Janata Dal-United and the Aam Aadmi Party had no compelling counter narrative.

Second, when they couldn't present a credible tale of development, the anti-Modi parties -- the Aam Aadmi Party included -- turned to the stale bogey of 'communalism'. The men who truly used communal tactics were the likes of Lalu Prasad Yadav (the Congress's ally in Bihar), Mulayam Singh Yadav (who supported the Congress in the Lok Sabha), and Nitish Kumar (now friendless).

The first two appealed to the 'MY' vote, a combination of Muslims and Yadavs, and the third to Kurmis (his own caste) and Muslims.

This had two effects, both beneficial to Narendra Modi.

Younger Muslims desire jobs and infrastructure as much as young Hindus do. Going by the exit polls, at least a few of this segment broke ranks with older Muslims, to vote for the man who spoke of development.

Second, the constant talk of 'communalism' by the anti-Modi parties led to counter polarisation in the Hindu community.

In Moradabad, for instance, where Muslims constitute a sizeable chunk of the electorate, the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, and the Congress all cynically put up Muslim candidates. The Hindus, resenting this, gravitated to the BJP candidate, Sarvesh Kumar.

The same phenomenon -- three Muslim candidates representing the principal anti-BJP parties -- was at play in Rampur, and with precisely the same result, namely the BJP's Dr Nepal Singh winning.

The Congress had conceded the Amroha seat to Ajit Singh's party, but here the Aam Aadmi Party played the same Muslim card as the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party. And here too victory went to the BJP's Kanwar Singh Tanwar.

The result is that, for the first time in the history of India's Parliament, there is not a single Muslim MP from Uttar Pradesh in the Lok Sabha.

My feeling is that these parties will not learn their lesson despite their electoral drubbing. They cannot put forward a leader. They have no record of improving their constituents' lives by providing basic services. All they offer is their 'secularism'. And 'secularism' has become a hollow word, trotted out only at election time.

Some of the Muslims of northern India scented that truth; many of the Hindus resented it.

Forecasting is a mug's game, but I am tempted to make a prediction anyhow. Keep up this talk of 'secularism', and the anti-Modi parties shall suffer an even greater defeat come 2019.

For Mr Shenoy's earlier columns, please click here.

Image: BJP supporters during the Modi road show in Varanasi. Photograph: PTI photo

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T V R Shenoy