• Download mobile app
20 May 2024, Edition - 3233, Monday

Trending Now

  • Action should be taken against the cops who protect the Ganja accused in TN : PMK leader Anbumani Ramdoss
  • Votes that go to Congress or INDI alliance is a waste : PM Modi
  • Court grants one-day custody to police to investigate Youtuber Savukku Shankar.
  • We actually got our independence only in 2014. The independence to change this country as it should be : Actor , politician, Kangana Ranaut


Bihar and beyond

Covai Post Network


A K Bhattacharya

Two assertions have been made by experts on the likely impact of the Bihar Assembly election results that came out last Sunday. Some saw in the defeat of the alliance led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a clear signal that voters have rejected the politics of religious polarisation and brazen anti-minority campaigns. Some others have concluded that a defeated BJP ruling at the Centre will now redirect its energies at ushering in economic reforms, partly to divert popular attention away from its Bihar debacle and partly to expedite a task that had not acquired the required momentum.

How valid are these assessments? There is no doubt that the electoral debacle must be making the top BJP leadership review the advisability of continuing with the kind of shrill anti-minority campaigns that were on display in Bihar. If moving the campaign away from the party’s development agenda has not won it Bihar, surely the BJP leadership will explore what could be considered next which is more effective. The big question, however, is whether the shift would be back to its agenda for development and growth, or it would mean a shriller and more brazen campaign relying on religious polarisation and anti-minority propaganda.

That this question will crop up is evident from the manner in which the BJP’s Bihar debacle has been explained by its leadership. If it is the arithmetic of alliances that went wrong for the BJP and cost it the elections in Bihar, then serious questions are bound to be asked internally about the advisability of modifying its campaign course in the coming elections. It is a fact that the BJP lost the Bihar Assembly polls mainly because it failed to forge a winnable alliance – something which it had in 2005 and in 2010. Instead, this time it had to take on the Grand Alliance, which was formed by the Janata Dal (United) of Nitish Kumar, the Rashtriya Janata Dal of Lalu Prasad and the Congress. Thus, the index of opposition unity against the BJP was quite strong. The anti-BJP votes were not split among the opposition parties and instead were mobilised by one of the three Grand Alliance partners. And the BJP lost Bihar.

But did the BJP lose votes by a huge margin? Not really. In the 2010 Assembly elections, the BJP contested 102 seats and had a vote share of around 16 per cent. This year, it contested more seats – 160. But the BJP’s vote share increase kept pace as it rose to about 24 per cent. If its vote share has not declined significantly and its defeat is largely attributed to its failure in getting the arithmetic of alliance right, then why should the BJP’s campaign managers worry about tweaking the party’s electoral strategy in the coming polls? I nstead, it is likely to work more on getting its alliance arrangements in place so that there is no need to modify its poll campaign planks.

There is yet another factor that will be at play. The next Assembly polls are to be held in West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. In none of these states, barring perhaps Assam, is the BJP likely to face a situation similar to the one it had to contend with in Bihar. That is because the BJP on its own is not yet a major force in these three states. In Assam, where the BJP has gained in presence in recent years, the Congress has already begun talks of a strategic alliance with other local parties to give the BJP a tough fight. But then these elections are to be held in April 2016. The BJP, therefore, could continue to experiment with its current campaigning strategy as the real losses would be marginal even if its strategy went wrong.

On the second question of whether the Bihar debacle would mean more economic reforms by the BJP government at the Centre, there is little doubt that the pace of economic policy decisions has got faster in the last few days. Last week, the government released a report that outlined the draft code on bankruptcy resolution – a law that was promised in the last Budget. Within a day of that announcement came the package of measures to bail out state power distribution companies. This too was a move that was necessary to remove bottlenecks in the power sector. On Monday, two major foreign direct investments entailing Rs 34,000 crore were cleared to help set up railway locomotive factories by GE and Alstom. And on Tuesday, the government came out with wide-ranging changes to relax foreign direct investment rules in over 15 sectors.

The trend is clear. More economic policy decisions are being taken. And more projects are cleared. But will this result in more reform initiatives? It is important to differentiate clearance of projects or policy relaxations from economic reforms. The big question is whether the BJP government will be able to remove the legislative logjam over passing the bill for introducing the goods and services tax. The necessary changes in laws on labour and land acquisition are still nowhere on the horizon. If the Centre cannot move on them, can it enter into negotiations with those states which are ready to reform these laws through their respective assemblies? And then the Centre can ensure that these state laws get the President’s assent without any delay. So far, no such move seems to be under the government’s consideration.

In sum, therefore, a change in the BJP’s poll campaign strategy is unlikely. And while many projects would be cleared and many policies would be relaxed or modified, one has to wait a little longer for real reforms to take place.

Disclaimer:The views expressed above are the author’s own

Subscribe To Our Newsletter