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Election Results Reaffirm Ideology’s Stronghold over Indian Minds

While anti-incumbency knocked down the Congress government in Punjab, the same did not happen in Uttar Pradesh. The answer to this puzzle lies in the role ideology plays in influencing the electorate.
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The world's largest democracy has just witnessed the results of the Assembly elections in 5 states, including the largest state Uttar Pradesh with 403 seats. Uttar Pradesh, with slightly more than one-seventh of the country's population, has been instrumental in shaping the country's politics and is thus closely followed by everyone associated with politics. The elections saw a historic win for the BJP. Yogi Adityanath became the first CM in 37 years to win a second term in the state, leaving all the political analysts with numerous questions. The analysis has constantly downplayed the role of ideology for a long time now, even though the facts are indicating its dominance.

A typical person's perception of elections in India and political parties fighting those is that the parties will come and make big promises during the election campaigns and then disappear for the next five years. This has been the universal perception for nearly all parties, so how is only one party gaining out of it? Let us look at the facts and the statistics first, all of which point towards an ignored trend. With their misgovernance combined with the persistent people's economic issues, the incumbent parties always create an anti-incumbent trend in our parliamentary system.

If we analyse the elections in Punjab, we see the victory of anti-incumbency. The most significant movement in the state was the farmers’ movement which was mainly against the Central government, effectively destroying the party and breaking its alliances with the Akali Dal. But at the same time, the largest opposition at the national level, Congress, was the incumbent in the state. The resurgence of solid class politics where farmers came in to protest against the large monopolist interests regardless of their identities strengthened anti-incumbent wave in the state as well. This has also been the strategy of all the parties, even if they represent only the interest of particular identities, to raise people's issues and consolidate the struggle when they are in opposition.

Even the BJP, which constantly appeals to Hindu voters and uses polarisation during elections, raised corruption, inflation, black money, and jobs to gain large scale attention, which drove it to power in the Lok Sabha in 2014. Adding to this, an internal conflict within the incumbent party meant that the largest anti-incumbent force in the election, the Aam Aadmi Party recorded a landslide victory in the state, surpassing all exit poll expectations. The political analysis concerning Congress has blamed the lackadaisical leadership and internal issues for the entire fiasco this election has been for them. This has been the trend in all Vidhan Sabha elections in the last three years, where mostly the party has lost way more ground than it has gained.

If we come on to other states where BJP has won despite being the incumbent. In sync with the national economic issues that have aggravated further post-Covid, Uttar Pradesh saw one of the worst mismanagements during the Covid second wave. There were visuals of dead bodies floating in the river Ganga which dogs were eating. The Hathras casteist rape and murder incidents and the mowing down of protesting farmers by BJP ministers at Lakhimpur Kheri received national attention. They brought a lot of shame to the government in UP. Western UP had one of the most substantial bases of the farmers' movement apart from Punjab and Haryana. The farmers in eastern UP were agitated by the surplus stray cattle issue caused by the closure of slaughterhouses. At the same time, the people have badly suffered from unemployment and inflation, a class issue that translated into the students' protest against railway privatisation; dealing with police brutality right before the elections brought more national shame to the state.

Despite all these issues, the analysis says there wasn't a strong anti-incumbent wave in Uttar Pradesh. But if we analyse the second largest party - Samajwadi Party - and its alliance in the state which was fighting the elections, raising the same issues of the people, we see that its vote share increased from 21.82% to 32.05%. This is a record for the party, it is their highest ever vote percentage. For reference, their previous record in 2012, when they had won 224 seats out of 403, was nearly 29% vote share. In the alliance, The Rashtriya Lok Dal which gained all its ground from the farmers' movement had also gained 7 seats and a vote share increase from 1.78% to 2.86%. SP has also made a major gain in their seat share from 47 in 2017 to 111.

As far as the BJP is concerned, the Deputy CM, Keshav Prasad Maurya, lost his seat in Sirathu. Also, other states like Uttarakhand, which has also reeled with similar issues, saw the CM Pushkar Singh Dhami himself lose his seat in the elections.

This is a definite indication of a strong anti-incumbent wave in the BJP ruled states, and yet the BJP was able to increase its vote share from 39.67% in 2017 to 41.29% in Uttar Pradesh which is also a record for them. At the same time, it also increased its vote share in Goa and Manipur despite the anti-incumbency.

So what has BJP been doing to increase their vote share despite such a drastic increase in anti-incumbent votes? Various political analysts have talked about the tremendous capital, the violation of democratic processes and the takeover of democratic institutions, including a strong base in the private media. But despite all these things, the issues have surfaced, and the anti-incumbent forces have made tremendous gains. So, where did BJP make its gain? The other forces, BSP and INC, have had considerable losses in vote share. BSP fell from 22.23% in 2017 to 12.88% this time, and Congress fell from 6.25% in 2017 to a mere 2.33%. Although Congress had previously fought the election in alliance with SP and the pre-poll alliance would have increased the share by transfer of alliance votes; still, there is a significant reduction.

Also, the massive setback in the vote share of BSP, which has largely had the base of Dalit votes and specifically the Jatav Dalit votes, is where BJP has made fresher inroads in the elections. These inroads were first made in 2017 when the BJP had captured a significant chunk of BSP's loyal voter base, reducing its share by 3.7% in the previous election. This has only increased in this election. This is where the groundwork done by the Hindutva organisations come in. Developing solidarity with people in the rural areas and amongst unorganised workers to imbibe the ideology that drives them and, as a part of it, ensuring that the government schemes reach the people for a change is what has transformed into votes. Political analysts say that the government schemes have always been there. BJP has only stamped its party's name on those schemes, but this is the consciousness that educated political analysts can have.

The difference on the ground is having ideologically driven party workers who have ensured the implementation of those schemes. It is easier to teach a communal ideology when you ensure this for the most downtrodden. It is easy to inculcate any ideology when you do this, and in fact, the communal ideology which is built on multiple lies keeps self-destructing at some level by being anti-people. That is why we had seen a downfall in the urban middle-class voter base in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections compared to 2014 when that was the dominant class that brought BJP to power.

We have seen high levels of anti-incumbency waves against BJP amongst previous voters. But despite this, BJP keeps making inroads and finding a higher number of newer voters from lower classes due to their solidarity work at the ground level. All the parties without any defined ideology or commitment to it have lost ground in all the elections. Their vote share has been draining and adding to the most potent ideological force in the country.

Therefore, the strongest point in the analysis of these elections is the importance of an ideology over which a political party is built. And when the largest force with maximum resources is fighting with an ideology, its opposition projecting itself as an alternative can't afford to fight without one and yet hope to defeat it. If there has to be any resurgence of any opposition, then there has to be a strong ideological commitment to fighting for pro-people policies to expose how the lust for communal hatred turning into the dominant ideology has, in general, hampered the livelihoods of the people in the country. At a mass level, BJP has been able to convince and communalise a section of people that all the issues can be tolerated only if it keeps the minorities in check against the majority.

That is what an ideology of hatred can bring about. The ideology can't last for a long time because of the large-scale destruction of people's livelihoods but has constantly gained more and will do it till other parties without ideological commitment are destroyed. Even the last few major elections have maintained the status quo in terms of who has the power, but there is a constant change in how we see the politics in India, even if it has gone unnoticed. Gone are the days when promising big campaigns and disappearing after elections are going to be enough to win you elections in alternate terms as the anti-incumbent force.

A communal ideology is seeping in and can only be fought with an ideological commitment towards secularism and uniting people over class issues.

The writer is convenor of All India IT & ITeS Employees Union, Delhi & NCR. The views are personal.

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