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Crisis of Democracy: Lessons from UP elections

How ignorance, arrogance and even delusion of Opposition parties proved to be their undoing

Vidya Bhushan Rawat 17 Mar 2022

UP Elections

The poll outcome in five states have gladdened many and disappointed others with BJP’s extremely impressive performance. But it is also a complete failure of the Opposition parties particularly Congress and BSP. The results have also exposed the embedded media. It is not merely Modi Bhakts but there is a ‘big’ anti-Modi anti-Yogi industry which gained enormously since 2014.

After the demise of ‘media’, the so-called alternative media too came from those segments of ‘professionals’ who were part of the what is termed as ‘Godi’ Media or ‘Darbari media’. The popularity these ‘alternative’ portals went extremely high. Individuals became ‘nayaks’ and Kisan Andolan ‘strengthened’ it further when ‘journalists’ became spokespersons of the ‘anti-Modi’ lobby, or in Uttar Pradesh, the anti-Yogi narrative. Their monologues were often full of misinterpretations yet in the current trends, it does not matter what you write or how qualitative and objective you are, like Godi media, the ‘alternative’ too thrived on falsification of news and complete disconnect from reality.

Those claiming ‘alternative media’ were neither alternative nor analytical but more a party, perhaps setting news ‘agenda’ for the political sponsors. They attended political rallies, spoke to ‘bhakts’ and made us ‘feelgood’ that BJP has become ‘unwanted’. The Kisan Andolan, the anti CAA Protests were legitimate movements and protests, but they cannot be projected as ‘alternative’ political parties to BJP.

Movements and their Crises

An analysis of the politically ‘apolitical’ social movement can give you understanding that most of them have ended up in helping the ‘Sangh Parivar’ and its ‘idea of India’.  The longer these ‘movements’ are pushed, the better for the BJP to exploit the inherent contradictions of society. The fault line of the political analysts and ‘social scientists’ is in their portrayal of a ‘progressive’ movement but the facts are they were more due to political marginalisation of the communities. Anna Hazare-Arvind Kejriwal’s anti-corruption movement actually emerged after Congress-led UPA won second term in the Lok Sabha in 2009. The movement in the name of ‘anti-corruption’ was led by the Savarna forces who felt that Congress was a marginalising the ‘upper castes’.

The issue of reservation in Promotion had haunted the upper castes after the Supreme Court had validated the issue of reservation for Backward communities. Congress allowed AAP to grow and dent the Hindutva party but ended up with egg on its face. Kejriwal ultimately has become the biggest tool to finish the Congress. With Punjab win, AAP is going to all the states to make it look as if it is the only alternative to BJP however the dark realities must not be forgotten that in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Goa, most of the AAP candidates forfeited their deposits. In Uttarakhand, their state president and chief ministerial face too forfeited his deposit. While Kejriwal might have become unchallenged ‘king’ of Delhi, his ‘anti-corruption’ movement ultimately helped the Sangh Parivar gain ground and decimate Congress. It also reflected that ruling Congress Party was unable to deal with political protests and it was second biggest dent after the party failed to associate with the backward communities when Mandal Commission report was implemented.

Modi government faced various movements whether the students’ protests against the marginalisation of the Dalit Adivasi students in Universities, or anti CAA-NRC protests or the farmers. Each of these movements were handled by the ruling dispensation with great contempt. The attempt was to keep them on for longer period so that it become easier to create fear among ‘others. BJP has now become ‘expert’ in the art of manipulating and using the inherent contradictions in our society. Any ruling party does so and Congress was no exception to it when in power.

The nature of the farmer protests was actually exclusive without much sympathy and support of the agricultural workers. Though Dalit participated in these protests, yet it was a reality that most of the farmers were happy with their Zamindar status and certainly turned political. BJP tried to polarise it at every level. Initially, it was dominated by the Punjab’s farmers but after the Republic Day incident last year, the farmers, particularly the Jats from Western Uttar Pradesh under Rakesh Tikait took the lead with their massive participation.

It was extremely difficult condition for BJP which has made deeper inroads in Western Uttar Pradesh by feeding into Jat insecurities through anti-Muslim narratives. The problem is that BJP was never unwanted, and like Godi media, the so called ‘secular’ or activist journalists too had their eyes shut. While the farm protests were genuine, it is also true that it became a tool for ‘political’ rehabilitation of Jats in the Western Uttar Pradesh. It is also a factor that farmer’s issues with the ruling party got resolved once the ‘bills’ were withdrawn but it seems carrying on the movement to fight against BJP at different places became counterproductive and helped the BJP. We must understand that farmer issue is important but it is merely one of the issues and not the entire issue. ‘Experts’ are ‘shocked’ to see BJP winning all the nine seats in Lakhimpur Khiri where farm protests were sought to be crushed by Union minister’s son. 

Even in Uttarakhand, Congress’s central leadership was speaking about ‘farmers’ and ignored other issues. In the Tarai region of both Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh, Sikh farmers are always considered as ‘landed’ and exploiters. A big number of people in Lakhimpur Khiri region are actually migrants from Eastern Uttar Pradesh. BJP was able to convert the narrative into Sikhs verses non-Sikhs. Farmers issues actually was unable to challenge the citadel of castes and I had actually warned about this long back in several of my videos and articles that while the issue is extremely important to protect agriculture in India, in the villages, people still vote as per their caste identities. It was surprising that Congress was focusing more on farmers issues and ignored other important issues in Uttarakhand. In Eastern Uttar Pradesh, Bundelkhand the farm laws and the movement were unable to reach agricultural workers. It was always perceived as big farmers movement and no efforts were made to make it inclusive. 

Most of the time ‘movements’ are basically related to particular issues. They have limited appeal and over-emphasis on them boomerangs most of the time. Movements have always helped the BJP in the last few decades because they have better understanding of who ‘support’ and ‘oppose’ the movement.

Caste is much powerful weapon than the issues. Frankly speaking, it was Rahul Gandhi, who had launched the farmers protests in Punjab against the farm bill. His tractor yatras were well received but once Charanjeet Singh Channi’s name was announced as chief minister the situation changed. The announcement was made very late after AAP declared Bhagwant Man as their chief ministerial candidate. It looks like the announcement was taken as an attempt to create caste-based formation. Most of the farmers were Jat Sikhs and loyal to Akali Dal. Many were Congress supporters too, but with the declaration Congress was unable to work as a team.

The party suffered from credibility crisis as party’s state president was not ready to play second fiddle. At the end, it was a reality that the Jat Sikhs were not ready to vote BJP but they opted out of Congress because of Channi being a Dalit. Unfortunately, even the Majhabis i.e. Valmikis did not come to Congress. The caste question among Sikhs is a dirty reality which most of the ‘liberal’ ‘social justice friendly’ authors and journalists deny but the defeat of Congress Party has clearly shown that Punjab was not ready for this experiment and therefore AAP benefitted from it. The Hindus in Punjab voted for AAP and not to the Congress party.

BSP’s ‘bhaichara’

The shocking results of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in Uttar Pradesh as it only got one seat reflect the growing marginalisation of the party. Even when the party’s vote percentage is 12%, it got just one seat. There is a crisis of electoral system too, as Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) with 2% votes got 8 seats while Congress got 2 seats.

BSP’s supporters were active on social media and many of them were challenging the narrative that the party is not in a position to give a fight. The party gave tickets to a large number of Muslims, but that did not help. The party felt that by giving tickets to the Muslims, it would be able to get their support. The problem that the BSP leadership did not understand was that Muslims were facing insecurities and at the moment their whole concern is to defeat BJP and for that they were ready to defeat their ‘own’ candidate to allow victory of the ‘secular’ party most likely to defeat BJP. In Uttar Pradesh, Muslims had made up their mind to vote for Samajwadi Party (SP) though both BSP and SP did not really raise their issues properly but still Muslims have always preferred SP over BSP.

It is disturbing to see Ms. Mayawati blaming Muslims for BSP’s poor performance. It is a well-known fact that BSP had started ‘Brahmin Bhaichara’ and other ‘bhaichara’ committees. The focus was on Savarna communities, particularly Brahmins. To exploit the ‘anti-Thakur’ sentiments, BSP went overboard on promoting the Brahmin power and promising Parshuram’s temple and statutes. Prabuddha Varga sammelan’s were organised and fairly large number of Brahmins got BSP tickets. The Party not only gave Brahmins tickets in large number, but has been only speaking about them. It was disappointing that no efforts were made to reach the other Dalit communities. BSP’s core voter in Uttar Pradesh is Chamar-Jatav community, and when late Kanshiram began his political journey, his focus was bringing together all the Dalits and MBC communities but that programme has now been converted into ‘sarvjan’ idea which has actually let down the other Dalit communities like Pasi, Dhobi, Khatiks and Balmikis.

During a visit to Kushinagar a few months ago, I met a district coordinator of the party from the neighbouring district. I did not know him but I was discussing the issue of party’s outreach programme, and my simple question was why the party not trying to reach to Balmikis in particular. Our Buddhist friend was also upset. After listening to us, the BSP leader said that they tried their best to bring Balmikis to the party but the community has never cooperated with them. Most of the time, the community is ‘drunk’, he said. I was enraged, and said the same argument was given by the dominant communities when speaking about Dalits as a whole. This is extremely poor argument. The neta said that they were a political party and not an ‘NGO’ and need to work as per the political ‘sameekarans’ of the area. I was shocked to hear this and informed that Baba Saheb’s mission was not an NGO but bringing all the communities together. This is the dark reality of the cadre who converted Dr Ambedkar as leader of a particular community resulting in counter movement from Sangh Parivar in other communities and creating their ‘caste’ icons. 

It is also a reality that in the battle for perception BSP had already lost as it started very late, it was not visible in the ground. Its more focus was on Brahmin Bhai chara and after Samajwadi Party’s ticket distribution, it gave ticket selectively and many people say, intentionally, though, it is party’s prerogative, to Muslims.

I do not agree with the argument of BSP fielding candidates to defeat Samajwadi Party. It is a national party and facing elimination now but, in my opinion, it is still relevant and need to be strengthened and collective leadership need to emerge particularly from diverse communities. It needs to look beyond mere calculations and raise issues of public importance. BSP has a big challenge but one can only say that it is important that party go back to its original mission started by late Kanshiram and build social coalition of various marginalised communities who are still looking for their political participation and representation.

Samajwadi’s Brahmin Mission

Samajwadi Party got 32% votes and 111 seats which was way above it got in the last assembly. Akhilesh Yadav campaigned powerfully. His rathyatras attracted huge crowds and his social media too had a dedicated team. Of late, he started speaking aggressively. His initial approach to the elections was of plain political issues such as Highways, Metro etc., and shying away from the identity issues, social justice, reservation etc.

It was only after three OBC leaders of the BJP, Swami Prasad Maurya, Dara Singh Chauhan and Dharm Singh Saini resigned and joined SP, that Akhilesh Yadav realised that the issue of OBCs matter. But those who resigned knew it well that their getting ticket was difficult. Their resignation created flutter. Suddenly, fake news started looking real since it was coming from ‘alternative media’. None of the OBC leaders raised the issue of NEET or reservation. The only issue Akhilesh Yadav spoke was of Caste census which offended none.

Like BSP, Samajwadi Party too engaged with Brahmins just to counter Yogi Adityanath’s Thakurwad. Akhilesh got trapped in the narrative being spread by the Brahmanical media in Lucknow and Delhi about ‘Brahmins’ unhappiness with Yogi Adityanath even when many of his media and close advisers were Brahmins. In his attempt get votes from the Brahmins, Samajwadi Party gave ticket to them, promised statues of Parshuram and many more things. For Brahmins, the real issue has never been Parshuram, but their political representation. They were compelling parties to give them more seats and for that, issues of Brahmin discomfort were created.

One should have asked the basic question - Why should Brahmins be ‘unhappy’ with BJP? Afterall, what has BJP done against them?  Unfortunately, it was not merely Akhilesh Yadav, but many of these allied parties too handled the things badly. The issue of Chandrashekar was handled rather badly. I had written during that time that Chandrashekhar Azad did not show maturity, but it would have been better for Samajwadi Party to deal with him. Now, Chandrashekhar Azad has fought and got the taste of political defeat, one is sure that he will focus on a particular constituency and not contest elections for the sake of media headlines.

There is a lesson for Samajwadi Party that it needs dedicated cadres and not merely Yadav loyalist. It might have leaders from different communities but it frankly does not have cadres at that level. It worked very hard but it needed much bigger alliance at the ground level. Perhaps, all the political parties need to sit and ponder over for their future programme. The party must launch its own paper and support social cultural movement. It cannot hide from the issues of the marginal farmers as well as reservation. The Party must know that mere entry of a big heavy weight politician is not an ‘assurance’ of the vote transfer from their community.

When Swami Prasad Maurya was given ticket from Fazil Nagar, the BJP had already given ticket to local MLA Ganga Singh Kushwaha’s son Surendra Singh Kushwaha. This belt is dominated by Kushwahas who have now become strong supporters of BJP very similar to Lodhs in the Central Uttar Pradesh. Kurmis and Kushwahas main contradiction these days is not with the Brahmins but with the Yadavs hence it was natural for them to go towards BJP. This work to bring diverse communities is only possible with a longer cultural movement and a strong cadre like DMK in Tamil Nadu. Samajwadi Party would do well to learn from DMK movement if it wants to survive and provide an alternative in India. It will need to work together with all the like-minded parties then it needs to support specific civil society movement with a categorical agenda of the party and not merely Bijli-sadak-pani which the Brahmanical media continue to hype.

While Akhilesh Yadav has wider acceptability, it is also a fact that Shiv Pal Yadav has better network and understanding of the political situation. The treatment given to him is well known but hopefully, things will be settled now. Akhilesh Yadav’s alliance with RLD too failed. Perhaps, it was over hyped due to farmers agitation but did not work on the ground. There are three big communities in Western Uttar Pradesh and they are Gujjars, Jats and Yadavs. The first two have now become solid supporters of Hindutva while Yadavs mostly remained with Samajwadi Party. This time, the Muslim-Jat alliance stories helped RLD win a few seats in the Mujaffarnagar-Meerut areas, but could not move beyond that.

Western Uttar Pradesh did not dent BJP’s victory march and became part of it. Perhaps, all the non-BJP political parties took this region for granted and felt that people are ready to vote to them but they ignored that the Kisans are powerful communities but they alone are not the factors as there are other communities too related to agricultural sector and caste identities come to the fore. Historical differences cannot get wiped out with merely an anti-government protest, you need to strengthen the outreach and socialise your politics.

Congress’s Ladki Hoon

Congress failed miserably. It has now been reduced to 2 seats with 2% voting. Priyanka Gandhi has been in the field for last one year and raised issues of Sonbhadra Adivasi massacre or Unnao Rape victims’ case or that of Hatharas. It was she who decided to go to Lakhimpur Khiri and was arrested by the Uttar Pradesh police. The Congress gave 40% ticket to women and their campaign slogan was ‘ladki hoon lad sakatee hoon’ which was attractive. They organised various marathons and it was reported that the crowds were ‘unprecedented’. Social media reporters of the Congress IT cell were giving thumps up to party’s campaign. It is true that Congress’s party under Priyanka Gandhi carried the biggest campaign and created an environment that benefitted Samajwadi Party the most. The feeling that BJP is facing defeat actually was created by Priyanka’s various campaigns but then when suddenly she announced ‘Ladki hoon lad saktee hoon’ as focus campaign. I felt that the campaign was more of the NGO kind of event management and not really political.

When the tickets were distributed, the Congress party knew it well that their conditions were absolutely grim and they were not in a position of coming to power but Priyanka and her team felt that they might get substantial numbers to ‘influence’ the government in Lucknow. Through ‘Ladki hoon lad sakatee hoon’ campaign, it tried to send a signal that it cared for girls and women, but politics is not merely slogans, but much more.  Most of the tickets went to ‘celebrities’ who were more active on Twitter and Facebook, but without much track record of any social or political work. The result was a large number of these over hyped ‘activists’ who might have been victims of state brutality and needed justice but does not make them leaders got much lesser votes than their Facebook or Twitter likes or retweets.

When Priyanka Gandhi found Ram Raj Singh Gond, an Adivasi leader in Sonbhadra, that was extremely bold decision and despite defeat he could be good for the party but in terms of women, most of them were ‘active’ on social media. Ladki hoon lad sakatee hoon might have generated good response but it was bound to fail as ‘celebrities’ on social media do not necessarily make it politically viable. Priyanka campaigned for the rights of the Unnao rape victim but giving ticket to her mother Asha Singh might have got symbolically more points in social media but failed to enthuse the people. Look at the over hyped Pankhuri Pathak for who Priyanka campaigned for two days but could get on 13,000 votes. She was reduced to nothing as the seat was won by Pankaj Singh, son of defence minister Rajnath Singh with a massive margin. There was another celebrity in Lucknow who too was rejected by the people. Congress refused to understand that elections are not merely the ‘celebrities’ but also powerful social mobilisation particularly in Uttar Pradesh where communities are seeking participation and representation. Most of the Congress’s candidates except for ‘secularism’ and Hindu-Muslim binary knew nothing.

Congress did not raise issues of the communities particularly Dalits, MBCs, Muslims and was superficially speaking about ‘sarv dharm sambhav’, temple visiting and that they are against the politics of ‘caste and religion’. Now, if you really want to provide a counter to politics of religion and castes, you will have to speak about them and not side track the issue. Most of the leaders in Congress party are still Savarnas and space for SC-ST-OBC-Muslims is very limited. Party has not been able to raise hopes for these sections. The party does neither have leaders nor network. Ajay Kumar Lalloo worked hard but he himself was reduced to third position in his constituency.

Congress needs a complete over haul. It needs a strong, big leader who give his or her total time for Uttar Pradesh. Important to create local leaders who have hold in the community and strengthen Congress’s cultural wing. Congress is still considered an upper-caste party and no serious efforts have been made by the party to win over the most marginalised sections who used to vote it earlier. The Congress’s rainbow of castes is now powerfully hijacked by BJP.

Rahul Gandhi has given Congress an ideological shape. He is also encouraging young leaders from different communities but it is time Congress develop regional satraps as it had in the past who could manage things for it. Of course, despite all its efforts, Congress leadership has not been able to connect with the people. The reason for this is probably their approach which was focusing on particular issues and though these particular issues are important but cannot change the government unless there is a massive grassroot cadre. It will not be possible for the party to emerge as an alternative in Uttar Pradesh but it still needs to focus and rebuild a strong social coalition, train activists and build narrative. It’s a gigantic task, which is difficult as most of the parties whether BJP or its opponents, both have a commonality, they have abhorrence towards the Gandhis but it is also important that despite attempt to discredit them, they remain an all-India alternative to BJP.

Each party goes through such a process and though Priyanka Gandhi campaigned powerfully, Congress was unable to stitch the coalition in Uttar Pradesh, it became a part of discourse but it was never in picture. Congress’s revival is difficult in Uttar Pradesh unless the party is revived in rest of the country and become part of power. With 2% vote share, Congress will find it difficult to revive at the moment but as a political party it must continue to raise people’s issues and build alliances much before the elections to remain relevant.

In Punjab Congress defeated its own self. The way Amrinder Singh was replaced was incorrect. Priyanka Gandhi promoting Navjot Singh Siddhu over others was also the reason. In all, a divided Congress lost all the battle. It is shameful.

The most disgusting example of Congress killing its own prospectus was Uttarakhand. While in Punjab it declared the Channi as party’s Chief Minister, in Uttarakhand it refused to acknowledge the contribution of the senior most leader Harish Rawat. Since 2002, Congress has refused to accept and respect Harish Rawat, who is still considered the tallest leader in Uttarakhand. When all the poll surveys of the hill state were predicting a tough fight but in terms of popularity of individual leaders, all the surveys indicated that Harish Rawat was way ahead of others yet party leadership refused to accept him. Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi rarely visited Uttarakhand. They travelled to the state just on election eve. Contrary to them, Narendra Modi and Amit Shah have been regularly visiting Uttarakhand and made the people feel that they are wanted and respected. Congress cannot expect victory by their leader’s tourism in the state on election eve. There was nothing specific in Rahul and Priyanka’s speeches in Uttarakhand to offer to the people which has different issues than Uttar Pradesh and Punjab.

Yogi’s Thakurwad

Yogi Adityanath was charged with preferring Thakurs and it was claimed that Brahmins were being side-lined despite the facts that brahmin presence in the Ministry as well as bureaucracy was substantial and perhaps more. Secondly, Yogi’s close media adviser was both Brahmin and Bania. To target Yogi’s Thakurwad, a few ‘experts’ in Lucknow and Delhi started this campaign that there is a ‘huge’ anti Yogi sentiment among Brahmins. Both BSP and SP jumped into it and started organising meetings to get support from the ‘brahmin’ community. In their zeal to attract the Brahmin votes, all the parties went beyond board to ‘placate’ the Brahmins who have voted massively to BJP. The attempt to create an anti-brahmin sentiment also helped Yogi Adityanath who in an interview to a national channel said that he was proud to be born as ‘kshatriya’. Many political commentators and experts felt bad about it but in the politics of identity Yogi can’t remove himself from that reality that if he loses his core constituency then he is nowhere.

BJP gave tickets to 68 brahmins and 67 Rajputs. Banias got 31. The massive chunk was for the OBCs like Kurmis, Kushwahas, Shakyas and Lodhs. Among the Dalits, it gave 30% seats to both Jatavs and Pasis. Now the results are out and one can see how BJP’s gamble paid. Total number of brahmins from BJP who got elected were 46 while SP got 5. Among the Thakurs, BJP got 43, SP 4 and BSP 1. 27 Kurmis, 19 Jatavs, 18 Pasis and 3 Yadavs are said to be elected on BJP tickets.  Clearly, the massive brahmin outreach programme of Samajwadi Party and BSP failed miserably as all the Savarna communities are extremely comfortable with BJP at the moment. Hence anti Brahmin accusation on Yogi Adityanath fell flat and looked as if was created to confuse the Opposition from raising other issues of importance.

His continuous anti-Muslim rhetoric did not help much but one cannot ignore the fact that in Uttar Pradesh things are still polarised and it worked. This is an extremely worrying phenomenon. Yogi Adityanath also got benefitted from wrong priorities by his opponents. Akhilesh Yadav’s attempt to provide space to all those who left BJP did not work well.  Today, Yogi is the most powerful face of BJP after Narendra Modi. BJP is a party which is in election mode all the time and they will definitely learn from the past mistake hence formation of Ministry and its shape will be important reflection as in which direction the party will move.

Media, money, narrative and Limits of FPTP System

While it is important to acknowledge that BJP has a powerful cadre and election winning machinery but one cannot and should not ignore the factor that they also made use of technology and system. Though Prime Minister and Chief Minister were doing big rallies prior to declaration of Election schedule, the Election Commission’s ban on big rallies was helpful for the BJP. No other party has even one third strength of BJP in terms of money and technology. There was no level playing field. There were reports of EVM malfunctioning and serious allegation on officers on duty yet nothing happened. The issue of VVPAT has never been addressed giving rise to speculation. I don’t have the data, but any win below one thousand votes gives rise to speculations and the best way would be to get the VVPAT counted and matched with the machines result. 

This was an uneven fight because BJP had massive political machinery and also used Income Tax, Enforcement Directorate and other department against political opponents. It did not care for election code of conduct and Election Commission was quiet on various violations. The language of BJP leaders during the election campaign were absolutely unparliamentary, many times threatening and intimidating but no action was taken. The Prime Minister and Uttar Pradesh chief minister used media interviews to promote their party violating the election code of conduct but no action was taken. The politics was one channel would broadcast the interview on the eve of the polls and others will ‘report’ all the time. Journalists became BJP’s propaganda agent. Every day, opinion polls were being conducted, media was organising events and social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook have become the biggest agent of the ruling party, denying spaces to voices of opposition. Links exposing the ruling party never get enough visibility and have been limited in reach.

For a healthy democracy, we need strong Opposition, independent media and autonomous institutions. Unfortunately, all this is under heavy assault by the ruling party. BJP has created ‘history’ as officers from civil services are asked to resign and join the party and given tickets. How can anyone trust that the bureaucracy is doing its work independently when it becomes a party. As the thin line between institutions and ruling party disappear, it will ultimately ruin democracy which a country like India cannot afford. It is time political parties start thinking on electoral system change. India must move away from First Past the Post System towards proportional electoral system. Look at the examples to reflect the crisis that we face. RLD with 2% vote share got 8 seats in Uttar Pradesh while Congress with the same got 2 seats. BSP with 12% vote share got 1 seat. BJP got 41.3% vote share got 255 seats, SP got 32% but got 111 seats. If vote percentage reflect the seat won then BJP would have got only 165 seats and SP would have got 128.

First Past The Post (FPTP) System makes a large number of votes virtually invalid. If voting percentage has anything to do, then with 41% votes in Uttar Pradesh, BJP is in power. Its allies got nearly 6.5% votes. It means more than 54% people still voted against NDA but then in this system those votes don’t matter. Political parties will have to think on this anomaly. It is not that this has been ‘invented’ by BJP as all the political parties who come to power use this mechanism to consolidate and strengthen them. BSP came from a movement which speak of proportionality on everything, DMK too was born out of this movement for fair representation. It is time, we need serious discussion on electoral reforms as well as autonomy of our institutions. If the political leadership is not ready to protect their autonomy, will the top court of the country step in and issue directions in this regard in the greater interest of Democracy. If we do not wake up, we will be moving towards one party democracy in the country. Election Commission is saying that it is ready to organise one election for all assemblies and Lok Sabha. It is risky and will not succeed but the idea is being toyed by the ruling party with an agenda to rule from Panchayats to parliament and obliterate the opposition or make it irrelevant. Even a thought about such a situation is scary and hence all the opposition parties must stand together and prepare for 2024 by building a bigger alliance and start preparation now. Important for political parties to strengthen civil society movement as well as autonomous media institutions so that people’s voices survive and protect democracy. 

*Views expressed are the author’s own.

 

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Crisis of Democracy: Lessons from UP elections

How ignorance, arrogance and even delusion of Opposition parties proved to be their undoing

UP Elections

The poll outcome in five states have gladdened many and disappointed others with BJP’s extremely impressive performance. But it is also a complete failure of the Opposition parties particularly Congress and BSP. The results have also exposed the embedded media. It is not merely Modi Bhakts but there is a ‘big’ anti-Modi anti-Yogi industry which gained enormously since 2014.

After the demise of ‘media’, the so-called alternative media too came from those segments of ‘professionals’ who were part of the what is termed as ‘Godi’ Media or ‘Darbari media’. The popularity these ‘alternative’ portals went extremely high. Individuals became ‘nayaks’ and Kisan Andolan ‘strengthened’ it further when ‘journalists’ became spokespersons of the ‘anti-Modi’ lobby, or in Uttar Pradesh, the anti-Yogi narrative. Their monologues were often full of misinterpretations yet in the current trends, it does not matter what you write or how qualitative and objective you are, like Godi media, the ‘alternative’ too thrived on falsification of news and complete disconnect from reality.

Those claiming ‘alternative media’ were neither alternative nor analytical but more a party, perhaps setting news ‘agenda’ for the political sponsors. They attended political rallies, spoke to ‘bhakts’ and made us ‘feelgood’ that BJP has become ‘unwanted’. The Kisan Andolan, the anti CAA Protests were legitimate movements and protests, but they cannot be projected as ‘alternative’ political parties to BJP.

Movements and their Crises

An analysis of the politically ‘apolitical’ social movement can give you understanding that most of them have ended up in helping the ‘Sangh Parivar’ and its ‘idea of India’.  The longer these ‘movements’ are pushed, the better for the BJP to exploit the inherent contradictions of society. The fault line of the political analysts and ‘social scientists’ is in their portrayal of a ‘progressive’ movement but the facts are they were more due to political marginalisation of the communities. Anna Hazare-Arvind Kejriwal’s anti-corruption movement actually emerged after Congress-led UPA won second term in the Lok Sabha in 2009. The movement in the name of ‘anti-corruption’ was led by the Savarna forces who felt that Congress was a marginalising the ‘upper castes’.

The issue of reservation in Promotion had haunted the upper castes after the Supreme Court had validated the issue of reservation for Backward communities. Congress allowed AAP to grow and dent the Hindutva party but ended up with egg on its face. Kejriwal ultimately has become the biggest tool to finish the Congress. With Punjab win, AAP is going to all the states to make it look as if it is the only alternative to BJP however the dark realities must not be forgotten that in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Goa, most of the AAP candidates forfeited their deposits. In Uttarakhand, their state president and chief ministerial face too forfeited his deposit. While Kejriwal might have become unchallenged ‘king’ of Delhi, his ‘anti-corruption’ movement ultimately helped the Sangh Parivar gain ground and decimate Congress. It also reflected that ruling Congress Party was unable to deal with political protests and it was second biggest dent after the party failed to associate with the backward communities when Mandal Commission report was implemented.

Modi government faced various movements whether the students’ protests against the marginalisation of the Dalit Adivasi students in Universities, or anti CAA-NRC protests or the farmers. Each of these movements were handled by the ruling dispensation with great contempt. The attempt was to keep them on for longer period so that it become easier to create fear among ‘others. BJP has now become ‘expert’ in the art of manipulating and using the inherent contradictions in our society. Any ruling party does so and Congress was no exception to it when in power.

The nature of the farmer protests was actually exclusive without much sympathy and support of the agricultural workers. Though Dalit participated in these protests, yet it was a reality that most of the farmers were happy with their Zamindar status and certainly turned political. BJP tried to polarise it at every level. Initially, it was dominated by the Punjab’s farmers but after the Republic Day incident last year, the farmers, particularly the Jats from Western Uttar Pradesh under Rakesh Tikait took the lead with their massive participation.

It was extremely difficult condition for BJP which has made deeper inroads in Western Uttar Pradesh by feeding into Jat insecurities through anti-Muslim narratives. The problem is that BJP was never unwanted, and like Godi media, the so called ‘secular’ or activist journalists too had their eyes shut. While the farm protests were genuine, it is also true that it became a tool for ‘political’ rehabilitation of Jats in the Western Uttar Pradesh. It is also a factor that farmer’s issues with the ruling party got resolved once the ‘bills’ were withdrawn but it seems carrying on the movement to fight against BJP at different places became counterproductive and helped the BJP. We must understand that farmer issue is important but it is merely one of the issues and not the entire issue. ‘Experts’ are ‘shocked’ to see BJP winning all the nine seats in Lakhimpur Khiri where farm protests were sought to be crushed by Union minister’s son. 

Even in Uttarakhand, Congress’s central leadership was speaking about ‘farmers’ and ignored other issues. In the Tarai region of both Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh, Sikh farmers are always considered as ‘landed’ and exploiters. A big number of people in Lakhimpur Khiri region are actually migrants from Eastern Uttar Pradesh. BJP was able to convert the narrative into Sikhs verses non-Sikhs. Farmers issues actually was unable to challenge the citadel of castes and I had actually warned about this long back in several of my videos and articles that while the issue is extremely important to protect agriculture in India, in the villages, people still vote as per their caste identities. It was surprising that Congress was focusing more on farmers issues and ignored other important issues in Uttarakhand. In Eastern Uttar Pradesh, Bundelkhand the farm laws and the movement were unable to reach agricultural workers. It was always perceived as big farmers movement and no efforts were made to make it inclusive. 

Most of the time ‘movements’ are basically related to particular issues. They have limited appeal and over-emphasis on them boomerangs most of the time. Movements have always helped the BJP in the last few decades because they have better understanding of who ‘support’ and ‘oppose’ the movement.

Caste is much powerful weapon than the issues. Frankly speaking, it was Rahul Gandhi, who had launched the farmers protests in Punjab against the farm bill. His tractor yatras were well received but once Charanjeet Singh Channi’s name was announced as chief minister the situation changed. The announcement was made very late after AAP declared Bhagwant Man as their chief ministerial candidate. It looks like the announcement was taken as an attempt to create caste-based formation. Most of the farmers were Jat Sikhs and loyal to Akali Dal. Many were Congress supporters too, but with the declaration Congress was unable to work as a team.

The party suffered from credibility crisis as party’s state president was not ready to play second fiddle. At the end, it was a reality that the Jat Sikhs were not ready to vote BJP but they opted out of Congress because of Channi being a Dalit. Unfortunately, even the Majhabis i.e. Valmikis did not come to Congress. The caste question among Sikhs is a dirty reality which most of the ‘liberal’ ‘social justice friendly’ authors and journalists deny but the defeat of Congress Party has clearly shown that Punjab was not ready for this experiment and therefore AAP benefitted from it. The Hindus in Punjab voted for AAP and not to the Congress party.

BSP’s ‘bhaichara’

The shocking results of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in Uttar Pradesh as it only got one seat reflect the growing marginalisation of the party. Even when the party’s vote percentage is 12%, it got just one seat. There is a crisis of electoral system too, as Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) with 2% votes got 8 seats while Congress got 2 seats.

BSP’s supporters were active on social media and many of them were challenging the narrative that the party is not in a position to give a fight. The party gave tickets to a large number of Muslims, but that did not help. The party felt that by giving tickets to the Muslims, it would be able to get their support. The problem that the BSP leadership did not understand was that Muslims were facing insecurities and at the moment their whole concern is to defeat BJP and for that they were ready to defeat their ‘own’ candidate to allow victory of the ‘secular’ party most likely to defeat BJP. In Uttar Pradesh, Muslims had made up their mind to vote for Samajwadi Party (SP) though both BSP and SP did not really raise their issues properly but still Muslims have always preferred SP over BSP.

It is disturbing to see Ms. Mayawati blaming Muslims for BSP’s poor performance. It is a well-known fact that BSP had started ‘Brahmin Bhaichara’ and other ‘bhaichara’ committees. The focus was on Savarna communities, particularly Brahmins. To exploit the ‘anti-Thakur’ sentiments, BSP went overboard on promoting the Brahmin power and promising Parshuram’s temple and statutes. Prabuddha Varga sammelan’s were organised and fairly large number of Brahmins got BSP tickets. The Party not only gave Brahmins tickets in large number, but has been only speaking about them. It was disappointing that no efforts were made to reach the other Dalit communities. BSP’s core voter in Uttar Pradesh is Chamar-Jatav community, and when late Kanshiram began his political journey, his focus was bringing together all the Dalits and MBC communities but that programme has now been converted into ‘sarvjan’ idea which has actually let down the other Dalit communities like Pasi, Dhobi, Khatiks and Balmikis.

During a visit to Kushinagar a few months ago, I met a district coordinator of the party from the neighbouring district. I did not know him but I was discussing the issue of party’s outreach programme, and my simple question was why the party not trying to reach to Balmikis in particular. Our Buddhist friend was also upset. After listening to us, the BSP leader said that they tried their best to bring Balmikis to the party but the community has never cooperated with them. Most of the time, the community is ‘drunk’, he said. I was enraged, and said the same argument was given by the dominant communities when speaking about Dalits as a whole. This is extremely poor argument. The neta said that they were a political party and not an ‘NGO’ and need to work as per the political ‘sameekarans’ of the area. I was shocked to hear this and informed that Baba Saheb’s mission was not an NGO but bringing all the communities together. This is the dark reality of the cadre who converted Dr Ambedkar as leader of a particular community resulting in counter movement from Sangh Parivar in other communities and creating their ‘caste’ icons. 

It is also a reality that in the battle for perception BSP had already lost as it started very late, it was not visible in the ground. Its more focus was on Brahmin Bhai chara and after Samajwadi Party’s ticket distribution, it gave ticket selectively and many people say, intentionally, though, it is party’s prerogative, to Muslims.

I do not agree with the argument of BSP fielding candidates to defeat Samajwadi Party. It is a national party and facing elimination now but, in my opinion, it is still relevant and need to be strengthened and collective leadership need to emerge particularly from diverse communities. It needs to look beyond mere calculations and raise issues of public importance. BSP has a big challenge but one can only say that it is important that party go back to its original mission started by late Kanshiram and build social coalition of various marginalised communities who are still looking for their political participation and representation.

Samajwadi’s Brahmin Mission

Samajwadi Party got 32% votes and 111 seats which was way above it got in the last assembly. Akhilesh Yadav campaigned powerfully. His rathyatras attracted huge crowds and his social media too had a dedicated team. Of late, he started speaking aggressively. His initial approach to the elections was of plain political issues such as Highways, Metro etc., and shying away from the identity issues, social justice, reservation etc.

It was only after three OBC leaders of the BJP, Swami Prasad Maurya, Dara Singh Chauhan and Dharm Singh Saini resigned and joined SP, that Akhilesh Yadav realised that the issue of OBCs matter. But those who resigned knew it well that their getting ticket was difficult. Their resignation created flutter. Suddenly, fake news started looking real since it was coming from ‘alternative media’. None of the OBC leaders raised the issue of NEET or reservation. The only issue Akhilesh Yadav spoke was of Caste census which offended none.

Like BSP, Samajwadi Party too engaged with Brahmins just to counter Yogi Adityanath’s Thakurwad. Akhilesh got trapped in the narrative being spread by the Brahmanical media in Lucknow and Delhi about ‘Brahmins’ unhappiness with Yogi Adityanath even when many of his media and close advisers were Brahmins. In his attempt get votes from the Brahmins, Samajwadi Party gave ticket to them, promised statues of Parshuram and many more things. For Brahmins, the real issue has never been Parshuram, but their political representation. They were compelling parties to give them more seats and for that, issues of Brahmin discomfort were created.

One should have asked the basic question - Why should Brahmins be ‘unhappy’ with BJP? Afterall, what has BJP done against them?  Unfortunately, it was not merely Akhilesh Yadav, but many of these allied parties too handled the things badly. The issue of Chandrashekar was handled rather badly. I had written during that time that Chandrashekhar Azad did not show maturity, but it would have been better for Samajwadi Party to deal with him. Now, Chandrashekhar Azad has fought and got the taste of political defeat, one is sure that he will focus on a particular constituency and not contest elections for the sake of media headlines.

There is a lesson for Samajwadi Party that it needs dedicated cadres and not merely Yadav loyalist. It might have leaders from different communities but it frankly does not have cadres at that level. It worked very hard but it needed much bigger alliance at the ground level. Perhaps, all the political parties need to sit and ponder over for their future programme. The party must launch its own paper and support social cultural movement. It cannot hide from the issues of the marginal farmers as well as reservation. The Party must know that mere entry of a big heavy weight politician is not an ‘assurance’ of the vote transfer from their community.

When Swami Prasad Maurya was given ticket from Fazil Nagar, the BJP had already given ticket to local MLA Ganga Singh Kushwaha’s son Surendra Singh Kushwaha. This belt is dominated by Kushwahas who have now become strong supporters of BJP very similar to Lodhs in the Central Uttar Pradesh. Kurmis and Kushwahas main contradiction these days is not with the Brahmins but with the Yadavs hence it was natural for them to go towards BJP. This work to bring diverse communities is only possible with a longer cultural movement and a strong cadre like DMK in Tamil Nadu. Samajwadi Party would do well to learn from DMK movement if it wants to survive and provide an alternative in India. It will need to work together with all the like-minded parties then it needs to support specific civil society movement with a categorical agenda of the party and not merely Bijli-sadak-pani which the Brahmanical media continue to hype.

While Akhilesh Yadav has wider acceptability, it is also a fact that Shiv Pal Yadav has better network and understanding of the political situation. The treatment given to him is well known but hopefully, things will be settled now. Akhilesh Yadav’s alliance with RLD too failed. Perhaps, it was over hyped due to farmers agitation but did not work on the ground. There are three big communities in Western Uttar Pradesh and they are Gujjars, Jats and Yadavs. The first two have now become solid supporters of Hindutva while Yadavs mostly remained with Samajwadi Party. This time, the Muslim-Jat alliance stories helped RLD win a few seats in the Mujaffarnagar-Meerut areas, but could not move beyond that.

Western Uttar Pradesh did not dent BJP’s victory march and became part of it. Perhaps, all the non-BJP political parties took this region for granted and felt that people are ready to vote to them but they ignored that the Kisans are powerful communities but they alone are not the factors as there are other communities too related to agricultural sector and caste identities come to the fore. Historical differences cannot get wiped out with merely an anti-government protest, you need to strengthen the outreach and socialise your politics.

Congress’s Ladki Hoon

Congress failed miserably. It has now been reduced to 2 seats with 2% voting. Priyanka Gandhi has been in the field for last one year and raised issues of Sonbhadra Adivasi massacre or Unnao Rape victims’ case or that of Hatharas. It was she who decided to go to Lakhimpur Khiri and was arrested by the Uttar Pradesh police. The Congress gave 40% ticket to women and their campaign slogan was ‘ladki hoon lad sakatee hoon’ which was attractive. They organised various marathons and it was reported that the crowds were ‘unprecedented’. Social media reporters of the Congress IT cell were giving thumps up to party’s campaign. It is true that Congress’s party under Priyanka Gandhi carried the biggest campaign and created an environment that benefitted Samajwadi Party the most. The feeling that BJP is facing defeat actually was created by Priyanka’s various campaigns but then when suddenly she announced ‘Ladki hoon lad saktee hoon’ as focus campaign. I felt that the campaign was more of the NGO kind of event management and not really political.

When the tickets were distributed, the Congress party knew it well that their conditions were absolutely grim and they were not in a position of coming to power but Priyanka and her team felt that they might get substantial numbers to ‘influence’ the government in Lucknow. Through ‘Ladki hoon lad sakatee hoon’ campaign, it tried to send a signal that it cared for girls and women, but politics is not merely slogans, but much more.  Most of the tickets went to ‘celebrities’ who were more active on Twitter and Facebook, but without much track record of any social or political work. The result was a large number of these over hyped ‘activists’ who might have been victims of state brutality and needed justice but does not make them leaders got much lesser votes than their Facebook or Twitter likes or retweets.

When Priyanka Gandhi found Ram Raj Singh Gond, an Adivasi leader in Sonbhadra, that was extremely bold decision and despite defeat he could be good for the party but in terms of women, most of them were ‘active’ on social media. Ladki hoon lad sakatee hoon might have generated good response but it was bound to fail as ‘celebrities’ on social media do not necessarily make it politically viable. Priyanka campaigned for the rights of the Unnao rape victim but giving ticket to her mother Asha Singh might have got symbolically more points in social media but failed to enthuse the people. Look at the over hyped Pankhuri Pathak for who Priyanka campaigned for two days but could get on 13,000 votes. She was reduced to nothing as the seat was won by Pankaj Singh, son of defence minister Rajnath Singh with a massive margin. There was another celebrity in Lucknow who too was rejected by the people. Congress refused to understand that elections are not merely the ‘celebrities’ but also powerful social mobilisation particularly in Uttar Pradesh where communities are seeking participation and representation. Most of the Congress’s candidates except for ‘secularism’ and Hindu-Muslim binary knew nothing.

Congress did not raise issues of the communities particularly Dalits, MBCs, Muslims and was superficially speaking about ‘sarv dharm sambhav’, temple visiting and that they are against the politics of ‘caste and religion’. Now, if you really want to provide a counter to politics of religion and castes, you will have to speak about them and not side track the issue. Most of the leaders in Congress party are still Savarnas and space for SC-ST-OBC-Muslims is very limited. Party has not been able to raise hopes for these sections. The party does neither have leaders nor network. Ajay Kumar Lalloo worked hard but he himself was reduced to third position in his constituency.

Congress needs a complete over haul. It needs a strong, big leader who give his or her total time for Uttar Pradesh. Important to create local leaders who have hold in the community and strengthen Congress’s cultural wing. Congress is still considered an upper-caste party and no serious efforts have been made by the party to win over the most marginalised sections who used to vote it earlier. The Congress’s rainbow of castes is now powerfully hijacked by BJP.

Rahul Gandhi has given Congress an ideological shape. He is also encouraging young leaders from different communities but it is time Congress develop regional satraps as it had in the past who could manage things for it. Of course, despite all its efforts, Congress leadership has not been able to connect with the people. The reason for this is probably their approach which was focusing on particular issues and though these particular issues are important but cannot change the government unless there is a massive grassroot cadre. It will not be possible for the party to emerge as an alternative in Uttar Pradesh but it still needs to focus and rebuild a strong social coalition, train activists and build narrative. It’s a gigantic task, which is difficult as most of the parties whether BJP or its opponents, both have a commonality, they have abhorrence towards the Gandhis but it is also important that despite attempt to discredit them, they remain an all-India alternative to BJP.

Each party goes through such a process and though Priyanka Gandhi campaigned powerfully, Congress was unable to stitch the coalition in Uttar Pradesh, it became a part of discourse but it was never in picture. Congress’s revival is difficult in Uttar Pradesh unless the party is revived in rest of the country and become part of power. With 2% vote share, Congress will find it difficult to revive at the moment but as a political party it must continue to raise people’s issues and build alliances much before the elections to remain relevant.

In Punjab Congress defeated its own self. The way Amrinder Singh was replaced was incorrect. Priyanka Gandhi promoting Navjot Singh Siddhu over others was also the reason. In all, a divided Congress lost all the battle. It is shameful.

The most disgusting example of Congress killing its own prospectus was Uttarakhand. While in Punjab it declared the Channi as party’s Chief Minister, in Uttarakhand it refused to acknowledge the contribution of the senior most leader Harish Rawat. Since 2002, Congress has refused to accept and respect Harish Rawat, who is still considered the tallest leader in Uttarakhand. When all the poll surveys of the hill state were predicting a tough fight but in terms of popularity of individual leaders, all the surveys indicated that Harish Rawat was way ahead of others yet party leadership refused to accept him. Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi rarely visited Uttarakhand. They travelled to the state just on election eve. Contrary to them, Narendra Modi and Amit Shah have been regularly visiting Uttarakhand and made the people feel that they are wanted and respected. Congress cannot expect victory by their leader’s tourism in the state on election eve. There was nothing specific in Rahul and Priyanka’s speeches in Uttarakhand to offer to the people which has different issues than Uttar Pradesh and Punjab.

Yogi’s Thakurwad

Yogi Adityanath was charged with preferring Thakurs and it was claimed that Brahmins were being side-lined despite the facts that brahmin presence in the Ministry as well as bureaucracy was substantial and perhaps more. Secondly, Yogi’s close media adviser was both Brahmin and Bania. To target Yogi’s Thakurwad, a few ‘experts’ in Lucknow and Delhi started this campaign that there is a ‘huge’ anti Yogi sentiment among Brahmins. Both BSP and SP jumped into it and started organising meetings to get support from the ‘brahmin’ community. In their zeal to attract the Brahmin votes, all the parties went beyond board to ‘placate’ the Brahmins who have voted massively to BJP. The attempt to create an anti-brahmin sentiment also helped Yogi Adityanath who in an interview to a national channel said that he was proud to be born as ‘kshatriya’. Many political commentators and experts felt bad about it but in the politics of identity Yogi can’t remove himself from that reality that if he loses his core constituency then he is nowhere.

BJP gave tickets to 68 brahmins and 67 Rajputs. Banias got 31. The massive chunk was for the OBCs like Kurmis, Kushwahas, Shakyas and Lodhs. Among the Dalits, it gave 30% seats to both Jatavs and Pasis. Now the results are out and one can see how BJP’s gamble paid. Total number of brahmins from BJP who got elected were 46 while SP got 5. Among the Thakurs, BJP got 43, SP 4 and BSP 1. 27 Kurmis, 19 Jatavs, 18 Pasis and 3 Yadavs are said to be elected on BJP tickets.  Clearly, the massive brahmin outreach programme of Samajwadi Party and BSP failed miserably as all the Savarna communities are extremely comfortable with BJP at the moment. Hence anti Brahmin accusation on Yogi Adityanath fell flat and looked as if was created to confuse the Opposition from raising other issues of importance.

His continuous anti-Muslim rhetoric did not help much but one cannot ignore the fact that in Uttar Pradesh things are still polarised and it worked. This is an extremely worrying phenomenon. Yogi Adityanath also got benefitted from wrong priorities by his opponents. Akhilesh Yadav’s attempt to provide space to all those who left BJP did not work well.  Today, Yogi is the most powerful face of BJP after Narendra Modi. BJP is a party which is in election mode all the time and they will definitely learn from the past mistake hence formation of Ministry and its shape will be important reflection as in which direction the party will move.

Media, money, narrative and Limits of FPTP System

While it is important to acknowledge that BJP has a powerful cadre and election winning machinery but one cannot and should not ignore the factor that they also made use of technology and system. Though Prime Minister and Chief Minister were doing big rallies prior to declaration of Election schedule, the Election Commission’s ban on big rallies was helpful for the BJP. No other party has even one third strength of BJP in terms of money and technology. There was no level playing field. There were reports of EVM malfunctioning and serious allegation on officers on duty yet nothing happened. The issue of VVPAT has never been addressed giving rise to speculation. I don’t have the data, but any win below one thousand votes gives rise to speculations and the best way would be to get the VVPAT counted and matched with the machines result. 

This was an uneven fight because BJP had massive political machinery and also used Income Tax, Enforcement Directorate and other department against political opponents. It did not care for election code of conduct and Election Commission was quiet on various violations. The language of BJP leaders during the election campaign were absolutely unparliamentary, many times threatening and intimidating but no action was taken. The Prime Minister and Uttar Pradesh chief minister used media interviews to promote their party violating the election code of conduct but no action was taken. The politics was one channel would broadcast the interview on the eve of the polls and others will ‘report’ all the time. Journalists became BJP’s propaganda agent. Every day, opinion polls were being conducted, media was organising events and social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook have become the biggest agent of the ruling party, denying spaces to voices of opposition. Links exposing the ruling party never get enough visibility and have been limited in reach.

For a healthy democracy, we need strong Opposition, independent media and autonomous institutions. Unfortunately, all this is under heavy assault by the ruling party. BJP has created ‘history’ as officers from civil services are asked to resign and join the party and given tickets. How can anyone trust that the bureaucracy is doing its work independently when it becomes a party. As the thin line between institutions and ruling party disappear, it will ultimately ruin democracy which a country like India cannot afford. It is time political parties start thinking on electoral system change. India must move away from First Past the Post System towards proportional electoral system. Look at the examples to reflect the crisis that we face. RLD with 2% vote share got 8 seats in Uttar Pradesh while Congress with the same got 2 seats. BSP with 12% vote share got 1 seat. BJP got 41.3% vote share got 255 seats, SP got 32% but got 111 seats. If vote percentage reflect the seat won then BJP would have got only 165 seats and SP would have got 128.

First Past The Post (FPTP) System makes a large number of votes virtually invalid. If voting percentage has anything to do, then with 41% votes in Uttar Pradesh, BJP is in power. Its allies got nearly 6.5% votes. It means more than 54% people still voted against NDA but then in this system those votes don’t matter. Political parties will have to think on this anomaly. It is not that this has been ‘invented’ by BJP as all the political parties who come to power use this mechanism to consolidate and strengthen them. BSP came from a movement which speak of proportionality on everything, DMK too was born out of this movement for fair representation. It is time, we need serious discussion on electoral reforms as well as autonomy of our institutions. If the political leadership is not ready to protect their autonomy, will the top court of the country step in and issue directions in this regard in the greater interest of Democracy. If we do not wake up, we will be moving towards one party democracy in the country. Election Commission is saying that it is ready to organise one election for all assemblies and Lok Sabha. It is risky and will not succeed but the idea is being toyed by the ruling party with an agenda to rule from Panchayats to parliament and obliterate the opposition or make it irrelevant. Even a thought about such a situation is scary and hence all the opposition parties must stand together and prepare for 2024 by building a bigger alliance and start preparation now. Important for political parties to strengthen civil society movement as well as autonomous media institutions so that people’s voices survive and protect democracy. 

*Views expressed are the author’s own.

 

Related:

Uttar Pradesh: Ex MLA holds post-defeat meeting with supporters, threatens opponents 

Even in a BJP ‘wave’, UP voters blew out many flames of hate

Case registered against Saiyada Khatoon, newly elected MLA of Domariyaganj

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