In a transformed electoral arena

M. K. Narayanan
To check the increasing lurch to the right, the left and centre-left must upgrade their toolkits Results of Assembly elections in Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland, coming after the results in the 2016 Assam elections, and alongside the ascendance of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in as many as 17 other States gives rise to a vision of a monochromatic India. Many may well deplore this state of affairs, since democracy is generally seen as a platform to encourage the ‘blooming of a hundred flowers’ of varying colours and shapes. What is more important in the extant situation, however, is to understand how this phenomenon has come about, and try to assess what it signifies. Perhaps the most significant of the recent victories achieved by the BJP and its allies was in Tripura. The electoral alliance of the BJP and the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) produced a spectacular result, winning 43 of the 59 seats up for elections. The incumbent party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI(M), could win only 16 seats. In terms of vote percentage, the BJP-IPFT combine secured a little over 50%, compared to the 42.7% for the CPI(M). The Congress and the rest of the Opposition were completely eclipsed. In Nagaland and Meghalaya, the results were less one-sided, though the BJP and its allies were able to stitch together a winning combination, and push other parties including the Congress to the sidelines.
Elections to smaller northeastern States do not normally attract nationwide attention. With the BJP having repeated its earlier success achieved in Assam, in the process overturning some long-held beliefs, it is perhaps time to take serious notice of what are the underlying factors dictating the overall election scene today. It would be highly myopic to treat election results in any one part of the country, as for instance in the Northeast, as due solely to local or regional factors. It would be an equally serious mistake to treat the results, or the reasons for them, as of lesser national significance than elections in Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra or Madhya Pradesh. Reams have been written on the reasons why parties such as the CPI(M) and the Congress have fared poorly in Tripura. The usual hackneyed reasons are being trotted out. For instance, the Congress debacle is attributed to poor election management. In the case of the CPI(M), apart from anti-incumbency, the loss is being ascribed to not having provided adequate jobs for aspiring youth in the State. There may be some merit in these arguments, but the reality is that none of them adequately answers the velocity and success of the BJP-led electoral offensive. The basic causes for the results, especially the extent of victory, have hence to be found elsewhere. Apart from traditional aggressive electioneering, today’s electoral dynamics include a mixture of many and different attributes. What is seldom mentioned is that of all the parties in India (with the possible exception of the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress), it is the BJP today that is a votary of the assertive leadership approach, often seeking out younger leaders who can impart innate dynamism to even mundane issues. In most cases, the Opposition tends to wilt under their sustained offensive. Tripura’s former Chief Minister, Manik Sarkar (undoubtedly one of the most respected Chief Ministers till now in the country), is a case in point. He was portrayed by the BJP-led Opposition as a ‘status quoist’ leader of a party in decline, viz. the CPI(M), which itself was out of touch with current realities. The CPI(M)’s defeat in Tripura, hence, had little to do with the handling of affairs in the State, or the traditional rivalry between the CPI(M) and tribal groups. To use the idiom of modern politics, it was the portrayal of Manik Sarkar as no longer being a ‘conviction politician’ that tilted the scale.

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