4–1 Score Line

3 Losses and 2 Wins

Raman Swamy

The post-poll scenario is more instructive than the frenzied weeks on the campaign trail. The results of the five-State election are as stark as only numbers can be—two wins and three defeats for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). One victory, two near-misses and two defeats for the Congress.

Modi's magic mesmerised Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand—but failed to have any impact anywhere else. In Punjab, the Congress rose from the ashes, exploding the Congress-mukt Bharat myth with a near-two-thirds tally of seats. In Goa, BJP was squarely beaten, with the outgoing chief minister and seven of his ministers biting the dust. In Manipur, Congress was unseated but still emerged as the single largest party.

The truth is that each of the five States which went to the polls in February-March are as different from each other as can be imagined. The only commonality between Uttar Pradesh and Manipur, Uttarakhand and Punjab or even Goa and the rest of the country is that all of them happen to be within the contours of the political map of India.

In each of the five States, the people are different, the landscape is different, spoken languages are dissimilar, ethnic origins differ and historical memories are distinctive.

Goa, for instance, was a Portuguese colony for 450 years and became an integral part of modern India only in 1961. For centuries, Manipur's hills and valleys had been inhabited by the seven clans of the Meiti people. History caught up with them in 1891 when it became a princely state under Biitish rule and subsequently Maharaja Budhachandra signed the Treaty of Accession in October 1949, full two years after India attained Independence. It was only in 1956 that Manipur was made a Union Territory and it was much later, in 1972, that it attained full Statehood.

Even the conjoined twins, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, are in many ways as different as chalk and cheese, which was one of the main reasons why they were bifurcated as recently as November 2000. However, if political stability still eludes the hills of Uttaranchal it is partly due to persisting rivalry between Garhwal and Kumaon, the two provinces of Uttarakhand, which incidentally is bordered by Tibet on the north, Nepal on the east and Uttar Pradesh, Himachal and Haryana to the south, west and south-western, respectively.

But, instead of acknowledging the rich diversity of India and accepting the message of the mandate, the BJP decided to re-write the script, evidently driven by a desperation to propagate the illusion of Narendra Modi's popularity throughout the Indian sub-continent.

Obviously stung by the Congress revival in Punjab and not content with its own triumph in the Hindi heartland, it resorted to extraordinary, if not extra-constitutional, manoeuvres to snatch power in tiny Goa and faraway Manipur by fair means or foul.

In order to forcibly convert the tvvo-wins-and-three-defeats embarrassment into a 4-1 Modi magic triumph, the BJP used all its resources, midnight deals, pliant Governors, obliging media, et al, to install Chief Ministers in Panjim and Imphal. The upshot is that BJP governments are now in place in four out of the five States that went to the polls, even though that was not what the people in two of them had intended.

The pretext for the brazen power-grab is that the Congress Party, despite being the single largest party, did not move swiftly enough to stake its claim to form the government. The Congress was lampooned for not choosing a legislative party leader in Goa within 24 hours, making it look like speed in rushing to Raj Bhawan matters key element in government formation.

The paradox is that in contrast, it took the BJP six whole days to name the leader in Dehra Dun and even longer to identify who will head the government in Lucknow.

Now that the dust is beginning to settle after virtual coup in Manipur and Goa, the de facto winners -- or, as many are alleging, the usurpers of power—are coming to grips with the challenges of taking over the reins of governance.

In Uttarakhand, the choice of Trivendra Singh Rawat as the chief minister has come as a surprise sprung by the high command, much like in Haryana where the unexpected choice was Manohar Lal Khattar, a Modi gamble that has not quite paid off.

Trivendra Rawat's credentials also appear to be similar to Khattar's—lifelong loyalty to RSS and to Amit Shah and Modi personally. His organisational skills, it appears, were demonstrated when he worked behind the scenes during the 2014 elections as Shah's trusted aide. In electoral politics, however, his own track record is mixed—despite winning assembly polls from the Doiwala seat twice before in 2002 and 2007, he has tasted defeat on two more recent occasions, in 2012 from the Raipur seat, and in 2014 in by-elections to the Doiwala.

As far as administrative experience is concerned, he has had somewhat controversial stints as agriculture minister in previous BJP government in the State, having been charged with involvement in the seeds scandal and then later exonerated. He enjoys a relatively clean image, although his election affidavits show his assets doubling to more than one crore between 2012 and 2017.

Within the BJP, Trivendra Rawat is viewed as inscrutable and something of a loner, qualities that could hinder or paradoxically even help him keep his flock of 57 MLAs together, eleven of whom are recent defectors from the Congress. Whether he can keep Garhwal-Kumaon animosities under control will determine whether he performs better as a chief minister than Khattar has in Harvana.

The nicest thing about new Chief Ministers assuming office after thumping electoral victories is that sound so positive, so confident, so sincere and so convincing in their first few public pronouncements. Both Amrinder Singh of Punjab and Adityanath Yogi of Uttar Pradesh have formed their team of Ministers, held their first formal meetings with top bureaucrats and police officials and spelt out their plans, and priorities.

The two men are a study in contrast. One is former Raja with military training. The other is a Hindu priest steeped in Vedic culture and yogic traditions. There is a 30-year age gap between them—Amrinder is 75 and Adityanath just 44. There is also, very obviously, a vast difference in their world-view, political philosophy and personal lifestyles.

Yet right at this point of time, both of them have similar economic and social challenges facing them—to get down immediately to the task of governance, live up to the promises made in their respective party manifestoes and lead their State towards progress and prosperity as best they can.

Their broader political objectives are also, in a sense, similar. The agenda before the Captain is to ensure that the victory in Punjab paves the way for the revival of the Congress Party nation-wide. The Yogi knows his main mission is to ignite a Hindutva renaissance that would subsume caste-based vote banks in the 2019 elections.

In tune with their divergent end-goals, the approach of two new Chief Ministers is predictably quite dissimilar.o


Vol. 49, No.40, April 9 - 15, 2017