Crisis Of Two-Party System

Regionalising Nationalism

Akash Barua

The state legislative elections in 2021, amidst the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, exhibited the unobstructed execution of ‘Brand Modi' or ‘Modism’ by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). A comparative evaluation of the outcomes of the two state elections—Assam and West Bengal—demonstrates among other things that burgeoning versatility of ‘regionalism’ in present-day politics, despite Bharatiya Janata Party’s jingoistic appeal, works.

Electioneering in West Bengal manifested the clout of BJP’s electoral apparatus functioning in a formidable fashion. All of its functionaries; from the booth units to central ministers, occupied themselves to seize Mamata Banerjee’s fort. It seemed as though federal governance halted to annex the unclaimed terrains. There’s no ambiguity among political pundits that ‘Modi-isation’ of Indian politics propelled the BJP to enlarge its footholds, and postulate itself as a ‘nationalist confederacy’. Nevertheless, deterrence for such assertions have begun to ensue. BJP’s National Executive, which includes Modi, Shah, Nadda and others, could do little to penetrate beyond Lok Sabha constituencies, however excluding the Hindi speaking areas. Apart from the language posing a barrier, there’s a provincial disassociation with its foundational Hindutva ideology. The party recurrently exploits Rashtriya Swayam-sevak Sangh’s social assets to contrive political amplitude for legislative elections, where it has nominal potentiality.

In West Bengal, Mamata’s ‘Kanyashree’, ‘Khadya Sathi’ and other such euphoric schemes reverberated with the downtrodden electorates, rather than the ‘Jai Shree Ram’ squabbling. The Machiavellian manoeuvres of the federal agencies were conspicuous. Dilip Ghosh or any other BJP harbingers couldn't contend with her magnetism, even though its state party unit was in a much more tenacious position than the Trinamool Congress (TMC). Saffron affiliates did employ the Hindutva gambit, but barely found any breakthrough. Although BJP’s high command consistently choreographed the elections, it couldn’t imprison the whims of regional proletarians.

Assam’s electoral fallout was very distinctive in the sense that the incumbent BJP transpired as a regional actor. Many political analysts had earlier surmised that the mass agitation last year against the ‘Citizenship Amendment Act’ would dent BJP’s aspirations. However, sectoral narratives were not fabricated around CAA or NRC, it was again, such as in West Bengal, about ‘provincial welfarism’. Direct benefits such as ‘Oronodoy’ permeated through the grassroots. In times of economic and social distress, ‘state benefits’ overpowered ‘identity’ politics’.

Along with its well founded organisation and centre’s backing, the state assemblage accommodated regional premiers of contrasting sects and tribes, predominantly orchestrating electoral strategies. Modi’s hypnotic rallies were just brownie points. Assam’s electioneering was the most strenuous of all states, considering its convoluted demography. Leaders of the soil safeguarded the sovereignty of regional politics, abstracting it from the forthright involvement of Modi-Shah-Nadda’s electoral apprehensions. Although ‘Modism’ was advocated to the voters through sloganeering such as ‘Akou ebar Modi Sorkar’, they were embossed by prominent provincial leaders.

Analysing the outcome of both the state elections evidently corroborate the paramountcy of territorial figureheads. It constructs the certitude that ‘regionalism’ must pave way for ‘nationalist’ sentiments and not the other way around. ‘Politics from grassroots’ is a more potent paraphernalia than ‘politics from above’. Indira Gandhi’s dictatorial command encountered comparable circumstances in 1975 when she came across territorial resentments against inflation, and as a final recourse, had to impose a National Emergency to continue her reign. Regional ‘princes’ are indispensable to diffuse and analyse public animosity. They must be able to convey the party's imaginations. The limitations of nationalism lie therewith; the BJP might be able to persuade a general election with affairs of national security, however, when it stretches down to state-specific disputes, politics of regionalism would undoubtedly reign over.

How should the party then proceed forth with its expansionist ambitions, and cut across the periphery of muscular nationalism? The BJP, despite its anguish over the Indian National Congress has a great deal to acquire from Nehru’s Congress. The Congress party during its post-independence dominance incorporated prominent regional stalwarts, who were associated with the freedom struggle. They carried the banner of the Party, and also inculcated their own perceptions and experiences. Local resentments arose against the state party units, but Nehru’s appeal safeguarded the federal government’s validity.

The BJP can amalgamate regional passions when it unequivocally rejuvenates itself into a democratic caucus at all structural levels. The Party, like Indira’s Congress, is still substantially susceptible to Modi-Shah's juggernaut for sweeping elections. Although liberal conventions do prevail in its Parliamentary Board, it must also resonate at the legislative congregations. The ascendancy of ‘Modism’ has fulfilled the Sangh Parivaar’s longing in embellishing the coalition at the centre, thereby evencing it's Weltanschauung in the matters of national identity. It should now avow democratic tenets to materialise and perpetuate the provincial party unit’s self-determination, no matter how autonomously they accomplish, contrary to the customs of the National Executive.

The Party nonetheless must extend and aggrandise the ‘Assam model’, to strengthen its state units elsewhere. Himanta Biswa Sarma not only supervised the election campaign, but was nominated unanimously as the Chief Minister by the elected Legislative Assembly members, rather than being ordained by the party’s Parliamentary Board. Such undertakings inculcate perceptions of autonomy and elucidates legitimacy for party functioning. ‘Democratic Centralism’ at the regional units is possibly the praxis, through which it can metamorphose from a mere political to a ‘people’s party’, fusing legitimacy for both regional and national politics. For democratic temperament to endure in the polity, it must prevail over its stagers.

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Vol. 54, No. 7, Aug 15 - 21, 2021