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  March 17, 2017

BJP Wins India's Largest State in Elections, Further Consolidating Modi's Power

NewsClick founder Prabir Purkayastha says the secular and social inclusion agendas have lost to the pro-business, anti-Muslim agenda of Narendra Modi - and no oppositional force looks ready to challenge the BJP in the 2019 elections
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SHARMINI PERIES: Welcome. This is The Real News, a NewsClick production. I'm Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.

India's Hindu Nationalized BJP Party of Narendra Modi, won a clear majority in two of the five State Assembly elections last week. More significantly, defeating Congress in Uttar Pradesh, also known as UP, which is India's most heavily populated state, with over 200 million people, and the third largest economy in the country. BJP also won the state of Uttarakhand.

The Congress Party did win the state of Punjab, in Goa and Manipur -- no party had a clear majority, but the BJP has created a post-election alliance to rule. Aam Aadmi Party appeared to have lost big all around.

On to analyze these results with me is Founder and Editor in Chief of NewsClick, Prabir Purkayastha. Prabir is joining us today from New Delhi. Thanks so much for joining us, Prabir.

PRABIR PURKAYASTHA: Thanks, Sharmini. Good to be here.

SHARMINI PERIES: So Prabir, give us a sense of what happened in each of the states, and the significance of it.

PRABIR PURKAYASTHA: Well, the biggest state is, of course, Uttar Pradesh, and that if it was an independent country, the fifth largest country in the world. So, that's a big, big electorate. And in Indian terms, that's really what's going to decide what happens in the future. Both in terms of the Upper House of the legislature, which shifts then, with these results, to really the BJP in the coming bi-annual election that takes place, and then we have also the presidential election that takes place, which is decided by the Houses of Parliament, as well as the State Legislatures.

In both of these, BJP would have a majority, thanks to what's happened in UP. So, UP is a big one. UP was not a Congress stronghold; Congress was actually quite weak there. But their two regional parties were quite strong, and both have really not done well. They've held on to their respective vote bases, which is about -- one party got about 22%, the other got about 29% -- as opposed to BJPs 39%.

But this is a first past-the-post system. So, at 39%, BJP had two-fourths majority, and that's what really has told in their favor. It has shifted the political balance completely in the favor of BJP, after these elections in the country. And I think that's the biggest takeaway from what's happened.

Yes, the Congress did well in Punjab, and the BJP and its allies should have won -- the Akali Dal, were defeated badly. And Goa, they did not so well, Manipur they did, again, not so well. They didn't have majorities. They were clearly ahead of the BJP, and unfortunately the governors in both the states have played a dubious role, by calling not the biggest party, which is what the convention is, but calling BJP, which claimed a posthole alliance. And then demanded that they be allowed to form the government.

And the governors accepted these claims, which I think is, in constitution terms, not really the right thing to do. Which has been pointed out by some of the leading lawyers, constitutional lawyers, in the country. In overall terms, a bad election for the Congress, except in Punjab. The fact that it is no longer a player in UP is a very big loss for it. The fact that its allies have also lost to UP -- lost big-time. That is also something, which is going to tell for the future.

In affect, Congress does not appear to have come off well in this election, though it may not be so apparent from the vote figures on the results of this ... ... has lost big time. I don't think ... has lost bit time, in that sense. It has not been able to make breakthroughs beyond Delhi. Punjab, it was expected to do better. That is the only other state that was really in the running. It was expected to vote neck-to-neck with the Congress, and deciding who'd be number one and number two.

And that, it has been really fallen behind the Congress, Congress has won decisively in Punjab. Even though Punjab, compared to UP, is a much smaller state, it's about one-third the size of UP in terms of parliamentary seats, it's still an important state in overall terms. So, yes, congress a little bit of a breather in the fact that it has held onto Punjab, but overall terms, Congress does not look a very healthy opposition at the moment.

And it does appear that currently, the leadership of Congress has really no clue what to do, and how to make a comeback.

SHARMINI PERIES: And Prabir, these victories together really strengthens the Prime Minister Narendra Modi's hand in terms of the upcoming election in 2019, as you have already indicated. Give us sense of the morale in the Congress party, and the other left parties in terms of what of what happened.

PRABIR PURKAYASTHA: So, I think the biggest takeaway from this election, is this is being regarded as a Narendra Modi victory in UP. It is not that they had any local leader of stature. They did not announce chief ministerial candidate, it was really Narendra Modi versus the rest. What has happened is, it makes his position in the country of a leader, much stronger than what it was before the UP elections.

Compared to that, the stature of all the other leaders, including the Congress, shall we say, the Crown Prince, Rahul Gandhi, his stature looks much more diminished. So, this has created this specific scenario where Narendra Modi has become virtually an unrivaled leader, and whatever he's saying has a certain degree of resonance and credibility, which goes far beyond his party and even his Hindu Nationalist agenda, as you called it, what I would call the Hindu Sectarian Agenda.

So, this is the one takeaway from what has happened. That it does increase Narendra Modi's stature, compared to any other leader. And it has also put on the agenda that how do you build a resistance to what the Modi government and the Modi dispensation has been able to build? I think it also important to see there are two other things, which have happened, which need to be taken into consideration.

One is, we have this secular India, which came out of the national movement. I think that concept of secular India has been weakened now, by the kind of onslaught, which has been put in the UP elections, BJP didn't put a single Muslim candidate. But clear that it did not seek the Muslim votes it as going to bank only on the Hindu votes.

The two largest regional parties in UP, were based on what would be called a caste identities. One was the Dalits, the Shudras castes which had really gathered behind the BSP, and they're about 20, 22% of the voting strength in UP. The vote of the party, the BSP did not exceed this. So she could not ... break into Narendra vote bases beyond what was a veritable basis. Similarly, the Muslims rallied behind, largely what is called the Bahujan Samaji Party. And that also has this OBC identity.

But that also did not go beyond a certain narrow sectarian basis, shall we say. And what we are seeing is therefore, the inability of the identity based politics to make much of a headway against the communal, or the sectarian, Hindu identity based on the politics of Narendra Modi. So, I think that is something, which is going to change the way we have to look at Indian politics today. The two major agendas, the secular agenda, and the, what would be called the social inclusion agendas, both have been weakened, but the kind of, shall we say, developmental agenda which Modi has put forward is very much pro-business, as well as the kind of anti-Muslim agenda that he has put forward.

Which, of course, in India, masqueraded as an anti-Pakistan nationalist agenda. I think this is the main change that we have seen in the country. And we all need to address, how do you resist the nature of the state changing the way it has? And, you're right, 2019 elections really look bleak for all opposition forces. And unless we are able to stop the Modi's march in the way it is taking place today, it will be a difficult five to seven years for the country.

SHARMINI PERIES: Right. And Prabir, finally, how would you put this win against other right wing parties that have risen up across the world, including right here, in the United States, with President Donald Trump?

PRABIR PURKAYASTHA: I think we need to bring back two kinds of agendas, if we want to contest this kind of right wing forces. One is, that we need to bring back cultural social resistance center stage that means an onslaught, which is taking place the way we live, the way we identify ourselves, how we count ourselves. So, how do you bring back agenda for resistance?

In India, specifically, we need to contest the kind of sectarian agenda, which is being put forward. It's not very different from the white nationalist agenda, except the identity that has been projected is a different identity. But, it's really majoritarian identities, which have now coming into force. And they're very anti-minorities and anti-inclusive. They don't want to include any sects, except what the majoritarian definition of the nation is.

So, I think this is much larger than a resistance we have to build, which is social, economic and cultural resistance, and not just political resistance. If we think in terms of just political parties, I think we'll miss what is the essential thrust of this agenda. Which is really reforming the nation in different terms.

And I think that is why we really need to focus on what is the kind of resistance we need to build. It has to be multi-dimensional, in which politics is only one dimension. The social, economic, the class, all of this has to come together, in order to recapture the democratic space on these societies.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Prabir, I thank you for now. I'm sure in terms of your analysis of what's going on, both in terms of the BJP Party, as well as the Congress, and the left is going t be an ongoing discussion here at The Real News. Thank you so much for joining us today.


SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining me here on The Real News Network.




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