Leaders and workers of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) deserve congratulations for their victory in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. But when Prime Minister Narendra Modi attributed the results in his victory speech to a “vote for vikas” as opposed to “emotional” issues, BJP faces the danger of taking its own rhetoric too seriously. For if development alone is the key, how does the party explain its Goa debacle?
There is a reason to call out Goa. When I was there late last year, its development was visible, and many locals I spoke with were appreciative of BJP’s work in this area. Yet, BJP won only 13 seats in the 2017 election as opposed to the 21 it had won in 2012. It is hard to attribute this to anti-incumbency; BJP has had a great track record of retaining or even increasing its seats in other states it has ruled. It also did good work. Yet, losing nearly 40 per cent of the seats it held can hardly be called anything less than a debacle. Whither vikas?
Admittedly, one difference is the popularity of Manohar Parrikar, who was called to duty at the Centre leaving the state to Laxmikant Parsekar, who could not even retain his own seat. But as we dig deeper, we find that unlike Modi’s rhetoric, “emotional issues” like the issue of language and culture have played a significant role in Goa’s politics, and potentially BJP’s poor results.
Let’s do the numbers. In 2012, the Maharashtravadi Gomantak Party (MGP) withdrew support from the ruling Congress party over the issue of the latter’s funding for private English-medium schools. It entered into an alliance with BJP for the 2012 elections on the promise of withdrawal of state support for English-medium primary schools. On coming to power, the BJP betrayed this promise. It struck a “Faustian bargain” with the Catholic Church to continue support for the English-medium schools that were run by the church. Government funding of the church, with little protest, is unique to Indian “secularism”.
This outraged both the MGP, which had withdrawn support to the Congress on precisely the reason of government funding for English-medium schools, as well as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Former RSS Goa chief, Subhash Velingkar, launched the platform called Goa Suraksha Manch (GSM) to promote Konkani and Marathi. In an interview with Livemint before the elections, he explicitly called out defeating the BJP in elections as the aim.
As the bigger player in this effort, GSM is bringing together like-minded parties like Shiv Sena, Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party and Goa Praja Party. Right now, the focus is on providing Goa voters a political alternative to the BJP and making sure the BJP loses 2017 elections…Velingkar said in a phone interview from Goa.
Later the MGP also resigned from the government breaking the alliance with the BJP some months before the elections. MGP general secretary and member of Legislative Assembly Lavoo Mamledar also raised the issue of language, questioning the BJP’s stance.
Please recall the 2012 election. Congress gave grants to English-medium primary schools. All MGP-BJP leaders had assured to revoke the Congress decision, but after coming to power, BJP made a U-turn. So we have taken a decision now to stand behind local languages. MGP is openly supporting local languages to preserve it and also expect the same from the BJP. In 1987, the people of Goa caused an agitation over the language issue and Konkani was also given official status along with Marathi. If we don’t want these languages, why were all these agitations held?Mamledar
While OpIndia has pointed out that some of this may be cynical political games of MGP jockeying for power, it is undeniable that language is an emotive issue. The retention of English, along with a number of other “pro-Christian moves”, was, according to bwoyblunder, a way to appease the church. However, despite all the appeasement, he predicted, “Come 2017, BJP may as well say goodbye to the Christian vote.” News about Church attacks, which I showed was hyped and fake, created an anti-Modi and anti-BJP “intolerance” narrative. And yet, in this appeasement, BJP lost the MGP alliance, some RSS backing, as well as its brand association and claims to care about Indian languages and culture.
If you look at the results it is clear that the BJP-MGP break affected at least a handful of seats. In Ponda, for instance, if we add the votes polled by the BJP and MGP candidates, it exceeds the votes of the winning Indian National Congress (INC) candidate.
There is a similar situation in Siroda.
The contrast with the Siroda position in 2012, when BJP won the seat is particularly striking.
The total votes of the winning BJP candidate Mahadev Narayan Naik in 2012, were 12,216, more than the votes polled by the Congress’ winning candidate Subhash Ankush Shirodkar in 2017 – 111,56. MDP had not contested that seat in 2012, in favour of the BJP. The total of the MGP and BJP votes in 2017 were 12,101, remarkably close to BJP’s winning total in 2012. BJP contested more seats than it did in 2012, 36 vs 28, and won 13 vs 21.
The effect of “emotional issues” sometimes doesn’t show up so directly in the numbers. Often, disenchanted voters simply don’t show up to vote. RSS workers may be far less enthused canvassing for the party. When the difference between winning and losing is a few hundred votes, this disenchantment can easily cause the swing of half a dozen seats. It is likely that an alliance with the MGP would have put BJP at 17-18 seats and the MGP itself at about four seats leading to a better practical and moral claim to govt formation of the alliance.
The BJP can never reliably get the fundamentalist Catholic votes as long as the church wields political influence over the laity and takes its orders from the Vatican. China has moved to cut the Vatican’s power. The Chinese government has appointed its own bishops to curtail the power of the Vatican over the flock. The church is ultimately a political player. It understands power and it has blinked in the power game, agreeing to the bishop appointments. Rather than rolling back or challenging the power of the church, which is the only long-term stable situation, BJP does what it accused the Congress of doing – pseudo-secularism and “minority” appeasement.
Similarly, rather than having a clear commitment to Indian culture and languages, BJP consistently backtracks on this. Language, as I show in my book, The English Medium Myth is linked not only to culture but also to economics. India can never hope to be a developed country without developing its languages, nor can it revitalise its civilisational genius. Study after scientific study has shown that children learn best in their mother tongue, yet BJP pushes English just as much as the Congress did. It also has done nothing to dismantle discriminatory anti-Hindu religion-based laws governing education in India.
The standard story of BJP bhakts is that some compromises have to be made for power. I’m all for a pragmatic approach, and credit to Modi and Amit Shah for the victories they have carved for the party, but BJP’s track record on civilisational issues is abysmal. This begs the question – pragmatism for power, but power for what? If power is not to be used for its platform of cultural nationalism, then what does the BJP stand for? The Conversion War on India goes far beyond the Catholic church, and every convert is a voter less for the BJP, yet the Prime Minister and Home Minister do photo-ops with some of the worst offenders. BJP, let go MGP, too, with the arrogance of not needing the alliance partner with a majority on its own. Now it is back in power, without that majority, a weaker player, dependent on numerous small partners, including the MGP. Come 2019, will BJP get taken by its own rhetoric on development and end up leaving its core cadre unenthused? One hopes not. We’ve seen “India Shining” before.
Sankrant Sanu is an entrepreneur, writer and researcher based in Seattle and Gurgaon.
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