After the Assembly Elections/ Stricken BJP Striving to Recover: Shastri Ramachandaran

Updated by admin on Tuesday, May 18, 2021 09:06 PM IST

New Delhi:
TamilnaduFirst.com brings you an exclusive interview of Shastri Ramachandaran, senior journalist and political and foreign affairs commentator based in Delhi, on the impact of the recent assembly elections on the political fortunes of the BJP and the Opposition.
Q: How do you interpret the results of the elections in four States and one UT?
Shastri: The ruling BJP is still reeling under the political blow it has been dealt in the elections to the assemblies of four states and one Union Territory. Thankfully for the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the raging second surge of Covid-19 has come in handy to deflect attention from the BJP’s fortunes, which were intensely debated until the Centre was compelled to confront the challenge of the massive spread and spike in coronavirus cases. 
It was a foregone conclusion that the BJP would not be on the winning side in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Bengal. All its hype, political blitz and massive resources, including the use of state agencies and constitutional offices such as the Central Election Commission, to break through and form a government in Bengal was of little avail, given the tide in favour of the Trinamool Congress led by Mamata Banerjee. All that the BJP’s sound and fury, bluff and bluster and high-pitched, crude and vulgar campaign achieved in Bengal was to make a willing media delude itself and refuse to see which way the wind was blowing. In Kerala, where the BJP’s hype astonished its own state leaders, the Left Democratic Front’s Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan kept his word and closed the BJP’s account of one seat in the state assembly. In Tamil Nadu, the BJP, far from being of any help to the ruling AIADMK, actually proved to be a liability and damaged the incumbent’s prospects. Its victory in Pondicherry is pyrrhic, for it is on the coat-tails of a personalised, local party that the mighty BJP managed some small pickings. In Assam, the truth of its victory has been laid bare by the party having to hand over the chief ministership to a former Congressman, whom it had sworn to prosecute and put behind bars.
Given such a turn of events, the BJP has reason to feel bitter and humiliated. Union Home Minister Amit Shah is not putting in his characteristic public appearances and Prime Minister Modi, too, seems to be somewhat subdued.
However, it would be wrong to read these as signs of the BJP learning the right lessons from the elections or reconciling itself to the outcome, accepting the imperatives of federalism and going forward to re-build the vitiated Centre-state relations, which was a major casualty in this round of elections. Far from mending its ways to move in that direction, the BJP is showing all the signs of scaling up the war against the Opposition which, in its eye, is epitomised by the TMC’s Mamata Banerjee.
Q: What will be the approach of PM Narendra Modi now onwards, in the wake of the defeat in West Bengal?
Shastri: A politically wounded Modi will stop at nothing to crush his opponents. Therein lies the danger, not so much to the Opposition, as to democracy, constitutional institutions including Parliament, the Election Commission and judiciary, and to due process especially involving state and law enforcement agencies, particularly the police.
The Opposition is unlikely to gather itself and pose a challenge to Modi and the BJP anytime soon. Wherever they are in office, non-BJP parties are facing a huge challenge in battling Covid. They are hamstrung by the fact of the Union Government not assisting to the required extent and leaving them to their own devices and resources including for getting the vaccine and carrying out vaccination. Modi knows that until and unless India wins the battle decisively against Covid, the Opposition cannot plan their political moves to take on the BJP. This is a huge constraint, which the BJP will use to its fullest advantage.
The second front the Centre and BJP will open, particularly against Bengal and Banerjee, is keeping up the political heat of confrontation. In such a play, the Centre and BJP would always have the upper hand, while Banerjee would be diverted from the urgent priorities her government has to deal with. The blanket security cover to all the BJP MLAs in Bengal, the Governor using every chance to needle her, beginning with her swearing-in, and the Centre not covering the cost of Covid inoculations are only a few of the issues which could be turned into flashpoints.
Q: The role of the Election Commission has come in for a lot of criticism. What is your take on how the ECI has handled matters especially relating to the judiciary? Is there also a tussle between the Centre and the judiciary in recent times?
Shastri: The ECI, which is now helmed by a new CEC, is yet to be tested. However, it has to stay the course in so far as it has to deal with the consequences of the actions of the CEC who demitted office during the elections. One example of this is the ECI’s pushback against the judiciary, especially the critical observations of the Madras High Court. In pushing back against the judiciary, the ECI and the BJP at the Centre seem to be of one mind, whether unwittingly or otherwise. The Union Government has openly shown itself unwilling to be directed by the Supreme Court even in life-saving issues such as oxygen supplies for the Covid-hit. Such a tussle bodes ill at a time of national crisis. The judiciary’s perceived assertiveness may also create friction when the BJP is viewed as being unrestrained in using state agencies against its political opponents. Parliament not meeting, ostensibly in view of the Covid pandemic, has helped to practically shut down parliamentary processes and keep non-BJP MPs away from constitutional spaces where they can make legitimate democratic interventions.
At the best of times, the BJP has not excelled in governance. Given the importance it will attach to reviving its political fortunes in the context of state elections in 2022—in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Goa and Manipur—governance will only be worse hit.
Q: What are the hopes for the opposition at the national level? Can Mamata emerge as a challenger to the BJP?
Shastri: As for the Opposition, when it is freed from the mammoth task of managing the epidemic and providing for the affected people, it has to re-invent itself to take on the BJP. That would be no easy task given that the leading challenger is Banerjee. She has proved to be a formidable force that can stand up to the BJP and its awesome resources. The question is whether she has the savvy, the skills and the temperament to bring together the disparate opposition parties, bind them to a common agenda and go forward as a harmonious and resolute formation.
Until and unless that happens, which may be many months away, for all the sense of crisis by which the Centre and the country is gripped, Modi and Shah need not lose sleep for fear of the Opposition stealing a march over the BJP on a national scale.
(As told to TamilnaduFirst.com by Shastri Ramachandaran).


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