BJP gains new grounds in 2020 but farmers protest poses challenge

·6-min read

New Delhi, Dec 31 (PTI) Prime Minister Narendra Modi's call to convert 'aapda' (crisis) into 'avsar' (opportunity) paid the BJP rich dividends in a year when the COVID-19 convulsed the society and the economy as a mix of the ruling dispensation's welfare measures, organisational might and ideological drive saw the saffron party gain new territories in 2020.

Governments in most of the world saw their approval ratings dip as they struggled to contain the raging virus, which hit economy hard everywhere, but Indian politics followed a different script, with the outgoing year marking further shrinking of a rudderless Congress while the ruling BJP soared riding on Modi's enduring appeal. However, challenges emerged for the BJP as the year drew to a close.

Mass protests from a large section of farmers, especially from Punjab, against sweeping reforms brought in the agriculture sector through three laws by the Modi government have presented it with one of the most serious challenges since it first came to power in 2014.

Shiromani Akali Dal, one of the BJP's oldest and steadfast allies, severed its ties with the party, leaving the Modi cabinet without any representation from a non-BJP party.

The party's ties with the JD(U) are also far from smooth as the Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's party is still smarting from its poor show in the state assembly polls owing to Chirag Paswan's Lok Janshakti Party's decision to go all out against it while lauding the BJP. The larger political fallout of the agitation, spearheaded by farmer unions, remains untested but its durability through weeks of protests at Delhi borders amid a harsh winter coupled with its potential to trigger wider unrest India have seen the BJP making hectic efforts to reach out to the peasantry, while the government works to defuse the crisis.

If the year started on a bad note for BJP president J P Nadda, who took over from the formidable Amit Shah in January, after the party suffered yet another rout in the Delhi assembly polls in February in its first major elections under him, he is now likely to look back at 2020 with more than a touch of satisfaction.

The BJP for the first time emerged as the driver of the National Democratic Alliance in Bihar as its superlative show of winning 74 of the 110 seats it contested in the 243-seat assembly polls ensured that Kumar retained his chair despite his party's dismal performance. The JD(U) won only 43 of the 115 seats it fought.

The BJP's performance in Bihar despite apparent anti-incumbency factor at work against Kumar was notable as it was powered largely by the central government's welfare measures during the pandemic and Modi's appeal amid absence of any regional leader with a state-wide draw.

The prime minister's call for converting the 'aapda' in the form of the COVID-19 crisis into 'avsar' was apparently embraced by voters who were impressed with his pro-poor programmes and campaign for 'Aatmanirbhar Bharat'.

The ground-breaking ceremony of the Ram temple by the prime minister in August followed by enactment of so called 'love jihad' laws, whose constitutionality has been questioned by critics, helped the party consolidate its Hindutva core base further.

While Delhi and Bihar were the only two states that faced assembly polls this year, the BJP swept assembly bypolls in a string of states, including Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh, followed by its strong show in local body polls in Rajasthan, Goa, Hyderabad, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh among others.

If its strong show in Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh indicated that it remains firmly entrenched in these states, its performance in Telangana would have tasted sweetest to the BJP top brass as it heralded the party's emergence as the main challenger to Telangana Rashtra Samithi supremo and state's Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao.

The BJP delivered shock defeat to the TRS in the latter's bastion of Dubbaka in assembly bypoll and then ran it close in the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Elections.

Its tally surged to 48 from four while that of the TRS fell to 55 from 99 in the elections to 150 seats.

The party also emerged as the single largest party in the panchayat polls in Jammu and Kashmir by winning 75 seats, even as the People's Alliance for Gupkar Declaration, an amalgamation of parties bitterly opposed to the Centre's decision to annul Article 370, picketed 110 seats. The BJP maintained its dominance in the Jammu division and managed to open its account in the Valley.

The one state that again disappointed the BJP was Kerala where in the local body polls it remained a distant third behind the CPI (M)-led LDF and the Congress-led UDF alliances.

The Congress' below par performance in elections, except Chhattisgarh where its Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel remains in firm control, held through the year meant that the BJP's hegemony in the national politics remained unchallenged.

It is in states with powerful satraps like Delhi or Maharashtra that its ambitions were thwarted by regional satraps, AAP's Arvind Kejriwal in the national capital and NCP's Sharad Pawar in Maharashtra who has managed to keep Maharashtra's ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi alliance on an even keel despite its inherent ideological incoherence.

The BJP succeeded in toppling the dissident-ridden Congress government in Madhya Pradesh by wooing over the opposition party's heavyweight Jyotiraditya Scindia to its side.

A rebellion by Sachin Pilot in Rajasthan against Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot had the Congress government teetering on the brink, and though Gehlot managed to stave off the challenge, the jury is still out whether he will be able to last his full term till 2023 with the BJP waiting in the wings to seize on any opportunity.

Like a redoubtable army always on the march to gain new grounds, the BJP's eyes are already fixed on West Bengal, one of the politically most important states where the assembly polls are due in the April-May.

As in so many other states, the party's political investment in West Bengal since Modi came to power in 2014 and Shah became its president has begun paying off, as brought into sharp relief in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls when its tally zoomed to 18 seats from two and that of the ruling Trinamool Congress fell to 22 from 34.

However, the TMC supremo and state Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee remains a strong regional satrap and formidable campaigner.

In the past, the BJP has more often than not come up short in assembly polls when pitted against a regional heavyweight, more so when it lacks a chief ministerial candidate, as seems to be the case in West Bengal so far.

Defection of a number of TMC leaders has energised the BJP cadres, with Shah seen to driving the party's campaign in the state. As the new year dawns, the Bengal results will go a long way in deciding the course of national politics in 2021. PTI KR ZMN