The year 2022 must have left those in the power corridors perplexed about whether the year had been good or bad for them. It is being seen as the crucial penultimate year for all political forces to build a momentum before an early parliamentary election in 2024.
The assembly elections were supposed to indicate which way the wind is blowing, but mixed outcomes through the year have only left things hanging more than ever. While the Bharatiya Janata Party outclassed itself by registering thumping wins in crucial states like Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttarakhand and Goa, it faced defeat in Punjab, and more recently in Himachal Pradesh, and in the Delhi municipal elections at the hands of a fledgling Aam Aadmi Party.
In terms of its annual electoral performance, the BJP retained most of its strongholds but could not expand into new territories. For a party which is seen more as an election machine, the year did not offer opportunities to be very proud of.
It even lost one of its most crucial allies, Nitish Kumar, and with him, its government in Bihar. Earlier, one of its smaller allies in Bihar, the Vikassheel Insaan Party led by Mukesh Sahni also parted ways with the BJP. The developments in Bihar have put the BJP in a tough spot ahead of 2024 General Elections. Interestingly, Nitish blamed the BJP for the collapse of the coalition government. His party leaders accused the party of replacing Nitish with his own aide, R.C.P. Singh.
More and more allies appear to be disillusioned with the BJP. A latest chapter of this was written after it was alleged to have engineered in yet another “Operation Lotus” drive to effect a coup in Shiv Sena and replace Uddhav Thackeray with his aide Eknath Shinde in the chief minister’s position. The Maha Vikas Aghadi government fell in the process, and BJP came to power with the support of Shinde’s camp.
Has the BJP made itself weaker ahead of 2024? If a recent report is something to go by, the BJP just expanded its list of vulnerable constituencies from 144 to 160 seats, even as it didn’t expand its reach to newer territories in 2022.
While it is still in a dominant position in most north Indian states, Congress appears to giving it a tough fight in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan. Moreover, it may not be in a position to repeat its 2019 electoral performance in West Bengal, Odisha, and Bihar.
The all-powerful and resourceful BJP began the year on heels of Prime Minister Narendra Modi revoking the contentious farm laws after a sustained pushback by a year-long farmers’ agitation – not the most conducive beginning for a party that is not used to taking a single step back.
The saffron party, in fact, attempted to deflect attention from its defeat at the hands of the farmers’ movement by intensifying its Hindu consolidation strategy that banks entirely upon social polarisation.
Sangh Parivar outfits stopped hijab-wearing Muslim girls from attending their school and colleges in Karnataka. It argued that hijab was against the code of school uniforms and sought a ban on it in educational institutions. The Karnataka high court backed the argument, leading to the intensification of similar attacks by Sangh parivar outfits on Muslim school-going girls across India.
The episode led to further vilification of Muslims, with BJP legislators like Parvesh Verma, Ajay Mahawar, Nand Kishore Gurjar, Pragya Singh Thakur and others calling for a boycott of Muslims or participating in Hindu extremist events that gave calls to “finish Islam” in India.
The turn of events leading up to the crucial Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat elections was copybook Hindutva that fed the Hindus strong doses of Islamophobia through fake news, hate campaigns against Muslims and so on. Mahapanchayats against Muslims were organised separately by extremist organisations that support the BJP, and sought to militiate Hindus against Muslims. As the year drew to a close, one heard even the Union home minister Amit Shah making underhanded remarks against Muslims in his election speeches in Gujarat.
The only positive stride that the BJP took away from its playbook was to nominate Droupadi Murmu as India’s first Adivasi president. Although the nomination was in keeping with its strategy to include marginalised sections among Hindus in the broader ambit of Hindutva, the move proved to be a game-changer in Gujarat where the party performed unprecedentedly well in the Adivasi belt. It now hopes that Adivasis will respond positively to the BJP’s ideology in Adivasi-majority states like Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh.
The BJP’s strategy to consolidate Hindus against minorities within a larger agenda of Hindu nationalism has given it a decisive edge in elections. Yet, in 2022, it appeared formulaic, devoid of any novelty – a carryover from its 2014 strategy.
In contrast, the opposition forces appeared to rise above their petty rivalries and reinvent themselves.
The Aam Aadmi Party may have pivoted from its original movement-driven politics but emerged as a strong contender in the opposition camp to take on the saffron party. While BJP’s Hindu consolidation strategy driven by hate against minorities appeared tired and worn out, AAP borrowed from its playbook to steer a campaign that is built on an inclusive nationalism but also promises to deliver quantified welfare measures to the common man.
Its campaign, unburdened by legacy, wasn’t the usual routine criticism of the BJP. It pitched itself as kattar imaandaar against BJP’s kattar Hindu and a force that can truly deliver what BJP through its eight years of reign couldn’t. It rode over all criticism against it and won Punjab with an absolute majority. It also showed sparks in Goa and Gujarat, and plans to build on in these states. It made BJP nervous, as was seen in the saffron party’s and Modi government’s targeted attacks on AAP leaders, like no other opposition could in the last eight years.
The southern parts of India also saw opposition leaders like Tamil Nadu chief minister M.K. Stalin and his Telangana counterpart K. Chadrashekhar Rao emerge as strong critics of the BJP. Stalin put forward an ideological opposition to the Modi government, raised his voice for a stronger federal structure, and looked to join hands with other opposition parties to oppose the Union government’s policy decisions that many states perceived as breaching the state’s autonomy.
Similarly, with Telangana elections upcoming and BJP emerging as a strong opposition force in the state, KCR is working on the lines of Mamata Banerjee. He has already changed his party’s name from Telangana Rashtra Samithi to Bharat Rashtra Samithi in his bid to become a national player. BRS has been raising issues like inflation, unemployment and hate campaigns in north Indian states, even as KCR has been visiting many opposition-ruled states to draw up an opposition campaign for 2024.
The canny politician has clearly drawn the lines – it’s him against the BJP.
The biggest resurgence has been that of the Congress in 2022. Having been out of the pole position, the Congress appeared to begin the process of sorting out their weaknesses, although it may just be a start. It organised a Chintan Shivir in Udaipur and attempted to build a narrative of inclusive nationalism and welfare-driven politics against that of the BJP’s. After courting controversies and internal rebellions, it finally had an elected president, Mallikarjun Kharge, whose tenure has seen increased synergy among the top leadership of the party. It also led to a much-needed revamp in the organisation – from its social media unit to state leaderships.
More importantly, the Congress seemed serious in its opposition role and took a step back to organise the biggest post-independence mass contact programme, the Bharat Jodo Yatra with Rahul Gandhi himself spearheading it. The Yatra has been a success as a social experiment. One can only determine its electoral impact in the near future. Yet, the Congress that was down and out after multiple electoral failures seems to be on the path of occupying the pole position again, with the Bharat Jodo Yatra having surely put the grand old party at the centre of opposition politics.
Much of the energy that the opposition forces showed seems to have flowed from the way the Trinamool Congress-led by Mamata Banerjee defeated the BJP in 2021. Banerjee did so with much lesser resources compared to the BJP and when her government was facing massive anti-incumbency sentiments. She reorganised her party leadership from top to bottom, offered a clear vision, made her message of unity and fraternity look better than the BJP’s Hindu majoritarianism through a concerted campaign push, and amplified her welfare measures. She showed the opposition forces what it takes to take on the highly resourceful election machinery of the saffron party.
2022 was the year when the opposition forces emulated her style, although different parties picked up different issues and political rhetoric. BJP still remains the most-dominant, and yet its core strategy appeared facile, repetitive, and insipid. The opposition showed spark but at the moment doesn’t look united enough to offer an alternative, and attractive, agenda to the majority of Indian people. With hits fewer than misses, the dynamic BJP would look forward to quickly taking corrective measures to gear up for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. It remains to be seen whether reinvigorated opposition forces can find that elusive rhythm to stop the saffron applecart.