Having been in power for two terms, it was clear that it was not going to be easy for the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) to win again. Further, given that the AIADMK was always seen to be held together by strong personalities, many anticipated an implosion following the passing away of former Chief Minister and party leader Jayalalithaa. Nevertheless, the Tamil Nadu Assembly election was closely fought. Under these circumstances, what does the victory of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) mean for the future of the State and for the pan-Indian polity?
The narratives and campaign
The election can be seen as a referendum on both Tamil Nadu’s as well as India’s future. At the State level, the election foregrounded three fundamentalisms; the religious fundamentalism of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the language fundamentalism of the fringe Tamil nationalists exemplified by the Naam Tamizhar Katchi (NTK) and the caste fundamentalism of sections of intermediate caste groups that are anxious about Dalit mobility. In a sense, all three have come together in this election to challenge the Dravidian-Tamil identity that enabled the State to forge a relatively inclusive developmental trajectory as well as a composite electoral bloc. The DMK’s campaign sought to not only counter the three narratives, but it also revolved against the erosion of State autonomy, a core ideal of Dravidian politics.
Despite its electoral insignificance, the BJP emerged as an ideological opponent to Dravidian mobilisation in this election. Unlike in the past, the BJP targeted DMK’s role in the Sri Lankan Tamil issue, and conducted the ‘Vel Yatra’ to promote Murugan, a popular Tamil deity, to exploit the politics of Tamil nationalism. ‘Tamil’ can now be imagined as a constituent of a glorious Hindu past, with the Dravidian identity being merely a colonial construct.
The BJP was aided in this project by NTK which again sought to pit the Dravidian parties against the Tamil identity and hence opened up the possibility of constituting a Hinduised Tamilness. They sought to foreground a ‘pure Tamil’ identity through caste lineage. To them, the Dravidian parties, the DMK in particular, have denied ‘Tamils’ their rights because of the ‘non-Tamil’ origin of some of their leaders. This attack helped the BJP to push the narrative of a ‘Hindu-Tamil’ identity at the expense of ‘Dravidian-Tamil’.
Issue of caste
The third factor that this election brings to the forefront is caste. For the AIADMK, apart from its leader (and Chief Minister) Edappadi K. Palaniswamy projecting himself subtly as a leader from the numerically large Kongu Vellala Gounder caste, it also passed a Bill just before the election to provide the most backward Vanniyars a 10.5% internal reservation within the 20% Most Backward Community quota to assuage the anxiety of this caste group over Dalit mobility. It may have led to the AIADMK alliance winning a few seats but at the cost of a caste-based polarised polity. The DMK’s victory suggests that despite such mobilisations, the ideological basis of Dravidian commonsense continues to resonate with large sections of its traditional bloc of voters and which may have in fact been strengthened in response to what are seen as attempts by the central government to undermine the State’s autonomy. State autonomy thus constituted another crucial line of battle. The DMK highlighted the AIADMK’s surrender of the State’s rights through its inability to act against a centralising New Education Policy, imposition of the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test, and its support for the Farm Bills and Goods and Services Tax implementation. The DMK spotlighted such incursions as an attack on the State’s political and cultural autonomy.
Results and the idea of India
The DMK’s victory, along with that of the All India Trinamool Congress (TMC)’s in West Bengal and the Left Front’s in Kerala, therefore, have a lot to offer to the pan-Indian polity. To begin with, it has a key role in preserving the idea of a pluralistic India. It is ironic that a party which was perceived to be anti-national is now leading the battle for the protection of the core ideals that define India’s Constitution, its secularism and its federalism. Given that constitutional powers including fiscal relations are heavily biased towards the Centre, the limits and possibilities of federalism are largely a function of two variables; the nature of political coalitions at the Centre and the role of States in such coalitions, and sustaining regional diversity. Tamil Nadu’s political history offers lessons for re-imagining India as a substantive federal entity by locating the political in the aspiration for autonomy of self-governing States. There is a clear need for struggles around federal autonomy to be fought collectively with other States that calls for credible political coalitions to strengthen federalism. The Indian variety of federalism — which is very flexible — can be sustained only by such political coalitions. With its strong legacy of fighting for the rights of States, it is imperative that the DMK uses this win to sustain that legacy for pluralism at the national level, and also to guard the unique trajectory of the development of the State which is under attack now.
Obstacles to navigate
Internally, the victory notwithstanding, the DMK faces several challenges as it assumes power. In the domain of development, the huge fiscal burden compounded by the decline in transfers from the Union government and limited avenues for autonomous resource mobilisation make the task of identifying resources for investments daunting. Clearly, the need for economic governance cannot be overstated.
The key, therefore, would be to leverage existing resources effectively, educational institutions and resources being probably the most important. In terms of school education, a shift towards privatisation and poor learning outcomes poses challenges for deepening social justice. A social segmentation in the school education is likely to feed into the uneven quality of higher educational institutions, and what seems to be a potential segmentation of access in terms of caste, class and gender. If broad-basing of education and resultant opportunities in the modern sectors was the core pillar of social justice, effective governance of education needs to address such emerging imbalances.
Focus on welfare
The DMK’s election manifesto has been hailed for its emphasis on welfare. However, the manifesto and the 10-year vision document put forth by the DMK promises a lot on the governance of development. The promise of a Right to Services Act, emphasis on learning outcomes and university-industry linkages, and efforts to revive State public sector enterprises all augur well on this front. The manifesto also emphasises sustaining agriculture through exploring the possibility of providing a minimum support price for all agricultural products, the promotion of organic farming as well as water resource conservation and management.
Politically, the continued electoral dominance of the AIADMK in western Tamil Nadu and the fact that the Pattali Makkal Katchi in alliance has managed to win a few seats in northern Tamil Nadu suggest a partial victory for caste-based mobilisation. The DMK must genuinely renew its anti-caste agenda if its legacy of social justice is to survive in the future. Hence, the party will be tested strongly on whether it can live up to the faith posed in it by the people and their mandate. A series of youth initiatives in the domain of civil society seeking to secure the ideals of social justice that informs the Dravidian movement offers hope.
Kalaiyarasan A. is with the Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai and a Fulbright-Nehru Fellow at Brown University. Vignesh Karthik K.R. is a doctoral researcher at the King’s India Institute, King’s College London. M. Vijayabaskar is with the Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai. The views expressed are personal
Dear Chief Minister-elect,
I send to you my felicitations on your victory in the elections to the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly and my confidence that you will not only inaugurate a new government but what N. Ram, Director of The Hindu Publishing Group, at the recent launch of the book,The Dravidian Model — Interpreting the Political Economy,said he would want to see: ‘a new type of government’.
Before I suggest what that ‘newness’ might be, I want to say something which does not need saying for it stares us in the face. Please do not think of this is as ‘an old man’s lecture’. It is not. It is a fellow citizen’s ardent appeal.
Tackling the pandemic
You are assuming office, like Joe Biden did in Washington a few months ago, in the jaws of a pandemic the like of which India has not seen in recent memory. Death stalks us at every breath. You are inheriting a monstrous crisis in the shape of the virus’ surge. We, the people, have brought the second wave upon ourselves by our utterly callous response to the challenge.
We have gifted to you a victory. And a virus. You saw how, despite your entreaties, as your victory’s details were coming in, your joyous supporters converged in large numbers, wearing no masks, milling and mixing, to celebrate. I understand — and share — their happiness but where is theganniyamPeriyar taught us ? You will have to admonish us. You will have to do unpopular things. You will have to be brutally frank with us.
But if you have inherited a monumental problem, you have also inherited a superb administrative tradition and a machine in the State that is among the best, most earnest and hard-working in our country. Test it with optimism and trust it with confidence, for there is a crisis at hand. Your officers are a great instrument at your disposal. They will give your vision and your inspiration shape.
Your calling for an across-the-board vaccination of all ‘above 18’, when the norm was ‘above 45’, showed your concern and we may expect you to bring vigour and momentum into the vaccination drive, with fairness at the heart of the drive. Please ask the Centre, as CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury has done, for vaccines to be made available free to the State, as to all States, so that they can vaccinate us for free. But if that gesture does not come, please go ahead regardless of the cost to the State.
There is another ‘cost’ that I want to place before you. I say this not as a teetotaller or as prohibitionist. I say this as one who sees the virus finding an unwitting ally in TASMAC shops supplying liquor, mainly to those who should not be wasting their hard-earned money on alcohol. Please have these outlets shut at once, as a COVID-19 move.
Those in charge of implementing COVID-19 ameliorative and preventive measures in the State, and our amazing healthcare providers, have, over the last many months, been working with a zeal amounting to a passion. But a powerful, consistent and committed message from the political class did not come. The elections, which were all about massing people together, contradicted the requirement for distancing. Our estimable Governor made important interventions but then in our polity, the lead has to come from the leader.
And you are now that leader.
The situation now has reached a stage for brutal frankness. You must tell both your officers and us, the people, that if this second wave is to be tamed and a third and fourth wave are to be averted, it is imperative that we the people of your State be motivated and helped actively to get vaccinated and, equally important, mask up. And have oxygen supplies going. If this does not happen, Tamil Nadu will most definitely slide into the situation that Delhi, Maharashtra and Karnataka face. Thomas Abraham inThe Hinduof April 30, 2021 has given telling statistics to show how the community can be turned from being suicidally mask-negligent to being sensibly mask-diligent. Tamil Nadu can be a game changer if it takes up mass mobilisation for vaccination, masking up and maintaining a steady line of oxygen supplies.
There is no escape from one or another form of lockdown. Uddhav Thackeray, the amazing Chief Minister of Maharashtra, like you, a first-time Chief Minister, has taken tough decisions. Please seek his advice. Maharashtra has been a distinct gainer in recent weeks because of its lockdowns. We know the deleterious effect of a shutdown, particularly on migrant labour, the informal sector and artisans. But if a total lockdown is wrong, free rein given to dangerous ‘openness’ is no less so.
Ten tangible steps
I will end now with how you can give the State the gift of a ‘new type of government’ through 10 tangible steps. One, you are a child of the Dravidian movement, which is the bedrock of your party. Give a dramatically new contemporary dimension to that movement by making it the voice, not just of Tamil aspirations, but the voice of the voiceless, the marginalised and the immiserated. Senior Advocate at the Supreme Court, Menaka Guruswamy, has described India as ‘the majority of minorities’. These minorities include ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities but go further to include all those who are vulnerable because of their numbers or situation. Make your government, in other words, a sanctuary for the culturally, economically and socially endangered.
Two, give the Opposition, which too has been returned to the Assembly in sizeable numbers, the unconditional respect that you wish had been given to you.
Three, make freedom of speech valued by your government as a democratic principle, a desideratum of Dravidian self-expression.
Four, make known your intolerance of corruption by exemplary action, sparing no one howsoever high or close.
Five, women and Dalits remain under-represented in the political pantheon. Please constitute two empowered panels of advisers on gender and Dalits and give them — and us, who observe them — a sense of their worth.
Six, give our farmers (including our fisherfolk) what the Swaminathan Commission has recommended.
Seven, make the protection of the natural and physical environment a priority, with polluters, exploiters and looters shown their place, with ‘developers’ told to leave commons and water bodies alone so as to prevent Chennai from the man-made flooding of a few years ago.
Eight, take a hard and urgent look at the condition of our prisons and of undertrials in them, most of who are likely to be innocent. They should not be where and how they are.
Nine, give the Right to Information Act the power it deserves. It will empower you in doing right.
Ten, reflect on each matter before you decide on it, with the Preamble to our Constitution as your guide.
May Tamil Nadu get, under your helmsmanship, a new type of government which Rajaji, Periyar, Kamaraj and Anna would acclaim, no less than your father, the late Kalaignar. And which, if I may add, a part of MGR’s un-resentful heart would also respond to.
Your fellow citizen,
Gopalkrishna Gandhi is a former administrator, diplomat and governor
The people’s mandate in West Bengal has been decisively against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and in favour of the incumbent Trinamool Congress (TMC), led by Mamata Banerjee. Together with the mandates in favour of the Left Democratic Front in Kerala and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-led coalition in Tamil Nadu, this may well become a turning point in national politics, as far as the Narendra Modi regime is concerned.
For BJP, a rise and then fall
Two years ago, the BJP had witnessed a phenomenal rise in Bengal, with its vote share rising from around 10% in 2016 to 40% in 2019, enabling it to win 18 out of the 42 Lok Sabha seats from the State. Preliminary data suggest a slight reversal of that trend in 2021, with the BJP finishing with a State-wide vote share of around 38%. The TMC, on the other hand, has significantly improved its vote share from 43% in 2019 to around 48% in 2021.
An almost 10% lead in vote share has translated into a clean sweep, with the TMC registering a two-third plus majority, belying the projections of most opinion and exit polls that it will be a cliffhanger of a contest. The BJP has finished way below the double digit threshold, publicly earmarked by the TMC’s key poll strategist, Prashant Kishor.
What went wrong for the BJP? How did the TMC turn things around between 2019 and 2021?
While anti-incumbency against the State government was a major factor behind the BJP’s rise in 2019, it is anti-incumbency against the Narendra Modi regime which has kicked in by 2021, leading to a fall in the BJP’s vote share. This is a clear indication of rising discontent against the intense social and economic distress caused by the Modi regime’s mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic over the past one year. A sizeable proportion of migrant workers who had to journey through hell during last year’s lockdown were from West Bengal. So are those getting infected in the second wave of COVID-19. People have emphatically held the Centre and not the State government to be more responsible for plunging the country into avoidable crises, repeatedly.
The farmers’ movement against the farm laws, rising fuel prices, across-the-board privatisation of public assets, from banks, insurance companies and coal mines to railways — all of it became ammunition against the Centre. Additionally, there was the threat to the citizenship of millions of East Bengal refugees, Dalits and minorities, posed by the NRC-NPR-CAA — or the National Register of Citizens, the National Population Register, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.
While anger has mounted against the Centre, Ms. Banerjee has managed to win back public support through a combination of grievance redressal, outreach programmes and welfare schemes, which have yielded discernible electoral dividends, mainly among the deprived and marginalised sections.
Polarisation plan backfired
The BJP’s attempts to brazenly polarise the elections on communal lines have clearly backfired. So has its strategy to capture power in the State by engineering large-scale defections from the TMC. While the TMC may have many skeletons in its cupboard, the BJP’s desperate attempts to grab power in the State by manipulating the central agencies and misusing the pending corruption cases appeared as acts of “invasion”. The fact that the BJP does not have a single Bengali leader who can pose a credible challenge to Ms. Banerjee, added to that perception of “outsiders”.
Therefore, what happened as a reaction to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led propaganda overkill in West Bengal, aided by a needlessly prolonged eight-phase election campaign and partisan, often violent interventions by the central forces, was an unprecedented consolidation of the Muslim votes, totalling over one-fourth of the electorate, behind the strongest anti-BJP alternative. The TMC’s convincing victories in hitherto unconquered territories of the Muslim-majority districts of Murshidabad and Malda are pointers. The Hindu vote, in contrast, did not consolidate behind the BJP. Rather, a section of the BJP voters appear to have switched from the BJP to the TMC between 2019 and 2021. The dynamics behind such anti-BJP consolidation needs further examination and analysis.
The Left’s decline
The emergence of the TMC as the only credible platform for anti-BJP votes to consolidate was also facilitated by the sheer political vacuity underlying the dubious coalition stitched together by the CPI(M) titled “Samyukta Morcha”. It has achieved little besides launching the political career of an Islamic cleric, whose violent remarks against a woman MP of the TMC and the public endorsement of the Paris beheading of 2020, available in the public domain, has only confused the electorate over why the Left Front had to join hands with his ilk. If the erroneous line of allying with the Congress in the 2016 Assembly election dragged the CPI(M) and the Left Front down to the third position in Bengal, it was the extension of that opportunistic, non-programmatic alliance to include non-secular elements such as Abbas Siddiqui, which has decimated the CPI(M)/LF in 2021. The West Bengal Assembly will not have a single Left MLA, for the first time since Independence.
While the Kerala leadership of the CPI(M) has delivered and has therefore been rewarded by the people, the Bengal leadership at Alimuddin Street needs to be held to account for this sad outcome, both within the party and outside. It is the persistent lack of accountability at the top, combined with political opportunism and programmatic incoherence of the CPI(M) leadership which has led to this fiasco of the Left in West Bengal.
The BJP, while defeated in the State, has still captured the Opposition space. In order to relegate the BJP to the margins, where it once belonged in West Bengal, the revival of the Left is essential. That revival, however, is contingent on the much-awaited overhaul within the Left, both within and outside the CPI(M).
Prasenjit Bose is an economist and activist based in Kolkata
Many surmise that the reason why Kerala is a developed State is that there is regime change following every election, either from the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) to the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) or vice versa. This time, though, the LDF has broken the decades-old trend of the incumbent government being ousted from power (the last time this happened was in 1977). Its emphatic win coincided with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) losing the only seat it held (Nemom) in the State.
Tackling calamities, disease outbreaks
Pre-poll surveys showed that the LDF might return to power and there were large turnouts at Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s election rallies despite the COVID-19 threat. Mr. Vijayan spearheaded the State through the turbulent years of two catastrophic floods, Cyclone Ockhi, the Nipah outbreak and more than a year of the COVID-19 pandemic. The LDF’s effective tackling of these calamities and outbreaks not just reinforced the confidence of the people in the regime, but also helped voters re-imagine the notion of ‘development’. The citizens took note of the government’s timely efforts in organising relief during the natural calamities.
Last year, the government was able to significantly minimise the death rate and human suffering due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is pertinent to note that in India, at least in the initial stages of the pandemic, suffering and deaths were not due to financial, medicinal or foodgrains shortages or even COVID-19 itself, but poor governance and wrong prioritisation of options.
Having already dealt with the experience of preventing the spread of Nipah, Kerala had started taking effective containment and prevention measures against COVID-19 by the end of January 2020. COVID-19 desks were set up in all the four airports in Kerala by early February 2020. The details of those who landed from foreign countries were collected. These travellers were sent to quarantine facilities. Gatherings were banned by the second week of March and educational institutions were closed. The ‘Break the Chain’ campaign and sanitation campaigns reached large sections of the public within a short span of time. Contact-tracing of those who had tested positive was done and the details were published. The State ensured free but high-quality treatment to all those who tested positive. There was strict screening at the State border and at railway stations with every team comprising one paramedical staff member, a police officer and a local volunteer. In this election, the Health Minister, K.K. Shailaja, has won her constituency (Mattannur) with the highest margin ever seen in the State, an emphatic reaffirmation of her efforts during these times.
A multidimensional approach
The LDF’s success lies in the Pinarayi government’s tackling of the disease with a multidimensional approach. Kerala also has a well-established public healthcare system. The State adopted a compassionate and sustainable model. Free foodgrain kits were provided, irrespective of the family’s income, to prevent hunger. Community kitchens were opened for those who were not able to cook. Mr. Vijayan and Ms. Shailaja addressed the people every day via mass media, to alleviate the agonies related to the pandemic. In addition, the government made arrangements to take care of the emotional needs of schoolchildren and Mr. Vijayan appealed to men to ‘help’ women in household work.
Migrant workers were termed ‘guest workers’ and camps were set up for them. They were provided with the food of their choice. Each camp had a multilingual guard besides health and recreational facilities. The State also provided for the safe return of those guest workers who wanted to join their families in their respective native places. Social security pensions were not stalled and elderly and vulnerable individuals were given special care. Even stray animals and birds were provided with food and water.
Gradually and systematically, the government changed the development paradigm and promoted a compassionate, reliable and sustainable development plan to the public. The gradual opening up of the State after the lockdown resulted in an increase in the number of cases, but despite having the highest proportion of elderly people (12.6%), with a significant number of them affected by co-morbidities, the case fatality rate in Kerala was the lowest among major States in November 2020. It is no wonder that the LDF regime has been rewarded for its idea of compassionate governance.
Resmitha R. Chandran is Advocate-On-Record, Supreme Court of India
On paper in Assam, the Congress had identified the electorate’s pain points well enough. Its manifesto promised non-implementation of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), three million jobs in a State historically struggling with unemployment numbers, raising the daily wage of tea garden workers, free electricity up to 200 units per household and Rs. 2,000 monthly income support to all homemakers. An emphatic no to the CAA was meant to win back the ethnic Assamese vote that had decisively shifted to the BJP over the course of the 2014 general election and the State poll two years later. The wage sop intended to court what was once an assured party vote bank that years of silent work by the RSS and its affiliates had chipped away. A tie-up with the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) of Badruddin Ajmal, a prospect which the party had officially shied away from all these years, was aimed at ensuring non-fragmentation of the ‘Muslim vote’. And yet, the whole isn’t the same as the sum of its parts. The 10-party ‘Grand Alliance’ is only projected to win around 40 seats as the BJP-led NDA seems set to romp home a second time with a victory margin slightly lower than in its debut triumph in the State in 2016. So, what gives?
No longer a hot-button issue
The results show that the cataclysm of the street protests in several parts of Assam in 2019 notwithstanding, the CAA has lost salience as a hot-button issue in an environment where the ruling party has constantly endeavoured to fuse Hindu nationalism with Assamese sub-nationalism. The secular lens on the post-1971 immigrant into Assam has electorally lost to a differential approach that advocates the rehabilitation of some and expulsion of the rest. The BJP’s junior partner, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), the torch-bearer of regionalism since the days of the Assam Agitation, read this shifting ground right, pulling several stunts of quitting the government but ultimately betting that the ‘new’ Assamese nationalism increasingly aligns with the BJP’s.
Assam Jatiya Parishad and Raijor Dal, the regional outfits forged in the crucible of the 2019 anti-CAA protests, cut little ice even in areas of high ethnic Assamese concentration, resulting in the ruling alliance retaining in large measure the leads it had built in eastern, northern and parts of middle Assam in the 2016 Assembly election. The consolidation was, perhaps, aided by the coming together of the Congress and the AIUDF. While the combined vote share of the two parties in the last election exceeded that of the BJP and AGP, the joining of forces has had the opposite effect, with Hindu voters constantly reminded of the spectre of Mr. Ajmal as potential Chief Minister by the ruling alliance during the campaign.
A stable ship
As it is, Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal and Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma were seen as piloting a more stable ship than a Tarun Gogoi-less Congress that farmed out campaign verticals to his son, the State unit chief and the Leader of the Opposition in the outgoing Assembly. The government has lasted a full term devoid of major scams, and synergy with the BJP-led Central government has enabled a more focused delivery of development schemes. Cash doles targeting the tea tribes and beneficiary schemes such as ‘Orunodoi’, through which the State extends financial aid to women, have been regarded as generating goodwill for the Sonowal government.
Ironic as it may sound, the pandemic also helped the ruling dispensation claw its way back in Assam. COVID-19 snuffed out both the anti-CAA stir in Assam and the anti-National Register of Citizens (NRC) movement in the rest of the country (most anti-CAA votaries in the State support the NRC). The lockdowns and curfews defused the pent-up anger in the aftermath of the December 2019 protests in which five persons were killed in police firing in Guwahati. They presented a beleaguered government the opportunity to seize back the narrative with proactive (and well-publicised) steps to safeguard the State... and, as the results bear out, itself.
Elections present an opportunity for political change, but voters at times prefer the familiar comfort of continuity and reward performance over promise. Assam, West Bengal and Kerala have voted for the incumbents, while Tamil Nadu and Puducherry have voted for change. There is no one theme that can explain how the voters responded to the myriad political choices before them. Parties with strong and visible leadership might have the same appeal as leaders that show empathy for their daily struggles. While Hindutva nationalism won Assam for the BJP, in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, its limits became apparent. In fact, M.K. Stalin in Tamil Nadu, and Pinarayi Vijayan in Kerala, both known critics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, offered an ideological alternative to the politics of the BJP although it was not a direct contender for power directly in either State. In contrast, the Congress’s efforts to arrest its slide and gather its wits did not yield much. The results have exposed more chinks in its armour, while regional parties offered robust resistance to the BJP.
In West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee mobilised Bengali sub-nationalism that stopped the rampaging march of Hindutva at the borders, at least for now. This was the first serious bid of the BJP for power in Bengal. Though it fell far short of its boasts, the BJP’s rise is remarkable — from three seats in 2016 to 81 now. With the Left and the Congress nearly obliterated, the BJP is now a force to reckon with in the State. But what got it so far may not necessarily take it any further. In fact, the popular reaction against the BJP’s crude communalism and deployment of its workers from other States was so intense that people left aside all their complaints against the incumbent Trinamool Congress government. The BJP’s strategy for West Bengal has been costly in terms of public health, institutional credibility, social harmony and even bilateral ties with a friendly neighbouring country, Bangladesh. Though the BJP lost, the damage caused by its maximalist campaign cannot be easily undone. The State is staring at an explosion in COVID-19 infections, and Ms. Banerjee has her task cut out, entering into her third term as Chief Minister. She must take serious note of the public resentment against her party rather than read this victory as public approval of its high-handedness and corruption. The style and substance of the Trinamool’s politics and governance must change for the better. In Assam, the BJP reaped the benefits of its government’s proactive measures to provide relief to people badly impacted by the lockdown last year, and of a slew of welfare schemes. While the Congress-AIUDF partnership failed to live up to its promise, the BJP inflamed communal passions by suggesting that AIUDF leader Badruddin Ajmal could become Chief Minister if the alliance won. As the party’s key strategist in the victory, Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma will likely make a claim for the top post, and the BJP will have an internal power tussle to handle.
Mr. Stalin led the DMK to power in Tamil Nadu after a hiatus of 10 years. With his son also now an MLA, Mr. Stalin has taken full control of the DMK. His victory is not aided by any strident public resentment against the AIADMK government, and therefore can be considered a positive verdict in his favour. Moreover, the results also prove the resilience of Dravidian politics, modified to new challenges. Now in the Opposition, and its leadership still in a flux, the AIADMK will have to adapt to survive. There are other aspirants at play, and outgoing Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami might have to again beat off challenges from within the party to his leadership. In Kerala, the second consecutive victory of the Left Democratic Front led by the CPI(M) marks a departure from the anti-incumbency verdicts since the 1980s. For Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, the Congress, rendered aimless by its antediluvian leaders, was easy prey. But Mr. Vijayan also retained his support base through a mixture of political acumen and administrative measures. Having managed two floods and the pandemic with considerable efficiency, he also made some daring moves in social engineering that will continue to ripple. All that paid rich dividends for him, but the path ahead is going to be tougher as Kerala faces a fresh surge in COVID-19 infections. Finances are also challenging for the State. Mr. Vijayan’s complete command over the party has eclipsed other leaders, a situation that can turn out to be a crisis in the future.
These results also hold some messages for national politics. For the Congress and its leader Rahul Gandhi, this is a grim reminder that they have no viable politics at the moment. Mr. Gandhi spent a disproportionate amount of time and energy in Kerala. That turned out be a counterproductive strategy. The party lost Kerala and Assam, the two States it had a chance to win. Mr. Gandhi has to rethink his freelancing, footloose politics. For the BJP and its leaders, Mr. Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, these results must be sobering. In Kerala, the party scored nil, losing the lone seat it won in 2016; in Tamil Nadu, it might even have damaged the prospects of ally AIADMK. The notion that there can be a nationalist straitjacket into which the diversity of India will fit is irresponsible. They must consider a softer pursuit of power. The Left tasted historic victory in Kerala but faces extinction in Bengal. Experiments in exclusive Muslim politics are not worthwhile, the results show. The Indian Secular Front, founded by a cleric in West Bengal hardly had any impact; in Assam, the AIUDF and Congress appear to have failed to aggregate their individual tallies of 2016. The BJP might have lost more than it won, but Sunday’s verdicts are no indication that a national-level alternative to it is in the making. That is still some distance away in time and effort.
At the Soundarya Mahal, George Town, a public meeting of the Hotel and Restaurant keepers of Madras was held yesterday evening to protest against the cutting off of the free allowance of water to their premises, by the Corporation. There was a large gathering of the Hotel-keepers, and of sympathisers, including Messrs G. Guruswami Chetti, Abdul Majid Sharar, and Dr. Rama Kamath. Mr. Rangaswami Iyengar who presided protested in emphatic terms against the new proposal of the Corporation in cutting off free water supply to hotels in spite of the fact that they were paying taxes and rates under various heads, both directly and indirectly. He said the proposal would seriously jeopardise public health and sanitation, and it was gross injustice also to single out the Coffee Hotels and Restaurants for a specially shabby treatment as compared with that applied to others. There must be he emphasised an irresistible demand that justice and fairplay should prevail and it was his confidence in the sense of justice and fairplay of the councillors, which kept them hopeful of the issue of the controversy still that a satisfactory solution would be found.
The President, Mr. V.V. Giri, said here yesterday [May 2, Bangalore] that people should be encouraged to spend holidays in heath resorts, hill stations and places abounding in scenic beauty. It would increase their efficiency and output, and the nation would benefit in the long run. Internal tourism could also become a major factor in the promotion of national integration and social cohesion, he added.
Declaring open the Ashoka hotel built by the Indian Tourism Development Corporation, the President said the workers in Soviet Russia were given compulsory holidays which they had to spend in health resorts. This had a great psychological value and the workers returned from their holiday throughly refreshed. The Governor, Mr. Dharma Vira, hailed the new amenity created in Bangalore for tourists.
Dr. Karan Singh, Union Tourism and Civil Aviation Minister, in his welcome speech, outlined the task ahead in developing tourism in India.