Following the introduction of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam and passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), India braced for unprecedented unrests that continue to intensify each day. Amid the ongoing protests against the BJP, the Jharkhand elections was the crucial battle in which the ruling party faced a major defeat.
The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM)-led alliance which included the Congress and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) touched the majority mark of 41 seats in the 82-member house. Jharkhand elections mark the fifth consecutive bypoll defeat for the ruling BJP in this year.
"This is a good result and the people's anger is shown towards the BJP government," senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge said after the victory. It is a mandate against the policies of the BJP, he claimed.
The series of election debacles by the BJP in Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh had already shown the volatility of the BJP whose aggressive Hindu nationalist agenda seemed invincible before protests against the passage of the CAA flared up across India. The Jharkhand loss is perhaps the beginning of the end of ascendency of the Hindutva and thus marks a turning point for Indian's oppositions.
When BJP was looking to embolden their position by playing hard on its Muslim minority. This they did by enacting rogue laws that led to their recent defeat in the eastern state, they were also trying to smother the real picture of India's economy.
The economy has only but been struggling as the GDP growth rate hit 4.5 percent this year, which is a 6-year low. The escalating unemployment rate tellingly brings to the light the economic failure of the incumbent. Yet in the last general election there was little impact of the economic slump in the polling stations across India. The BJP had won a landslide victory in the last parliament elections, securing Narendra Modi a second term.
Now this recent victory of the oppositions in the Jharkhand assembly shows – according to Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge – that people were "fed up" with the ruling government.
"Even at the centre, people are fed up over unemployment, inflation and even farmers were suffering. All those things helped Congress and our alliance partners (Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and Rashtriya Janata Dal) with that. In that context people voted for Congress and its alliance," Kharge explained after his party's election success.
Modi's legacy of a perilous economy and soaring unemployment
After Modi stormed back to power for the second term in May, he indeed defied all the projections based on his government's performance in economy and in the face of growing unemployment. Thanks to the Indian media, the BJP managed to stir ultranationalist emotions among the citizens after Kashmiri militants killed 46 Indian soldiers in suicide bombing.
The humiliating defeat of the oppositions to the BJP in the parliament elections in May was a clear sign of continuous rise of the extreme-right party through its aggressive Hindu nationalist agenda. Consequently, the Indian opposition lost miserably and before the recent upsurge in protest across the country had seemed like Lilliputians. They seemed even at a loss as to what to do reverse the effects of nationalist rhetoric of the BJP-RSS alliance.
Though the realities of India painted a dismal picture, the India's oppositions so far failed to put their act together. With the economy in crisis, unemployment soaring and farmers revolting, ultranationalist policies of the BJP leadership got the better of the situation, or so it seemed.
Following the parliament elections, Indian economists began to ring the alarm. Rajib Kumar, the vice-chairman of Niti Aayog portrayed the perilous condition of the Indian economy in his speech at a summit on August 23, 2019. "This is an unprecedented situation for the government. In the last 70 years, we have not faced this sort of liquidity situation where the entire financial sector is in a churn."
Kumar deplored how nobody wants to lend to anybody else in the private sector of India. "I think the government must do whatever it can to take away some of the apprehensions for the private sector."
Whereas the economy stands in abysmal, India's unemployment rate hit a 3-year-high of 8.4 per cent in August 2019. Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), a think tank based in Mumbai, found the weekly unemployment rate in India between 8 and 9 per cent in August.
BJP's politics of distraction
Like Rajib Kumar recommended, the BJP government is actually doing what it can, but not on the economic front to lessen the people's grievances. The ruling BJP has been working on diversion. They have been working to turn the public attention from the economic grievances and growing unemployment.
The second term of Narendra Modi thus began with revoking the special status of Kashmir, continuity of state of emergency and a ban on the internet which has been recorded as the longest in the history of democratic India.
Modi also enthusiastically took to advance his divisive agenda. His second term saw the release of final National Register of Citizens (NRC) list in Assam that excluded nearly two million people from the list of citizens. The passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act. So, one can say, the Modi government chose to stir controversy to divert people's attention from the economic grievances and unemployment.
But the Hindu nationalist faced its first major roadblock when tens of thousands of people took to the streets across India, the biggest democracy in the world. People irrespective of religions and languages defied the ban to protest against the draconian law. People died in violence facing off with the security forces. At least 16 were killed in Uttar Pradesh alone.
In such circumstances, the Jharkhand assembly elections were indeed a serious test for the BJP's policies. BJP's loss seems like a clear signal that the Indians are not ready to accept undemocratic foisting of a set of oppressive laws.