India witnessed several political developments in 2022 ranging from elections to five state assemblies, that of the President and the Vice President, bye polls, a power rebalancing in states of Maharashtra and Bihar and monsoon session of Parliament. Growing communal tensions due to hate speeches and rising influence of vigilantes also emerged as a major concern.
Elections Related Developments
The stage for electoral trends was set in February – March with polls in five States starting February 10 in seven phases in Uttar Pradesh. In Uttarakhand and Goa the polls were held on February 14, Punjab on February 20 and Manipur on February 27 and March 3. The results of all states were declared on March 10. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won a majority in four of the five - Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa, and Manipur indicating continuing dominance of the political space in the country. In Punjab Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) made a debut to the first full state to rule as presently it is restricted to Delhi. The BJP’s win in the four states was seen as a clear mandate to programmes and governance model of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s central government. Beating anti-incumbency particularly in UP was an important achievement given challenges faced in the last two years on the COVID 19 as well as the economic front.
Meanwhile continuing its winning streak, the BJP bagged five of ten constituencies that went to byelections on June 23 and wrested the Samajwadi Party strongholds of Rampur and Azamgarh Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh.
Not just people centric elections but in the Presidential and the Vice-Presidential polls where the electoral college comprises of Members of Parliament and of Legislative assemblies as applicable the National Democratic Alliance [NDA] led by the BJP held sway. In the Presidential elections on July 18, Ms Draupadi Murmu candidate of the NDA won with 64.3% against opposition nominee Mr Yashwant Sinha. Being a tribal candidate many non-BJP parties and legislators voted for her due to her indigenous identity. Mr Jagdeep Dhankar NDA’s nominee for the Vice-Presidential election won on August 6. The opposition nominee Ms Margaret Alva a former Indian National Congress Minister trailed due to lack of unity amongst opposition parties
Rajya Sabha Elections were held on June 10 where votes of elected members of the State assemblies’ poll for representatives selected to represent respective states. There was much jostling with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the main opposition Congress announcing their respective candidates for the fifty-seven seats spread across fifteen states. Among the prominent names, the list includes Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman from Karnataka and Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal from Maharashtra who were up for re-election as their terms are set to end. There were a few upsets which favoured the BJP particularly in Maharashtra which were portends of a change of government as the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi or MVA alliance was to collapse which is covered in development in States as given below.
The state elections in February – March were a major setback for the opposition as it was anticipated that the BJP will suffer a slide in at least one to two states where it was in power due to anti-incumbency. The main opposition party the Indian National Congress admitted the results of the assembly elections as a major concern. There was a strong call in the party for organizational restructuring, but this is unlikely soon as the Party struggles to find answers to the BJP’s electoral gains in multiple states so far. The Congress Party held a Chintan Shivir [Brainstorming Session] in Udaipur in May and approved a time-bound action-plan for structural changes in the organisation, set in motion a long-drawn people’s movement on select issues till 2024, and send across a clear message to regional parties that if the Congress remains weak, any opposition alliance will also suffer. However, the Party continued to suffer as many leaders are joining rivals across the country. There were some moves for uniting the opposition parties particularly in fielding a common candidate for the Presidential and the Vice-Presidential elections, but these have obviously not worked
There were palpable tensions between the BJP and the main opposition party the Congress as interim president Sonia Gandhi appeared before the Enforcement Directorate (ED) for questioning in connection with the alleged National Herald money laundering case. Congress has claimed that the case is politically motivated. The opposition has been accusing the Central government of using the ED to target the leaders selectively.
The monsoon session of Parliament was held in July August and was terminated early due to multiple adjournments as opposition took up issues ranging from price-rise to the Agnipath recruitment scheme of the services. Protests led to the suspension of some MPs as well, but transaction of business had to be curtailed on many days.
Political Development in States
Maharashtra saw a change of government as the MVA alliance suffered a setback with rebellion within its main constituent the Shiv Sena. The Sena split and the larger faction which defected aligned with the BJP to form a government after the Chief Minister Mr Uddhav Thackeray resigned. In a twist, the BJP chose rebel Sena leader Eknath Shinde as the Chief Minister of Maharashtra sacrificing a key leader Mr Devendra Fadnavis a former Chief Minister. The BJP hopes that Eknath’s elevation will help it wean Sena cadres and supporters away from the Thackeray family. The coalition government formed under the CM Eknath Shinde won the floor test held on July 05.
In Bihar in August the tables seemed to have been turned as the Janata Dal United (JD U), which was in partnership with the BJP, switched to join the Rashtriya Janata Dal and form a government under the JD U chief minister Mr Nitish Kumar.
In the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, the much-awaited report of the Delimitation Commission was released which has led to a realignment of constituencies. This has invited varied reactions from political parties. With more seats allotted to the Jammu region as compared to Kashmir, this is expected to feed into the feeling of angst in the public at large in the Kashmir Valley.
Amidst these developments, politicking continued with a focus on States going for elections such as Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, and Jammu and Kashmir. Parties expanded their activities in these states with multiple visits by the leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The emergence of new equations in parties with the rising of the AAP with the opposition Congress remaining on the backfoot and the ruling BJP continuing to enjoy an advantage. However at least in Himachal Pradesh there could be a scope for the opposition to use the anti-incumbency card to advantage while Jammu and Kashmir needs to be closely watched.
Communal and Law and Order issues
On the communal front issues such as ban on the hijab – headgear worn by Muslim women, selling of Halal meat and Azan [prayers] from mosques, demands for examining old structures of mosques for existence of Hindu deities in Mathura, Vrindavan, Vindhyavasini Dham and Naimisharanya Dham and hate speeches emerged as a major concern. These led to multiple communal clashes, desecration of religious places, arson, and rioting. The Supreme Court and leaders of political parties including three chief ministers issued a joint appeal against growing incidents of hate speech and communal violence in parts of the country, saying issues related to food, dress, faith, festivals, and language were being used to polarise society.
The derogatory comments made by the former spokesperson of the ruling BJP Ms Nupur Sharma against the Prophet [PUBH] led another wave of protests. In unforeseen escalation, the Rajasthan government on June 28 imposed prohibitory orders and suspended mobile internet service across the state given communal tension following the murder of a tailor in Udaipur who supported Ms Sharma. The killings were attributed to religious zealots while a similar incident occurred in Maharashtra.
Thirteen leaders of political parties including three chief ministers issuing a joint appeal against growing incidents of hate speech and communal violence in parts of the country, saying issues related to food, dress, faith, festivals, and language were being used to polarise society. “We strongly condemn the recent outburst of communal violence witnessed across several states in the country. We are deeply concerned, as reports indicate that there is a sinister pattern in the areas where these incidents have occurred. Incendiary hate speeches preceded the aggressive armed religious processions unleashing communal violence,” the joint appeal by the opposition leaders including Congress president Sonia Gandhi said. Taking suo motu notice Supreme Court of India also stepped in and directed the Uttarakhand State government to ensure that hate speeches are not delivered at a so-called Dharam Sansad. Some saner voices as Maulana Mahmood Madani, president of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hindi called for maintaining peace and contributing to the development of the country.
Law and Order
Multiple law and order issues emerged as a series of protests took place by youth against the Agnipath Recruitment Scheme which was announced by the Minister of Defence on June 14th. In addition, agitation by farmers, public sector and bank employees have been raising issues as privatisation. Opposition Parties have plans to organise rallies in the wake of price rise amongst other issues. States as Uttar Pradesh have been taking extraordinary actions of raising houses of individuals involved in rioting. Jamiat Ulama-I-Hind has moved the Supreme Court against employing bulldozers to raze the houses of suspects without investigations or court orders.
The BJP ruling at the Centre and several states holds the political advantage so far in 2022 as indicated by results of polls in several forms with the opposition in a disarray particularly the Indian National Congress while unity amongst the multiple parties remains a chimera. Efficiency of the electoral machinery of the BJP is evident which has outmatched some of the support that opposition parties have been able to garner due to the anti-incumbency factor. Some opposition leaders as those of the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra have been clearly out of touch with their supporters leading to a rift in the party which the BJP has been able to exploit. Indeed, political maneouvring is moving at a different level now and unless the opposition can understand the nuances as possibly Chief Minister of Bihar, Mr Nitish Kumar did in Bihar, the ruling party may continue to dominate the polls and post poll rebalancing.
On the communal front there are concerns as the fringe and vigilante groups are attempting to trigger incidents of violence by targeting communities creating rifts in the socio-economic fabric of the country as well.
[Compilation and Editing Assistance by Harshita Singh]