Guest post by NAKUL SINGH SAWHNEY
Some observations and takeaways from State Assembly elections in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, and Assam in May 2021 – from an original Facebook post. The observations are in the form of informal reflections but they point towards certain developments that might open up new, anticipated spaces for the struggle for a democratic India.
Federalism: The Election verdicts of May 2, 2021, from Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, and Kerala scream ‘federalism’. The election results are so vastly different in the State Assemblies and Lok Sabha. The election outcomes of Delhi, Maharashtra, Haryana, West Bengal, Kerala are important examples of this phenomenon.
India is a country that naturally lends itself to federalism and greater state autonomy. While the Congress, by and large, didn’t allow for it, the BJP is hell-bent on a deeply centralized structure and crushing any aspiration for regional autonomy. If progressive forces don’t take up the question of federalism and state autonomy, then it runs the risk of slipping into the hands of crude chauvinists and xenophobes like Shiv Sena of yesteryears or secessionists like Khalistanis.
Tamil Nadu and Kerala are two fine examples of how progressive forces can also steer regional aspirations in a progressive direction and address these questions. In West Bengal, ‘Bengal ki beti‘ trumped and thrashed BJP’s Hindutva nationalism. BJP’s ‘Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan’ must also be challenged by addressing how this agenda only seeks to crush all our sub-nationalities, non-Hindi languages, etc. Greater autonomy for states and decentralization of powers to states, in my opinion, should be issues that are taken up seriously by all progressive forces.
India must and should have a federal structure.
Women: Women are becoming an electoral constituency in many parts of the country. Not just in West Bengal but also in states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Delhi saw that in a big way, as well. This is perhaps one of the most positive developments in the country’s politics. Let’s hope this becomes a phenomenon across the country. Kanyashree scheme in West Bengal, Amma canteens in Tamil Nadu, exhaustive ration kits distribution in Kerala during Covid-19 lockdown, free bus rides for women in Delhi- these are some examples of how welfare schemes aimed at empowering women are now becoming intrinsic to Indian politics.
West Bengal: Hats off, didi! Hate her. Love her. But defeating fascism is not easy. Mamata Banerjee took on BJP with all its money power, muscle power, a clearly biased election commission, central forces, massive defections from her party and a former Left organization having moved to BJP on the ground. The challenge was formidable. And despite all that, TMC defeated BJP. Smashed them. This victory is special. But it is worrying that BJP is the main opposition in Bengal today. Very worrying. Can Mamata reign in her goondas? A non-BJP Left alternative as Opposition in the state is in everyone’s best interest, including TMC’s.
Kerala: LDF’s victory in Kerala is among the most heartening political messages being sent out by the results.
The country reels under what is possibly its biggest health crisis ever. Our disastrous public healthcare – which is in shambles – is responsible for it. In this mess, a genuine, functional welfare state like Kerala shows the country that only good public health care can fight a pandemic. This is a development model that should be projected as an alternative of sorts.
Pinarayi Vijayan has taken socially progressive positions on Sabrimala, as well. And both BJP and Congress tried to make those electoral issues in these Assembly elections. The results show that their regressive agenda paled in the face of good governance by LDF.
Also, I reiterate what many others have already said, it’s hard to believe that CPI-M in Bengal and CPI-M in Kerala are the same party. I also feel it’s very good for Pinarayi Vijayan that CPI-M in Bengal has been reduced to naught. It makes him and the Kerala unit more powerful in the party. If regional Opposition parties need to stitch up some sort of an alliance in 2024, Pinarayi must be part of it.
And he can be part of an alliance with Mamata and Bengal’s CPI-M will not be able to stop him now. The LDF brings with it a model of development which should be projected as one that is pitted against BJP’s anti-poor, pro-corporate model.
Tamil Nadu: People reported that BJP actually became a burden for AIADMK in Tamil Nadu. Their manifesto had to state that if they win the elections they’ll get BJP to roll back on CAA! It lends strength to my above point on federalism even further.
Hats off to DMK and MK Stalin. This victory states that in the land of progressive Dravidian politics, BJP has no space. Another welfare state, which rejects BJP and all that it represents. I am curious, did Amit Shah and Modi give any speeches in Hindi in Tamil Nadu as well? Like they did in West Bengal?
Can friends in Tamil Nadu confirm whether the four seats BJP has won are too many? Or have they managed that because of AIADMK?
Assam: I am glad that a good grassroots activist like Akhil Gogoi won. Yet, Assam is deeply worrying. It will be important to find out why CAA didn’t play a big role there? Or is it just what Prashant Kishore said in an interview to TV channels on May 2, after the results, ‘The problem is that the Congress is the Opposition there’.