BJP survived optics of Bharat Bandh well, but no room for complacency

For a day that was supposed to have been about endless BJP bashing, the BJP has handled the optics rather well. I am pleasantly surprised … actually I am really really surprised.

People in our country generally are very very prickly about price rises. It is not hard to get them seething in anger over the smallest price rise. However, at the end of the yesterday, the general consensus on the secular side appeared to be one of disappointment. The best that secular commentators could say for the Bandh was that it was “not a total flop.”

Earlier in the day, I saw one “senior” Marathi patrakar post a picture with barely 25 people in a circle, carrying flags of various opposition parties, hoping to tell everyone that the Bandh was getting lots of support. The desperation was obvious … and kind of cute.

In the national capital, where the big leaders were leading the bandh, we hardly saw or heard any real people around. The media cameras had to stay focused on the dias, which looked much more full than the audience area. Videos shot and circulated by amateurs on social media mostly show media and police standing around …. no sign of real people.

Social media is not everything, but it is a better barometer than ever. Especially now that both sides are fully invested in flexing their social media muscle. The only thing we saw was paid hashtags from the secular side trending on Twitter, while the RW countered with jokes, ridicule and videos showing the lack of public participation. If there was some real public participation anywhere, I am sure the Congress machine would have picked it up and circulated it. But they didn’t. There was probably nothing to show.

Even in a few places where the bandh had some effect, it caused more embarrassment for the opposition. A 2 year old girl lost her life in Bihar because the protesters would not make way for an ambulance. Beyond that, the only images of the bandh were of Congress (paid?) “supporters” chanting praises of Modi by mistake. Images showing the opposition workers smashing buses and cars bring nothing but disrepute nowadays.

So far, so good. But what are the takeaways from this?

There are two obvious explanations. One is that the public has become wiser. The opposition is trying to do with petrol what it successfully did with onions back in 1998. But the country has moved on. And despite all of Ravish Kumar’s efforts, people have not failed to notice that petrol is the only commodity that is costlier today than in 2013 … that too barely. Price rise of pretty much everything else has been controlled. The incredible food inflation of the UPA years has become a bad memory. Prices of vegetables, staples, medicines, etc have all remained quite stable under Modi regime. And ultimately, GST has ended up lowering the taxes on most other items, including pretty much anything a householder might purchase, big or small. Eating out used to be taxed somewhere between 13% and 30% … now it is just 5%. If you account for the fact that incomes have definitely gone up in last five years, it is likely that household budgets are clearly less stressed than they were in 2013.

Maybe that is why the Bharat Bandh did not strike a chord. Nobody likes paying more, but people have matured enough to understand that one item might see a spike, but you have to account for the prices of everything else.

But BJP cannot afford to be complacent. The other possibility is that people have matured beyond the idea of bandhs and strikes. Even if they agree with the opposition on the issue of price rise, they do not agree with bandhs. Those are seen as outmoded forms of doing politics, reminiscent of the regressive days of Nehruvian Communism.

It is for BJP and its workers on the ground to spread their antennae and pick up signals from society. We know that Congress did not get support for the Bandh yesterday, but why? Did people reject the Congress premise (price rise) or merely the form of expression chosen by Congress (bandh)?

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18 thoughts on “BJP survived optics of Bharat Bandh well, but no room for complacency

  1. Dear Sujoy,

    The shouting matches that pass for debate on our “news” channels were of no help in deciphering the public mood. So your analysis that the bandh per se had no support is welcome news.

    This passage is also good::

    “But BJP cannot afford to be complacent. The other possibility is that people have matured beyond the idea of bandhs and strikes. Even if they agree with the opposition on the issue of price rise, they do not agree with bandhs.”

    I think the tide has turned decisively in our society in favour of people wanting society to enable them to pursue their dreams, and away from people wanting freebies. Those parts of our countries that are still stuck in the freebie era are just falling farther and farther behind. In contrast states that were once thought to be beyond rescue (like UP) are showing new signs of life.

    Even within my circle, the “secular” types who had (perhaps genuine) misgivings about Modi being divisive etc. have now come around to accept him. More important perhaps is that there is simply no way in which they can envisage Raoul as their PM.

    Now the winds are blowing firmly in favour of Modi (including KCR calling early elections). It may be a good idea for him also to advance the elections, instead of waiting for the hot summer months of 2019. In this way the three state elections in MP, CG and RJ can also be clubbed with the Lok Sabha elections, which would be a goon to the BJP.

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  2. You asked-
    “Did people reject the Congress premise (price rise) or merely the form of expression chosen by Congress (bandh)?”
    Maybe there is a 3rd option.
    People rejected congress itself

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I am not sure how BJP workers are doing ground level job as I am in Tamil Nadu where we hardly have BJP supporters. But, I was really surprised to see the effort by RSS kaaryakarthas. I was in Kancheepuram Varadarajaswamy temple last weekend. On Sunday morning, I saw a set of people sitting down in circle and having some discussion in the temple premises. When I went near, I found that there were RSS Kaaryakarthas who bought in few public (may be around 12 to 15) who seemed to be workers of the temple or nearby area. RSS person was clearly explaining to them about the welfare activities done by RSS in Kerala flood irrespective of religion. He also mentioned about the fake news or Rs 700 crores by Saudi Arabia and how that news was rejected by their ambassador. I would say this is the first time I saw such awareness being created by RSS to the general public. Kudos to them.

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  4. Retaining the excise duty at the current level, BJP should force all states where BJP is in power to drastically reduce the VAT percentage on petrol to 18%, thereby making per litre petrol price well below what was ruling as of May 2014.

    This will make petrol price in other states glaringly costlier than in BJP states, forcing them to fall in line.

    When all states bring down VAT on petrol to 18%, bringing petrol under GST becomes just a formality.

    The states may temporarily lose revenue but the growth in consumption as also bringing petrol under GST will wipe out this loss.

    The above step if taken on a single day by a big announcement can become one more disruption along with demonetization & GST.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The centre should call an all party meeting and make an offer : let them all agree on an amount per liter that are willing to cut from the VAT being levied by the states (say Rs 3, Rs 5 etc.) – and the centre will match the amount that is agreed by all states ! If there is no consensus due to disruptionists … it will expose the hollowness of the opposition parties ! The parties that are not in power anywhere but have only nuisance value – like BSP, CPI, RJD etc. … need not be invited !

      Liked by 1 person

    2. This is an interesting idea. The lower petrol price will also bring down inflation.
      Question is whether the consumption will increase enough to offset the decreased taxes.

      Kanchan Gupta posted the breakup of the taxes

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  5. The Congress misread the situation badly. From 2009 to 2013, prices of everything was increasing by 10-20 % every year and it was becoming hard for the common man to make ends meet. The petrol price increase then was the last straw that broke the common mans back. To make it worse, inflation was the yearly 8-10% tax people were paying in addition to price rise.

    Since 2014, prices of almost everything has decreased. Real estate is stagnant or decreasing. It is fair to say that a monthly income of Rs 25000 today goes much further than a monthly income of Rs 25000 in 2014.

    Yes, there is no room for complacency but it is the Congress that seems to be the more complacent party at the moment. Parties lose vote share one incident at a time. Congress has lost vote share by supporting Bharat ke Tukde gang, Gau-Hatya in Kerala and calling for numerous Bandhs. They have not given people anything positive to remember since they lost power in 2014. Parties that dont convey a positive image to voters do badly in elections.

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    1. “Parties lose vote share one incident at a time. Congress has lost vote share by supporting Bharat ke Tukde gang, Gau-Hatya in Kerala and calling for numerous Bandhs. They have not given people anything positive to remember since they lost power in 2014.”

      Very profound observation, Mr. Kannan! In fact after the BJP lost the 2004 election Advani went into massive sulk and did not offer one single positive and constructive idea. Simply rushing into the well of the Parliament and disrupting it, while going along with ridiculous ideas like RTE, was not going to enthuse anyone, just as the Congress is failing to enthuse anyone now. Indeed the BJP could have won in 2009 with a different leader. But Advani had a sense of entitlement, like Hillary Clinton, and refused to make way for anyone else. RaGa in 2014 and 2019 won’t be any different.

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      1. Dear Prof. Vidyasagar,

        You are right, Advani lost the charisma after 2004. Not only did he sulk but he also did not play nice with the CM’s of states ruled by the BJP.

        The BJP under Modi has done a lot of good things – each one of which makes one feel – yes, that was the right thing to do. Swach Bharat, Beti Bachao, Ujwala , the insurance schemes – all these were great ideas executed well. BJP could have done more of course but whatever they did was in the right direction. They have accumulated a goodwill balance and this was in display during yesterdays bandh where people were shouting pro-Modi slogans.

        Similarly, cannot remember a single good thing the Congress said or did since 2014. They questioned surgical strikes, met with the Chinese ambassador during Doklam, are trying to stall Rafale – each one of these feels very wrong. Unless they can convince people they are capable of doing something positive, they might see a massive drop in vote share in 2019.

        BJP has also wisely not called for bandhs lately – people are tired of this intimidation masquerading as protest. The young generation feels revolted by these Bandhs the most – this is a generation that is confident, understands what is going on in the world due to social media and questions everything. Bandhs are also hard on the daily wage worker; these are people who are always on edge of starvation and loose weight if they go without food for a day (unlike some politicians).

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  6. Here is the real picture;

    Here are petrol prices in Indian rupee of some countries in September 2018 :

    *🇮🇳 India =80.22*
    *🇨🇳 China =80.90*
    🇲🇦 Morocco=81.19
    🇨🇦Canada=81.68
    🇨🇺Cuba= 86.15
    🇯🇲Jamaica=86.86
    🇨🇱Chile =88.63
    *🇯🇵Japan=89.31*
    🇹🇷Turkey=91.95
    🇵🇱Poland=94.36
    🇷🇴Romania=98.47
    🇭🇺Hungary=99.27
    🇷🇸Serbia=101.57
    🇦🇹Austria=101.59
    🇲🇦Mauritius=102.85
    🇪🇸Spain=106.16
    🇺🇾Uruguay=110.06
    *🇳🇿 New Zealand=110.90*
    🇨🇭Switzerland=110.98
    *🇸🇬Singapore=111.62*
    🇮🇪Ireland=114.58
    🇩🇪Germany=115.46
    *🇬🇧UK=116.34*
    🇧🇪Belgium=118.83
    🇫🇮Finland=124.44
    *🇫🇷France=125.25*
    🇸🇪Sweden=126.47
    🇵🇹Portugal=126.53
    🇮🇱Israel=127.43
    *🇮🇹Italy=128.77*
    🇬🇷Greece=130.70
    🇲🇦Monaco=131.74
    🇩🇰Denmark= 131.99
    🇳🇱Netherlands= 133.50
    🇳🇴Norway=139.85
    *🇭🇰Hong Kong= 144.23*
    🇮🇸Iceland =144.52

    They are in Equivalent of INR. Those who are making so much noise please note .They all import petrol like us…

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  7. Hi Sujoy,
    It may sound like a liberal cliché but while returning from market in Barrackpore West Bengal I had a talk with my Rikhsa Driver about Bharat Bandh.I asked him how everything was open(I was scared as on Tuesday we had Shraddha ceremony and I have to buy things on Monday) he answer was why State Government was not reducing taxes and surprisingly he said Modi was paying the price of UPA’s sins!I couldn’t believe it as my constituency was for 35 years ruled by Left and then by Dinesh Trivedi!Is India really changing?Are we sure people will not repeat the mistake of 2004?

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  8. There is an article in Opindia that captured the mood of the people all over the country. Here is the link: http://www.opindia.com/2018/09/some-hilarious-moments-from-the-bharat-bandh-today-led-by-congress-and-rahul-gandhi/

    I was particularly impressed by the response of the person in Pune:

    The guy was interviewed by a TV reporter from India Today. The reporter tried to provoke him into giving a negative comment by presenting a loaded question about high petrol price. The reply was priceless …”.Even if petrol is Rs. 200 per litre chalega but we don’t want Congress.”
    There was this small CONgoon crowd in Karnataka that was shouting slogans when out came a bigger crowd of Autorikshaw drivers who were shouting Modi Modi…
    There is this young lady who took on a crowd of CONgoons single handedly …

    All these point to the fact that Modi Ji has support of the common man as he sees him working tirelessly for their well being. Every effort of the opposition to demonise Modi ji has ended up increasing his support base.

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  9. I believe that the lower economic strata of Indian society are solidly with Modi, except possibly in TN and Kerala. In AP the BJP is unpopular but Modi is personally popular. If only Modi and Shah had paid some attention to AP instead of leaving it to Jaitley the BJP would have made solid gains.

    If indeed the BJP can win some seats in WB and Odisha, that would offset possible losses elsewhere, and the BJP would again win a majority.

    I have already seen that clip from Pune which was indeed priceless! 🙂

    Like

    1. AP BJP has not made any progress because of legacy issues where Venkiah Naidu Ji was in favour of supporting CBN. Now VN is VP and CBN is firmly in opposition camp and therefore gloves should have been off. But you cannot build grassroots support base overnight. BJP needs about 3 -5 years to build party organisation in AP to a level which will enable them to become a major player there. However, in any case, CBN is not going to come back to power in AP as there is massive anti-incumbency coupled with his anti-Hindu measures where he has sacked the head priest for questioning the disappearance of priceless jewels from the TTD collection. He has also appointed blatantly anti-Hindu people to the TTD offices. This has not gone unnoticed and CBN will pay for it dearly in the elections.

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      1. Dear Raj,

        You are right about CBN not coming back. The Tirupati temple holds a special place in the hearts of Hindus everywhere but especially in AP. So the people won’t forgive CBN for looting the priceless and irreplaceable temple jewels donated by Krishna Deva Raya and other old-time kings.

        I don’t quite share your view that VN sabotaged the prospects of the BJP in AP. It was Advani with his misplaced policy of alliances everywhere (23 parties in all going into the 2004 election!) who basically wound up the AP BJP unit. I also blame Jaitley for his arrogant remarks regarding the special package that have cost the BJP very dearly.

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  10. The BJP can, and should, make an issue of the bandh called by the Congress.

    It should articulate, call out, and point out what is increasingly being appreciated by the public at large – bandhs cause misery, loss of daily wages affecting the livelihood of the poor, loss of lives, and destruction of property.

    The BJP should be the opposite of the Opposition – calm, reasoned, logical, and empathize with the common citizenry. Show the opposition for the hypocritical lot they are.

    Like

  11. Off-topic but yet again the Sharia Court rushes in to scuttle the good work of the Modi Sarkar, this time on insolvency proceedings. It’s happening too many times to be a coincidence.

    A confrontation with the Sharia Court is inevitable. Modi just needs to pick the right cause. Perhaps if the Sharia Court stays the Rafale deal that would be good grounds for defying it. After journalists, activists, NGO workers, etc. have been stripped of thir posturing, the judiciary are the last ones left. They too have been exposed, but unfortunately NOT rendered powerless.

    https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/banking/finance/banking/rbis-deadline-for-bankrupt-cos-supreme-court-stays-insolvency-proceedings-against-defaulters/articleshow/65776630.cms

    Like

    1. I totally agree SC is showing its true colors now. Harish Salve had warned the Govt. that they will try to use the Judiciary to harm the government which is coming true. The government should draw a line in the sand and make it known to the SC that if you encroach on executive powers then those powers will not be available to enforce SC orders. Without enforcement the SC is the toothless tiger. If even in one case they do that then the SC will get the message.

      Like

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