Did people’s candidates ever stand a chance against the Modi wave?

Written by Preksha Malu | Published on: May 29, 2019

Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Maharashtra. These three states have been at the centre of people’s movements in the last few years with farmers protests over loan waivers, onions, MSPs and forest rights. Many became spectacles that awed the nation and brought the government to heel. It would be obvious that if the leaders of these people’s movements stood up for election, they would win a decisive mandate. But it wasn’t so.

people’s candidates
Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Maharashtra. These three states have been at the centre of people’s movements in the last few years with farmers protests over loan waivers, onions, MSPs (minimum support price) and forest rights. Many became spectacles that awed the nation and brought the government to heel. It would be obvious that if the leaders of these people’s movements stood up for election, they would win a decisive mandate. But this was not to be.
Amra Ram from Rajasthan is the AIKS vice-president and has been at the forefront of farmers’ agitation. He has contested all the Lok Sabha elections since 1996 but has never won.
Hours before filing his nomination on April 15, Amra Ram, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) candidate from Sikar, Rajasthan, said in a public meeting, “The government has money for the big businessmen. They have money for the Adanis and Ambanis. But what do they have for the farmers? Nothing. Which is why we farmers have to fight now.”
This public meeting happened in the same Krishi Upaj Mandi where the farmers from the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan, under the banner of All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), the farmers’ body of CPI(M), and led by Amra Ram, had created a massive movement that lasted 13 days, in September 2017. The farmers had protested demanding better prices for their crops, loan waiver, and relaxation in the strict rules that now govern the trade in farm animals. Farmers from the districts of Sikar, Churu, and Jhunjhunu sat in protest in the main markets, surrounded government offices, and blocked roads. After the 13-day long agitation, the Vasundhara Raje-led BJP government in the state was forced to give in to the farmers’ demands.
He got about 30,000 votes while the sitting BJP MP got around 8 lakh votes. Even Bollywood actress Swara Bhasker campaigned for Amra Ram in Sikar but this high powered celebrity-driven campaign did not convert to votes for the grassroots leader.
Congress won seven of the eight seats in Sikar in the previous assembly polls, with an independent candidate emerging victorious in the other. It fielded Subhash Maharia, a Jat candidate and a three-time BJP MP from Sikar, against the BJP’s Swami Sumedhanand Saraswati, the current MP.
In 2014, despite the Modi wave, Maharia fought as an independent candidate and was able to garner at least one lakh votes.
BJP candidate Sumedhanand Saraswati, who contested the Lok Sabha elections from the same constituency in 2014, on the demand of Baba Ramdev, won. However, the local leadership of BJP consider him an outsider as he hails from Haryana, and his candidacy had reportedly made them resentful.
On May 3, Modi addressed a public meeting in Sikar. He only talked about national security –not once referring to the agrarian crisis -- once again using the Pulwama attack and Uri surgical strike to provoke the people. Modi has again and again used hyper-nationalism as a campaign weapon to garner votes. It sits well with his autocratic, strongman image. Even in Sikar, it looked like his main focus was on finding out how loudly the crowd could chant “Bharat Mata Ki Jai.” Clearly, this farmer dominated seat saw the vote fall prey to this hyped sentiment with farmers themselves overlooking their own hardships and issues.
While India’s reprisal action after the Pulwama terror attack impressed the families of youth recruited in large numbers every year from Shekhawati’s villages to the Army and paramilitary forces, farmers were unhappy over the incomplete waiver of loans by the Congress government in the State despite its promise. Farmers in the three Jat-dominated Lok Sabha constituencies have complained of banks rejecting their waiver claims.
Many a people’s candidate fielded by the CPI (M) has faced a similar fate.
In Dindori, Maharashtra, one of the farm leaders of the memorable Kisan Long March that made the Devendra Fadnavis govt take notice, stood up for elections. He could garner only 9% of the total votes and suffered defeat against BJP.  

JP Gavit came in third in his Dindori constituency. He has emerged as one of the most hard-working and influential tribal leaders, having represented the Kalwan Surgana constituency seven times. He is both an Adivasi and a farmer. He was the driving force behind the two Farmers’ Long March, called by the CPI(M)-affiliated All India Kisan Sabha in the state over the last one year. He has been at the forefront of the farmers’ protests over the past two years, and is the lone leftist MLA in the assembly.
He was pitted against BJP’s Bharati Pawar (now MP) and NCP’s Dhanraj Mahale in this constituency reserved for ST candidates due to the significant tribal population.
The CPI(M) had been keen that the Congress and NCP set aside their claim on the seat as part of their plans of forging a greater opposition alliance in the state. Of the total six legislative constituencies that are part of the Dindori Lok Sabha seat, the NCP is in control of three and was unwilling to let go of its claim on the seat.
In Jharkhand, the Mahagathbandhan has been swept away like sand castles on a beach.
The infighting and refusal to give up seats for the greater good meant that votes and voter shares were divided. Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik) candidate, Pradeep Yadav, who was at the forefront of agitations against land acquisition for a proposed power plant promoted by the Adani Group, was painted as one who was opposed to the “real development” of Godda, his constituency. He had vowed to not let Congress win come what may when the grand old party refused to remove its candidate from the contest. 

Senior member of the CPI(M) Brinda Karat told Sabrangindia how the entire election had been managed and organised by the Adani group. A clear example of how Indian democracy is now almost completely at the mercy of money power and corporate capital.
Godda, largely known for Lalmatia coal mines of Eastern Coalfields Limited, which helps run two super-thermal power stations in Bihar and Bengal, has been facing a serious problem of displacement due to land acquisition.
Even as the oustees clamour for compensation, there is another unrest brewing over the Jharkhand government’s approval to Adani Power Plant, intended to sell power to Bangladesh, which could add to the number of native oustees.
Pradeep Yadav in Godda received around 38% --an impressive number --of the votes against the 53% votes that the sitting BJP MP got. Many say he lost because Congress refused to leave the seat and cut into his vote share. The Congress seems to have played spoiler here, too.
The alliance of Congress, JMM, JVM and RJD was hoping to bag as many as eight seats by fighting together and ensuring the transfer of core and cadre votes across constituencies. But it did not work in the face of the proverbial “Modi Tsunami”.
In Godda, the BJP had worked on a strategy to counter the Muslim-Yadav combination of the Mahagathbandhan while simultaneously emphasising on the development initiatives of party candidate Nishikant Dubey. Even an alleged sexual harassment case was opened up against Yadav before elections.
Left's flop show
Many people’s candidates who lost were fielded by CPI (M).
In West Bengal, a state ruled by the CPI(M)-led Left Front for 34 uninterrupted years, the party drew a blank in its worst performance ever and lost its deposit in 40 of the 41 seats it contested.
The CPI(M) played a pivotal role in government formation at the centre in 1989, 1996 and 2004, based on its stupendous performance in Bengal. In 2004, it bagged 26 of the 42 seats in the state, the maximum.
Since the formation of the CPI(M), following a split in the Communist Party of India (CPI) in 1964, the party never drew a blank in the state in Lok Sabha elections.
The CPI(M)-led Left Front, which ruled the state for 34 years from 1977 to 2011, has bagged a measly 7.8 per cent of votes so far, with its candidates being decimated to third and fourth spots in the seats it contested.
The CPI(M)'s slide in Bengal started from 2009 with TMC's surge, and in 2014 it got only two seats.
Stunned by the defeat, most state CPI(M) leaders declined to comment but said it would introspect the results and take corrective measures. trends showed that the Left was virtually routed in its bastions of Kerala and Bengal. General Secretary Sitaram Yechury said it was time for the entire opposition to introspect.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) is led in two seats in Tamil Nadu -- Coimbatore and Madurai -- by more than one lakh votes each and one in Kerala by around 9,000 votes.
The results of the Lok Sabha elections dealt a blow to the Left parties which have already been on the decline across the country. The CPI(M) lost its last bastion of Kerala where it trailed in all seats it contested.
In 2014, the party had nine seats and the CPI one. By 12 pm on May 23, both parties together were leading only in five seats. This was a steep fall from the 2004 high of 59 seats. Both the parties are struggling to provide a credible justification for this decimation.
In the run-up to the elections, the Left parties struggled to find allies. CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury proposed to the Congress a “no-contest policy” in West Bengal. The Congress snubbed his proposal and going one step ahead fielded their party president Rahul Gandhi from Wayanad which swept away all the hopes that the CPI(M) had from Kerala too.
Barring Alappuzha, the Left was trailing in all the seats. The CPI(M)’s internal assessment was that they would get at least seven seats.
All eyes were trained on Begusarai in Bihar where the Left hoped for a miracle with CPI candidate Kanhaiya Kumar. While Kumar ruled the news cycle, he could not get enough votes to sail through. He was trailing at a distant second to Union Minister and BJP leader Giriraj Singh.
Tamil Nadu is the only exception as the Left was ahead in four seats.
Another Left party, the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), was leading in one seat in Kerala, where it is a part of the ruling Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF).
Ambedkar rising
The tallest leader of the people, a candidate who was the son of Indian soil through and through and gifted the country with its constitution could not win any election he contested. People’s candidates have seldom had such luck
Babasaheb Ambedkar contested in the Bombay North first Indian General Election of 1952, but lost to his former assistant and Congress Party candidate Narayan Sadoba Kajrolkar. He tried to enter Lok Sabha again in the by-election of 1954 from Bhandara, but he placed third (the Congress Party won). According to current terms, the Nehru wave then had taken away his chances.
“It is a strange phenomenon of India’s democracy, that one of its most distinguished sons, highly accomplished academically, a scholar and fearless leader and champion of the rights of the downtrodden, could not win a popular election,” Ajit Ranade wrote in Mumbai Mirror. Ambedkar still became a member of Rajya Sabha and served the country.
In 2019, his grandson has made a dent politically with the newly formed Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA.) The newly formed VBA garnered about 41 lakh votes in the Lok Sabha election. That is about 14% of the total votes polled in Maharashtra.
Prakash Ambedkar told News 18, “We secured about 41 lakh votes in this Lok Sabha election, which is about 14% of the total votes polled in the state. We have enough votes to get the status of a regional party.”
The emergence of a new party founded by Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of Dalit icon and social reformer BR Ambedkar, adversely affected the vote-share of the Congress in many seats.
In a country where caste-based voting seemed to have taken a back-seat over the issue of nationalism, Maharashtra witnessed a reverse trend.
A look at the vote-share showed that the Congress and its allies could have won from at least seven more seats where the VBA’s votes are more than the NDA candidate’s winning margin against the allies.
Maybe all hope isn’t lost for the people’s candidate, on the whole. However, faced with a legitimate or contrived ‘consolidation’ of the ‘Hindu vote’, any hope that Indian parliament and the state legislatures will actually see representative voices there seems like a very distant dream.