What Hindi press said about the assembly by-polls

The BJP's rout in the by-polls has come in for scathing criticism even in the Dainik Jagran.
ABHISHEK K CHOUDHARY discovered a distinctly new tone, with the party being attacked for choosing the wrong issues and hardly anyone defending it. PIX: The Dainik Jagran edit

September 16 saw a curious political development. In the assembly by-polls conducted across 10 states earlier this month, whose results were declared on this day, the Bhartiya Janata Party won only 12 out of 33 seats. This included Uttar Pradesh where the BJP summoned up barely three out of 11 seats. Even in August, when these elections were held in Bihar and Karnataka, the party had only managed to get four out of 10 and one out of three seats respectively.

The reasons for this debacle could be many yet it is safe to say that it was a letdown for a party that rode to power four months ago with its best ever performance. It wasn’t, therefore, surprising that the media would devote the next few days to making sense of the BJP’s despair.

Almost all the English media, perhaps not unexpectedly, rebuked the party. Even The Pioneer said there was an urgent need to, among other things, groom leaders at the state level: No Modi Magic Wand For Electoral Victories, September 19.)

More interesting was the decisive shift in the Hindi print media’s tone.

On September 17, an editorial in Dainik Jagran (Nateejon Ka Nishkarsh), a newspaper known to sing paeans to the BJP, read: “While there could be region-specific reasons, it’s clear that this time the BJP couldn’t generate the trust among the voters the way Narendra Modi could for the Lok Sabha elections.”

It went on: “It’s hard to fathom how the [local] BJP leaders completely forgot that an astounding victory in the Lok Sabha elections came by focusing on development, not an issue like Love Jihad. It’s surprising that the BJP’s central leadership didn’t feel the need to warn the state leaders that they had started deviating from the agenda.” The editorial ended in a half-mocking tone, saying the BJP had a strange task of learning from a rather “deliberate mistake”.

The same day, an editorial in Jansatta (Upchunaavon Ke Sanket) which is popular for its near-pathological hatred of Modi, said with a melodramatic tinge, “It’s a serious jolt, more serious than anyone could have guessed”. The piece argued that the BJP stoked communal polarization, assuming it would bring electoral benefits: “It was a deliberate strategy to put forward Yogi Adityanath’s name. But the voters rejected it.”

The veracity of this claim about Uttar Pradesh might be difficult, but a few other states threw equally befuddling results: in Rajasthan, where the BJP made a clean sweep on the 25 Lok Sabha seats, the party lost to Congress three out of four previously held seats. Likewise in Gujarat, it’s hard to analyze why the BJP lost out on three (out of nine) seats. “The by-polls give the evidence,” Jansatta concluded, “that Modi’s charm has waned.”

Social scientist Badri Narayan had a more cogent explanation of the withering charms of the prime minister. In an article called Achche Dinon Ke Vaaydey Se Mohbhang (Disillusioned with the promise of better days, September 17) in Amar Ujala, he argued that “Modi’s media-constructed image of a superman that was successfully sold during Lok Sabha elections, waned once he assumed power...Big promises were made, people’s expectations soared so high that they believed Modi would immediately set everything right...When the hyper-reality gave way to the situation on the ground, disillusionment set in.”

“The backward castes and Dalits,” Narayan continued, “who voted for the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections, saw that the Modi government didn’t take any steps for their betterment”.

This argument is persuasive because in Uttar Pradesh, all the eight districts where the Samajwadi Party won have a sizeable combined population of Dalits and Muslims. Of course, the fact that the Bahujan Samaj Party chose not to contest the election also helped the Samajwadi Party enormously.

Hindustan carried only a short column by Neeraj Badhwar on the ludicrous excuses that parties come up when they lose elections. Chunnavi Haar-Jeet Par Chahiye Naye Bahane (September 18) mocked the Congress for saying the BJP lost the by-polls because of its arrogance, given that the party itself had been rudderless for ages.

And Badhwar was amused at the claim by BJP leader Yogi Adityanath that the Samajwadi Party had “misused the state machinery”. Badhwar wrote: “As it is, people don’t trust what the leaders say. If they don’t want to talk sense, at the very least they should be creative in the excuses they come up with.”

On the other hand, its sister publication, The Hindustan Times, carried multiple editorials, including one by the ever stern Karan Thapar. “Do you know what I find most heartening about the recent by-election results?” he asked. Answer: India’s Hindu voters have “rejected the claim 99.99% that those accused of rape are Muslims. They do not believe madrasas are a training ground for terrorists.” And so on...

The most scathing judgement in Hindi came from Brijesh Shukla in Navbharat Times. Ulta Pad Gaya ‘Love Jihad’ Ka Daav (The ‘Love Jihad’ Strategy Backfired, September 18). Shukla reminded readers of some of the “scary incidents” that took place during the by-polls such as “love jihad” and the Moradabad temple loudspeaker issue.

On the matter of “forced conversions”, Shukla argued that fraudulent marriages are indeed serious crimes, irrespective of whether a person is a Hindu or a Muslim but individuals are to be blamed, not communities.

Abhilash Khandekar, the political editor of Dainik Bhaskar, alternated between praising the government and suggesting it do some introspection. Aatm-manthan Ka Kshan (The Moment for Self-introspection, September 18) appreciated Modi’s tenure thus far for: “a reduction in petrol-diesel prices; quick environmental clearances [on industrial projects]; passing the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill; improving diplomatic relations,” et cetera.

But he also pointed to silent outrage within the party about Modi’s “dictatorial” style, along with the need to focus on states where elections are due. These include Haryana where the BJP leadership is weak and Maharashtra where the party is in a deadlock over seat sharing with the Shiv Sena and over the chief ministerial candidature. 

In the entire by-polls analyses, the only piece of writing that sought to defend the BJP’s poor performance came out in Dainik Jagran. In Nateezon Ki Vichitra Vyakhya (The Bizarre Interpretation of Results, September 19) Hridaynarayan Dixit, columnist and a member of the UP Legislative Council, began by venting his anger through philosophy: “The world is a series of cause and effect. Every event here has a reason.”

He went on to expound that by-polls are always to do with local state issues and would not impact the BJP’s future. Another Jagran editorial on the same day talked about the voters’ dilemma. Here is what Bechain Matdata (Restless Voters) had to say: “The voters are always known to look for a saviour in every political party and every personality. Someone who can take care of corruption, inflation, unemployment, law and order. They go wherever they see hope. They turn back when they see hopes crushed. The voters are restless, never static.”

The overall lesson that emerged from these discussions on the by-polls is that the BJP should, one, focus on strengthening its base at the ground level; two, work on its promises of good governance, rather than pursuing a politics of polarization; and three, realize that all mandates are temporary and therefore ought not to be wasted.

Such articles are only possible because of your support. Help the Hoot. The Hoot is an independent initiative of the Media Foundation and requires funds for independent media monitoring. Please support us. Every rupee helps. 
Subscribe To The Newsletter
The new term for self censorship is voluntary censorship, as proposed by companies like Netflix and Hotstar. ET reports that streaming video service Amazon Prime is opposing a move by its peers to adopt a voluntary censorship code in anticipation of the Indian government coming up with its own rules. Amazon is resisting because it fears that it may alienate paying subscribers.                   

Clearly, the run to the 2019 elections is on. A journalist received a call from someone saying they were from Aajtak channel and were conducting a survey, asking whom she was going to vote for in 2019. On being told that her vote was secret, the caller assumed she wasn't going to vote for 'Modiji'. The caller, a woman, also didn't identify herself. A month or two earlier the same journalist received a call, this time from a man, asking if she was going to vote for the BSP.                 

View More