In a transformed electoral arena

Results of Assembly elections in Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland, coming after the results in the 2016 Assam elections, and alongside the ascendance of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in as many as 17 other States gives rise to a vision of a monochromatic India. Many may well deplore this state of affairs, since democracy is generally seen as a platform to encourage the ‘blooming of a hundred flowers’ of varying colours and shapes. What is more important in the extant situation, however, is to understand how this phenomenon has come about, and try to assess what it signifies.

Message from Tripura

Perhaps the most significant of the recent victories achieved by the BJP and its allies was in Tripura. The electoral alliance of the BJP and the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) produced a spectacular result, winning 43 of the 59 seats up for elections. The incumbent party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI(M), could win only 16 seats. In terms of vote percentage, the BJP-IPFT combine secured a little over 50%, compared to the 42.7% for the CPI(M). The Congress and the rest of the Opposition were completely eclipsed.

In Nagaland and Meghalaya, the results were less one-sided, though the BJP and its allies were able to stitch together a winning combination, and push other parties including the Congress to the sidelines.

Elections to smaller northeastern States do not normally attract nationwide attention. With the BJP having repeated its earlier success achieved in Assam, in the process overturning some long-held beliefs, it is perhaps time to take serious notice of what are the underlying factors dictating the overall election scene today. It would be highly myopic to treat election results in any one part of the country, as for instance in the Northeast, as due solely to local or regional factors. It would be an equally serious mistake to treat the results, or the reasons for them, as of lesser national significance than elections in Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra or Madhya Pradesh.

The usual excuses

Reams have been written on the reasons why parties such as the CPI(M) and the Congress have fared poorly in Tripura. The usual hackneyed reasons are being trotted out. For instance, the Congress debacle is attributed to poor election management. In the case of the CPI(M), apart from anti-incumbency, the loss is being ascribed to not having provided adequate jobs for aspiring youth in the State. There may be some merit in these arguments, but the reality is that none of them adequately answers the velocity and success of the BJP-led electoral offensive.

The basic causes for the results, especially the extent of victory, have hence to be found elsewhere. Apart from traditional aggressive electioneering, today’s electoral dynamics include a mixture of many and different attributes. What is seldom mentioned is that of all the parties in India (with the possible exception of the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress), it is the BJP today that is a votary of the assertive leadership approach, often seeking out younger leaders who can impart innate dynamism to even mundane issues. In most cases, the Opposition tends to wilt under their sustained offensive.

Tripura’s former Chief Minister, Manik Sarkar (undoubtedly one of the most respected Chief Ministers till now in the country), is a case in point. He was portrayed by the BJP-led Opposition as a ‘status quoist’ leader of a party in decline, viz. the CPI(M), which itself was out of touch with current realities. The CPI(M)’s defeat in Tripura, hence, had little to do with the handling of affairs in the State, or the traditional rivalry between the CPI(M) and tribal groups. To use the idiom of modern politics, it was the portrayal of Manik Sarkar as no longer being a ‘conviction politician’ that tilted the scale.

The new ecosystem

The BJP does appear to have successfully created a new political ‘ecosystem’ that contrasts with the earlier ethos of participatory politics. Mega rallies with the Prime Minister himself addressing electoral audiences on a scale seldom seen previously, backed by technological advances, seem to produce a mesmeric effect on those listening. The more strident the attack against opposing political parties, the greater seems to have been the impact. Issues may remain much the same; it could be livelihood or jobs. The solutions also may not be different. Yet, the alchemy seems to alter due to the impact of these newer techniques.

One is not certain whether parties such as the BJP are adopting the new science of psychometrics. Across the world, psychometrics is beginning to be employed by political parties to achieve their predetermined objectives. The success rate though is yet to be fully gauged. What is obvious is that traditional campaigning, and electioneering in the old way seem unable to withstand the ‘new wave’ that is altering electoral dynamics today.

What is again discernible today is the attempt to delegitimise the Opposition, especially its leadership. In a world dominated by social media and the prevalence of ‘fake news’ and ‘post-truth’, it has become far easier to do this than in the past. This, compounded with the inherent failure of both the Left as well as entrenched parties such as the Congress to modernise their methods, has left the latter at a disadvantage.

When the Prime Minister declared at a meeting of BJP parliamentarians in Delhi (March 6) that the party’s recent victory in Tripura was an “ideological victory”, he was perhaps stating the truth, but not in the way that he possibly meant. The BJP’s win owes a great deal to its alliance with the tribal group (IPFT), but the victory also signifies the fundamental changes taking place in public attitudes across the world, towards moderate left and social democratic parties. In Europe — the birthplace of the moderate left and social democratic parties — both are in a state of decline. It is the right, and in some cases the far right, that has taken the pole position. By and large, the traditional left and social democratic parties appear to have declined due to their inability to change with the times and modernise their methodologies, tactics, attitudes and approach to problems. Their failures could also be attributed to not using modern technology to spread their message to larger audiences, especially those who do not attend political meetings.

The Tripura election exemplifies this. To all intents and purposes, the CPI(M) was well entrenched in the State and seemingly unbeatable. The Chief Minister seemed to be well positioned to lead the party to yet another victory. Still, his failure to read the writing on the wall, or rather the signature tune of a new political era, proved to be the CPI(M)’s downfall.

This has possibly been in the making for some time. The defeat of the CPI(M) — followed by its eclipse — in West Bengal should have alerted the party to the winds of change blowing. Yet, and despite a transition from the pragmatic Harkishan Singh Surjeet to party apparatchik, Prakash Karat, little fresh thinking has been induced into the party’s thinking. This is well demonstrated in the nature of the current tussle between Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury (a Surjeet acolyte) regarding the line that the CPI(M) should follow.

As in the rest of the world, the moderate left and social democratic parties in India are currently facing an onslaught from the right wing and similar groups. In many cases they are being eclipsed. Unless the left and social democratic parties make certain fundamental alterations in their thinking and methodology, they are bound to wither away and become political relics. With the CPI(M) having been decimated in both Tripura and West Bengal, it has become easier for the right to delegitimise the left leadership.

The message is loud and clear. Political parties cannot hope to survive today’s economic onslaughts by adhering to past attitudes, beliefs and techniques. They have to constantly evolve and consider new ways to communicate with the people and, above all, come up with fresh ideas. They need to jettison past shibboleths and let fresh ideas course through their minds. This is vitally important to check the increasing lurch to the right that is evident across the world, and to ensure that the far right does not trample upon what we treasure as democracy.


1) Ascendance

Meaning: The state that exists when one person or group has power over another.

Synonyms: Control, Dominance

2) Monochromatic

Meaning: Containing or using only one colour.

Example: “Monochromatic light”

3) Deplore

Meaning: Feel or express strong condemnation of (something).

Example: “We deplore all violence”

Synonyms: Abhor, Be shocked by

Antonyms: Admire, Applaud

4) Blooming

Meaning: Produce flowers; be in flower.

Example: “A chalk pit where cowslips bloomed”

Synonyms: Blossom, Flower

Antonyms: Wither, Fade

5) Allies

Meaning: A person or organization that cooperates with or helps another in a particular activity.

Example: “He was forced to dismiss his closest political ally”

Synonyms: Associate, Colleague

Antonyms: Enemy, Opponent

6) Indigenous

Meaning: Originating or occurring naturally in a particular place; native.

Example: “The indigenous peoples of Siberia”

Synonyms: Native, Aboriginal

Antonyms: Expatriate, Migrant

7) Incumbent

Meaning: Necessary for (someone) as a duty or responsibility.

Example: “The government realized that it was incumbent on them to act”

Synonyms: Binding, Obligatory

Antonyms: Optional

8) Eclipsed

Meaning: Deprive (someone or something) of significance or power.

Example: “The economy has eclipsed the environment as the main issue”

Synonyms: Outshine, Overshadow

9) Myopic

Meaning: Lacking foresight or intellectual insight.

Example: “The government still has a myopic attitude to public spending”

Synonyms: Unimaginative, Uncreative

Antonyms: Far-sighted

10) Reams

Meaning: Froth or overflow.

Example: “A full pot reaming with froth”

11) Hackneyed

Meaning: (Of a phrase or idea) having been overused; unoriginal and trite.

Example: “Hackneyed old sayings”

Synonyms: Overused, Overworked

Antonyms: Original, Fresh

12) Trotted out

Meaning: To show someone or something in public in order to get attention.

Example: “He trots out the same old jokes at every party”

13) Aspiring

Meaning: Directing one’s hopes or ambitions towards becoming a specified type of person.

Example: “An aspiring artist”

14) Seldom

Meaning: Not often; rarely.

Example: “Islay is seldom visited by tourists”

Synonyms: Rarely, Infrequently

Antonyms: often, frequently

15) Mundane

Meaning: Lacking interest or excitement; dull.

Example: “His mundane, humdrum existence”

Synonyms: Humdrum, Dull

Antonyms: Extraordinary, Imaginative

16) Status quoist

Meaning: The existing state of affairs, especially regarding social or political issues.

Example: “They have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo”

17) Rivalry

Meaning: Competition for the same objective or for superiority in the same field.

Example: “There always has been intense rivalry between the clubs”

Synonyms: Competitiveness, Competition

18) Ethos

Meaning: The characteristic spirit of a culture, era, or community as manifested in its attitudes and aspirations.

Example: “A challenge to the ethos of the 1960s”

Synonyms: Spirit, Character

19) Strident

Meaning: (Of a sound) loud and harsh; grating.

Example: “His voice had become increasingly strident”

Synonyms: Harsh, Raucous

Antonyms: Soft, Dulcet

20) Psychometrics

Meaning: The science of measuring mental capacities and processes.

21) Gauged

Meaning: Judge or assess (a situation, mood, etc.).

Example: “She was unable to gauge his mood”

Synonyms: Assess, Evaluate

22) Discernible

Meaning: Able to be discerned; perceptible.

Example: “The scandal had no discernible effect on his career”

Synonyms: Visible, Detectable

Antonyms: Imperceptible

23) Delegitimise

Meaning: Withdraw legitimate status or authority from.

Example: “The country has been delegitimized by the world community”

24) Prevalence

Meaning: The fact or condition of being prevalent; commonness.

Example: “The prevalence of obesity in adults”

Synonyms: Commonness, Currency

25) Post-truth

Meaning: Relating to a situation in which people are more likely to accept an argument based on their emotions and beliefs, rather than one based on facts.

Example: “The referendum was the first major vote in the era of post-truth politics”

26) Entrenched

Meaning: Establish (an attitude, habit, or belief) so firmly that change is very difficult or unlikely.

Example: “Ageism is entrenched in our society”

Synonyms: Establish, Settle

Antonyms: Dislodge, Superficial

27) Owes

Meaning: Have an obligation to pay or repay (something, especially money) in return for something received.

Example: “They have denied they owe money to the company”

Synonyms: Be in debt (to), Be indebted (to)

Antonyms: Settle up

28) Tactics

Meaning: An action or strategy carefully planned to achieve a specific end.

Example: “The minority attempted to control the Council by a delaying tactic”

Synonyms: Strategy, Scheme

29) Exemplifies

Meaning: Be a typical example of.

Example: “The best dry sherry is exemplified by the fino of Jerez”

Synonyms: Typify, Epitomize

30) Intents

Meaning: Intention or purpose.

Example: “With alarm she realized his intent”

Synonyms: Aim, Purpose

31) Perhaps

Meaning: Used to express uncertainty or possibility.

Example: “Perhaps I should have been frank with him”

Synonyms: Maybe, For all I know

32) Pragmatic

Meaning: Dealing with things sensibly and realistically in a way that is based on practical rather than theoretical considerations.

Example: “A pragmatic approach to politics”

33) Apparatchik

Meaning: A member of a Communist Party apparat.

Example:  “Old apparatchiks have given way to the Russian government’s young reformers”

34) Tussle

Meaning: A vigorous struggle or scuffle, typically in order to obtain or achieve something.

Example: “There was a tussle for the ball”

Synonyms: Scuffle, Fight

35) Onslaught

Meaning: A fierce or destructive attack.

Example: “A series of onslaughts on the citadel”

Synonyms: Assault, Attack

36) Wither

Meaning: Fall into decay or decline.

Example: “It is not true that old myths either die or wither away”

Synonyms: Diminish, Dwindle

Antonyms: Grow

37) Decimated

Meaning: Kill, destroy, or remove a large proportion of.

Example: “The inhabitants of the country had been decimated”

38) Jettison

Meaning: Abandon or discard (someone or something that is no longer wanted).

Example: “The scheme was jettisoned”

Synonyms: Dump, Drop

Antonyms: Load, Keep, Retain

39) Shibboleths

Meaning: A custom, principle, or belief distinguishing a particular class or group of people, especially a long-standing one regarded as outmoded or no longer important.

Example: “Liberal shibboleths about education”

40) Trample

Meaning: Tread on and crush.

Example: “The fence had been trampled down”

Synonyms: Tread, Tramp

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