The much awaited results of the ‘semi-final’ for 2019 Lok Sabha elections came as a big shot in the arm for the BJP. In 2013, the BJP won Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh and it came to power at the Centre a year later, becoming the first party in 30 years to win a full thumping majority. Since the Lok Sabha elections four and a half years ago, there have been 22 elections. The BJP has been able to form the government after 14 of those polls. This resulted in the outright dominance of the party across the country. But the assembly election results have now ended the dream run of the saffron juggernaut. The BJP’s dream of ‘Congress-Mukt’ bharat has suffered a huge blow and results are resonating the message that one should never write the obituary of a grand old party or its leadership that early.
Here is what the verdict means for the BJP. Yes, it had been in power for 15 long years in MP and Chhattisgarh, there was a cyclical pattern of change in Rajasthan and it was not a major player in Telangana & Mizoram. But the fact is that there is disappointment and distress that has built across the very classes and social groups which voted for BJP in the past. There has been a drop across the board in terms of the party’s vote share and seat share. Infact, a large number of sitting BJP ministers lost their own seats in the election.
BJP has paid a huge price for rural, farmer and agrarian distress. Farmers are furious for not getting prices they aspired for. Traders and small businesses are worst hit with the continuing slowdown because of demonetisation and GST. The youth is upset over lack of employment. The upper castes ‘savarnas’ which were the traditional BJP vote-bank today feel that the party has turned against them, while Dalits are getting increasingly angry, especially after increase in incidents of violence against them. And rest of the voters are exhausted with what they see as the continued thrust of the ruling party to push religious polarisation, which is a mere distraction from the real and core issues. Although Modi still remains the most popular leader in the country, his economic policies and governance is increasingly coming under closer scrutiny and is now being questioned by all quarters.
The impression of invincibility that the BJP had acquired and projected under the leadership of PM Modi and Amit Shah ever since its decisive sweep in 2014, has now been punctured. Ahead of the 2019 parliamentary elections, this delivers a momentum to the challenger, Congress, and a reality check to the ruling party, BJP for self-introspection.
It can now be assumed that the 2019 contest is open and BJP can’t take it for granted. The direct face-off between the Congress and BJP in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh has given a new boost to the morale of Congress party. This is also Rahul Gandhi’s first real victory as president of his party — exactly at the time he completed one year in office. Gandhi has displayed remarkable management skills and led from the front this time. This win will not only boost the morale of Congress cadres but will also enhance its bargaining power with regional parties, generate more resources and make Rahul the principal leader to take on Modi in 2019.
But the road ahead is not at all easy. If the Congress fails to deliver to farmers and does not manage to create jobs, and meet all the promises it has made in its manifesto, then this power will slip away. The Congress must also know that voters are very aware of how to distinguish between national and state elections. In state elections, they vote on local factors or state issues, whereas in national elections they will vote to elect the prime minister of the country.
Moreover in these assembly elections also, baring Chattisgarh the margin of Congress victory is very slim. BJP has given a tough fight both in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Even after 15 years of strong anti-incumbency, to deliver 109 seats in MP by Shivraj Singh Chauhan is something quite spectacular and astonishing. In Rajasthan too, which was expected to be a done deal for Congress became a close fight between the two parties. Hence, present victory is no way an indication of a win in 2019. The Congress should be ready to really slog it out.