Modi loses chunk of Hindi heart to Congress

Modi loses chunk of Hindi heart to Congress

Congress supporters celebrate at the party headquarters in New Delhi on December 11. Reuters

In stunning electoral reverses that punctured the aura of invincibility around Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, the BJP on Tuesday lost a substantial part of the key Hindi heartland to a resurgent Congress.

The Congress looks set to form a government in Rajasthan, swept Chhattisgarh and holds a slight upper hand in a tight contest in Madhya Pradesh. Rajasthan and MP are two of India’s largest states by area, and the three states send as many as 62 BJP lawmakers to the Lok Sabha. Late on Tuesday night, the Congress in Madhya Pradesh sought Governor Anandiben Patel’s appointment for “formation of government” in the state.

The defeats will worry the BJP precisely because of this: General elections are just months away, and if the Assembly polls are a shape of things to come, it will have to scramble for seats outside the Hindi belt and depend on alliances in some states.

It wasn’t all good news for the Congress either: Its alliance in Telangana failed to halt the juggernaut of K Chandrasekhar Rao’s TRS and it was dumped from power in its last northeastern citadel, Mizoram, by a regional outfit.

The loss in the Hindi states is the clearest setback to the BJP since it swept to power at the Centre in 2014, as it blamed lead alliance partner Akali Dal for the loss of Punjab, and though squeezed out in Karnataka by an opportunistic Congress-JD(S) post-poll pact, it was still the single largest party.

Indeed, 2018 has been a sobering year for the party, beginning as it did with a tough fight to hold Gujarat, home state of the Modi-Shah duo, and analysts feel its fading fortunes in the states could impel hardline elements to push the Ram temple issue centre-stage and drown out voices in favour of development.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted, “The countdown to the Modi government’s fall has begun.”

The results, coming on a day when the Winter session of Parliament began, will also see Opposition parties closing ranks against the government.

And the strong Congress showing in the three heartland states, despite potential allies BSP and SP contesting separately, will give the party considerable bargaining power ahead of negotiations for 80 Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh, where Congress is a marginal player now despite a glorious past.

The victory in Chhattisgarh, where it had lost in 2013 by a whisker-thin margin, was spectacular for Congress, where its vote share was 10 percentage points higher than the BJP’s, and its seat count 3.5 times that of the saffron party.

In MP and Chhattisgarh, Congress promise of loan waiver seems to have worked well coming in the backdrop of the 2016 deaths of six agitating farmers, an issue that reverberated in both the adjoining states. Besides, Rahul Gandhi’s temple trips and Congress’ soft Hindutva plank also seem to have paid rich dividends.

However, with Mizo National Front’s victory, Congress has lost North East completely.