BJP dream of ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’ has come to naught

BJP dream of ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’ has come to naught

Congress party workers celebrate the party's good show in the Assembly elections of Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, at AICC headquarters in New Delhi. PTI

Besides the remarkable comeback fashioned by the Congress, the latest round of elections to the legislative assemblies of the three northern states have strongly indicated that the BJP will have a fight on its hands come 2019.

Given the fact that the Congress had performed miserably both in the 2013 assembly polls and the subsequent 2014 Lok Sabha elections in these states, its performance this time makes it a force to reckon with in 2019. The tally and votes polled in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh in the assembly outings will be seen as a precursor to the parliamentary polls.

Interestingly, it is not just the elections to these three states that give an indication of the tough fight ahead. The elections held not so long ago in Gujarat and Karnataka also gave out similar signals. The BJP just about managed to cross the majority mark in the 182-seat Gujarat assembly.  

In Karnataka, the party could not reach the half-way mark. Though it formed the government, it had to quickly make way for the Congress-JD(S) combine as it could not muster majority.

In the current round of elections, the Congress won a stunning victory in Chhattisgarh, routing the BJP, which had ruled the predominantly tribal state ever since it saw the first assembly elections. Chhattisgarh was carved out of Madhya Pradesh in November 2000 and Raman Singh became its chief minister in 2003, ruling it for the next 15 years.  

Even Congress leaders had not expected the party to romp home bagging 68 out of 90 seats in the state, compared to 2013 when it won 39. The Congress secured 43.1% of the votes this time; in 2013, too, it had performed well, getting 40.29%. This can be compared to the 33% that the BJP eked out as a defeated party this time. In contrast, the race was no doubt close in MP, nor was it a comfortable win for the Congress in Rajasthan. Nevertheless, a victory is indeed a victory in elections. It signifies a lot and its impact could be lasting.

That these three victories have come just months before the April-May 2019 elections would hurt the BJP quite a bit considering that it drew heavily on the 2013 performance in these states while contesting the 2014 LS elections.

Indeed, the party’s resounding victories in all three states in 2013 carried over into the Lok Sabha polls: the BJP won all 25 seats in Rajasthan, 27 of the 29 in MP and 10 of 11 in Chhattisgarh — a staggering 62 out of 65. According to one calculation, if the voters continue to vote in the same fashion in the LS polls as they did in the assembly polls this time, Congress could get 34-36 of those LS seats this time – up from the shocking three in 2014.

The Congress has improved its vote share in Rajasthan and MP, too, in the assembly polls. It secured 39.3% in Rajasthan and 41% in MP, compared to 30.4% and 34.9%, respectively, in 2014.

It would be difficult to predict which way Gujarat will swing given that it is the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. However, the other state which went to elections recently — Karnataka — could bring some cheer to the Congress.

Out of 28 seats, BJP had captured 17 in 2014, Congress nine and JD(S) two. With the Congress-JD(S) alliance likely to continue into LS polls, the combination is eyeing at least 20 seats. That’s the tally that Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy is targeting, as he told Deccan Herald recently.

All these may go to show that the Congress may have put the 2014 ghost behind it. The 2014 LS polls had given it a rude shock, reducing it to its worst-ever performance, with a mere 44 seats. The Congress humiliation was complete when the Modi-led government declined to offer its leader the Opposition Leader status in the Lower House.

A key factor for the defeat of the BJP in the three states, and its depleted performance in Gujarat last December, has been the farmers’ unrest. The three northern states are predominantly rural and the farmers’ unrest, triggered in MP, is an issue to be watched. The Congress, if it is to do well in 2019, has to frame a proper strategy to address the concerns of the farmers and take them into confidence. Else, it cannot be too sure of their support.

While people across different wage groups were upset over the demonetisation fiasco in these states, traders were unhappy over the implementation of the GST. As this writer travelled in Rajasthan to know the voters’ pulse, many said the issues facing the state were similar to those facing other parts of the country, rather than local issues. They meant “notebandi” (note ban), GST, and the unemployment problem.

The other factor was the anger among Dalits against the BJP dispensation. Ever since the suicide of Dalit student Rohith Vemula in Hyderabad and attacks on Dalits in different parts of the country, the community is seething against the BJP and this contributed in a big way to the party’s defeat.

The Hindutva polarisation efforts did not pay off for the party, either. The BJP top brass got Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath to address gatherings in different states and, true to his style, he delivered vitriolic speeches aimed at polarising voters. One example was at Pokhran in Rajasthan. The constituency, which borders Pakistan, had a seer as BJP candidate and opposing him was the son of a Muslim spiritual leader. Yogi addressed a rally there and made a divisive speech. BJP lost the seat.

Among the other factors could be that the charisma of Modi as a vote-catcher is not working as it did in the earlier elections and BJP president Amit Shah’s organising and election strategy skills are not paying off, either. Perhaps, the biggest disappointment for them: their dream of making the country “Congress-mukt Bharat” came to a naught with these elections!