Even before the first ballot is cast for the battle royale in 2019, the saffron critics have begun writing BJP’s obituary. Questions are being raised about the charisma of Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. “Is his magic waning” has become a frequently asked question.
The electoral debacle in the Hindi heartland, after decades, has dealt a severe body blow to the BJP. Chinks in the saffron armour have begun to show.
The rout in Chhattisgarh, where Congress jumped to a double figure on its own indicated a complete rejection of BJP in the state. Humiliating defeat in Chhattisgarh, where Congress fought without a face, without any leader to match the stature of Raman Singh has made it clear that TINA factor does not work, when the voters are upset.
If the defeat in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh has made the path to return to power in 2019 somewhat tricky and difficult for BJP’s, it has also signalled the resurgence of Congress and more importantly emergence of Congress president, Rahul Gandhi from the shadows. The comprehensive victory in the Hindi heartland not merely established Rahul Gandhi as a leader of the Congress, but, also the man who could lead the opposition chorus.
Bad news for the BJP is that the much ridiculed “Pappu” is rapidly emerging Congress’ Sun Tzu,the main architect of the party’s “Art of War.”
Following the electoral triumphs barring perhaps, Biju Janata Dal and TRS other opposition parties could do away with their reluctance to allow Congress to lead the charge. The electoral victories also make it easier for Congress to stitch up alliances while difficult for BJP to do so.
Yet, despite the given advantage and the resurrection, its not an easy task for Rahul Gandhi led Congress to firm up the much hyped Grand Alliance. Besides rejuvenation of Congress, the elections also signalled the return of the Dalit queen-Mayawati. BSP, which was on the brink of extinction has made considerable gains in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. The Dalit vote bank, which had virtually shifted en masse to the saffron kitty in 2014, seemed to be making a “ghar wapsi.”. Henceforth the Blue Elephant might not be easy to tame. Sign have begun to show. Speaking to the media after the results, Mayawati said: “People voted for the Congress much against their wishes because they saw it as the prime challenger to the BJP in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan.”
It may be recalled that on December 10 as many as 21 opposition parties had met in Delhi on Monday to explore the anti-BJP alliance possibilities under Congress for 2019. Both SP and BSP leaders were conspicuous by their absence in the meeting. It remains to be seen whether both these regional parties re-draw their strategies in Uttar Pradesh after the assembly elections results. Despite their support to Congress in Madhya Pradesh both SP chief, Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati are tightlipped over the alliance in UP. Therefore, even as the Congress emerged as the centre of opposition fulcrum, the going could get tough during seat sharing talks.
The other flashpoint could be Trinamool Congress led by Mamata Banerjee, who secretly nurtures an ambition to be the face of the opposition and Prime Ministerial ambition.
So far Trinamul functionaries have been dropping clear hints that “Didi” was best suited to lead the coalition against the Narendra Modi led BJP. Mamata Banerjee had also made it amply clear that she might not be too keen to be led by Rahul Gandhi. It remains to be seen if Mamata Banerjee changes her tack after the assembly election results.
TDP spremo, N. Chandra Babu Naidu had subtly thrown his hat into the ring. Over the past few months, he had been trying to race past Ms Banerjee and emerge as the face of the anti-BJP forces, till Telengana happened. His gamble to join hands with the Congress and anti-TRS forces in Telengana failed miserably. TRS trounced the Congress led Mahakutami in Telengana convincingly. The humiliating defeat has for the time being halted Babu’s race to grab the top post. TRS victory has added another angle to the Opposition game. Following his victory in Telengana, the chief minister, K. Chandrashekhar Rao has announced his plan to firm up an anti-BJP and anti-Congress front. Replying to speculations of his enhanced role in the national politics and his vision for the same, KCR said, “At present no name has been decided for the national front. The national front with non-Congress and non-BJP will directly approach the people in the country. Both Congress and BJP have failed in the country. We need new economic development in the country.”
There could be a scenario in 2019 where the KCR’s TRS, Mamata Banerjee’s TMC, Akhilesh Yadav’s SP, Mayawati’s BSP. Naveen Patnaik’s BJD, Nitish Kumar’s JD(U), Lalu Yadav’s RJD, Shibu Soren’s JMM, Jagan Reddy’s YSRCP and other Dravidian parties could decide as to who forms the government.
Then there is Mamata Banerjee’s 1;1 formula (in simple electoral terms, it would mean one winnable candidate versus another, in all parliamentary constituencies, across the country). Going by the formula, in Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Congress will have no option but to play the second or even the third fiddle. This would mean Congress will lack any bargaining power during the seat sharing talks with the regional players flexing their muscles.
The NCP-Congress alliance appears to be on course in Maharashtra at this juncture. For BJP, Maharashtra could be a major cause of concern. The BJP will have to face a confident Congress-NCP led coalition on one hand and probably more aggressive Shiv Sena on the other.
Before one could compose dirge for the BJP, things have to seen in another perspective. Despite much projected anti-incumbency, Shivraj Singh Chouhan led BJP gave Congress a run for its money in Madhya Pradesh. Chouhan held his ground and bagged 109 seats for the party. Congress was constrained to take outside support to form government.
Even as the exit polls projected a wash out for Vasundhara Raje led BJP in Rajasthan, she fought hrd and bagged 73 assembly seats. Yet again Congress needed outside support to form government in the state.
Recent electoral defeats has put BJP on the backfoot and it has offered Congress a fresh lease of life, but, all is not lost as yet. The BJP still has a trump card called Narendra Modi. He’s the man, who has the capacity to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Modi at this juncture might not be “ajay” (invincible) but he still wields an appeal and charisma that iremains unmatched.
Dr R. Balashankar, Co-convenor, Training and Publication committee of the BJP and who recently published a book on Modi-“Narendra Modi: Creative Disruptor” writes: “He (Modi) is still the BJP’s best bet.
He can sway an election and swing votes.” Despite the debacle, Dr Balashankar claims that “Even now, Modi is the most towering political personality.” Moreover the state elections could not be viewed as test of Modi’s popularity. BJP had been in power in both Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh for the last 15 years. The shadow of anti-incumbency loomed large over Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Madhya Pradesh and Raman Singh in Chhattisgarh. Rajasthan is known for a change regime every five years. Unlike in the Gujarat and Karnataka elections, the Prime Minister did not campaign extensively. He held merely 30 rallies across five states. Some BJP leaders feel that the local issues played a dominant role during the elections and had “nothing to do with national issues.” It was being claimed that in Madhya Pradesh many of Chouhan’s welfare schemes did not reach the local population following red-tapism and “arrogance and inaccessibility” of the state ministers. Corruption charges against the ruling BJP regime hit the party hard in both Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgar So its Modi again for the BJP. The Prime Minister is expected to address around 120 cluster of constituencies by Fenruary next year. The BJP will also be launching its campaign for the Lok Sabha polls with its national executive meeting on January 11-12 in the national capital. Before that, party chief Amit Shah will assess the preparatory work with leaders of various wings of the organisation.
The BJP president is expected to hold a meeting of Yuva Morcha leaders, including its district heads, on December 15-16 and a national executive meeting of Mahila Morcha is to be held in Ahmedabad on December 21-22. The meeting of Scheduled Caste Morcha will be held on January 19-20 in Nagpur, minority morcha leaders will meet in Delhi on January 31-February 1, and Scheduled Tribe Morcha leaders will have their national executive in Bhubaneswar on February 2-3. The OBC Morcha will meet in Patna on February 15-16 and Kisan Morcha leaders on February 21-22 in Uttar Pradesh.
The battle plan is ready. However, some of the senior BJP leaders indicated that there was an immediate need for the Prime Minister and BJP president to reign in the fringe elements and tone down its rhetoric on Hindutva and militant nationalism. Cow vigilantism violence and repeated attacks on Dalits across the country “need to be contained.”
The results have indicated that aggressive Hindutva slogans and shrill campaign launched by the Sangh parivar over Ram Mandir have failed to impress or influence the voters.
Uttar Pradesh chief minister and Hindutva poster boy Yogi Adityanath. Adityanath reportedly addressed 74 election meetings, the maximum 26 in Rajasthan, followed by 23 in Chhattisgarh, 17 in Madhya Pradesh and eight in Telangana. Collectively, he addressed more meetings than Prime Minister Narendra Modi or BJP national president Amit Shah. The outcome is there for all to see.
Lost in rabble rousing and over utilization of hardcore Hindutva and militant nationalism as its election plank, BJP deviated from its main mantra-development. A senior BJP leader said: “2019 Lok Sabha elections will be decided by rural India and farmers. We need to act and stop talking about Pakistan, nationalism, mandir and cows.”
An article in The Economic Times points out: “BJP lost MP, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, which have respectively, rural population share of 72.3%, 76.8% and 75%. It’s not that the BJP governments in the states and the Centre hadn’t done anything for farmers and rural workers. But data shows there’s something they haven’t been able to do-raise rural incomes. Wages in the countryside are depressed and income from crops insufficient.”
The saffron spin doctors admit the party failed to anticipate the impact of Congress’s farm loan waiver promise in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. “The Congress managed to sway the rural population,” a BJP strategist said.
The other area which hit the BJP hard is rising unemployment. An article in the Observer Research Foundation stated: “India seems to have the biggest pools of unemployed people in the world. The prospect of getting a job for those who are unemployed will be an important issue in the General Elections 2019. According to CMIE (Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy), unemployment rate in October in India rose to 6.9 per cent. The number of unemployed which fell to 14 million in 2017 is now at nearly 30 million. This leads one to wonder what is wrong with the economy which fail to absorb the unemployed.”
A senior BJP functionary summed it all up when he said-“Sir its all about economics.” Dr Balashankar argues: “The BJP, particularly Modi, has been resisting all populist measures to save the states finances. Now the BJP will have to rework its strategy and compete with Congress on populism to win.”
The poll defeats may have opened up the stage for 2019, but, with Modi leading the charge, BJP could still have an added advantage. Surveys have indicated that Modi as the Prime Minister clocks 34% as compared to 24% for Rahul Gandhi. Also his image as an industrious, incorruptible, a man striving to make India a powerful nation remains intactFinally the Supreme Court giving a clean chit to the Modi government over the contentious Rafale has come as a major boost. The BJP which had been down and out is back on its feet.
By Sanjay Basak