What lessons can Narendra Modi-led BJP take home from the rout in Chhattisgarh and somewhat respectable defeats in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh in these Assembly elections of 2018? There is ample room for a turnaround for a good show in 2019.
Jolts add volts to the mighty BJP election machinery if one goes by recent history. Electoral setbacks in Delhi and Bihar made it come back fiercer than before and unleash narrative-altering victories in UP, Assam and Tripura, for instance.
Falling shy of power despite being the largest party in Karnataka and now defeats in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan may just be the shock the party needed to jumpstart its final-leg preparations for 2019 general elections.
While PM Narendra Modi’s credo of a Congress-mukt Bharat has been repulsed by a few steps, here is what the BJP may count as good news from Tuesday’s Assembly election debacle.
Timely wake-up call
With a hundred days or so left for the 2019 general elections, the BJP could use these results to address redundancies in leadership, assess promise and delivery gaps and detect failures in booth- and block-level operations. It will also be forced to come out with some big bangs to energise the cadre.
Semifinals 2018 have also allowed people to vent their anger at the failures of BJP governments before the 2019 elections. It may dull the electorate’s sting in 2019, but only if the BJP addresses those pain points now and come up with fresh faces and ideas.
Thin loss despite anti-incumbency
While Chhattisgarh was a decisive mandate against the Raman Singh government, the BJP will take heart at the over-70 seats the party got despite the raging anti-incumbency against CM Vasundhara Raje. The party has been in power for over 15 years in MP. But despite Congress’s star-studded, intense campaign, it is ahead of Shivraj Singh Chouhan by a very thin margin.
Tuesday’s results in no way show that at least at the state level, the direction of the electoral currents have totally changed.
Time to change old guard
The top BJP leadership has been mulling replacing long-serving state satraps like Shivraj Singh Chauhan, Raman Singh and Vasundhara Raje with newer faces to stem anti-incumbency and infuse vitality in the state organisations.
Vyapam allegations and urban unemployment, coupled with repeated accusations of deal-making on his wife and growing arrogance of his ministers and MPs has sullied Shivraj’s image.
Raman Singh failed to reinvent himself after three terms beyond being the ‘Chawal Wale Baba’ (the man who delivers rice) because of the efficient public distribution system he built. His son’ name in the Panama papers and charges of corruption against his ministers had eroded much of the goodwill.
And Vasundhara faced serious allegations of being inaccessible and aloof, angered Rajputs as a caste over a police encounter killing and Hindus as a whole over mowing down temples to build roads, and failed to galvanise the party and RSS behind her.
It will be interesting to see what kind of new leadership the BJP creates in these states. The old guard, rattled or licking wounds of defeat, may be brought to the Union cabinet.
Stronger Congress, shakier coalition
A stronger Congress, with more bargaining power now, may unsettle chances of a grand coalition. Regional heavyweights like Mamata Banerjee and Naveen Patnaik will be wary of dealing with it and being handed out junior partners’ roles and much less say in a Mahagathbandhan.
Even Chandrababu Naidu, who spearheaded a miserably failed campaign in Telangana, would not be as enthusiastic to back a bossier Congress with his chips going lower.
If the Mahagathbandhan goes without Congress, a triangular contest may benefit the BJP in 2019 with regional parties cutting into the so-called “secular” and anti-BJP votes.
2019: A referendum on PM Modi
While the states have given their verdict on mainly local issues, 2019 is going to be an out-and-out referendum on PM Modi which suits the BJP because survey after survey show that his charisma has not waned. With Congress tasting success in the state polls, it could well be a Narendra Modi vs Rahul Gandhi presidential-style contest, which again the BJP won’t mind at all.
Also, the BJP has kept a number of big-ticket announcements, high-visibility crackdowns and surprise moves in store before the general elections. The state results are likely to get obscured by events that unfold in the coming days.
Project Northeast succeeds
By toppling the Congress in Mizoram, the Modi regime has achieved a Congress-mukt Northeast. Control over state administrations gives the BJP a much stronger claim to the 25 Lok Sabha seats from the region. The prodigious organisational skills of Himanta Biswa Sarma, backed by the RSS’s quietly growing network in the region, makes the BJP the strongest force in the region.
KCR may gravitate to NDA
The remarkable sweep by Kalvakuntla Chandrashekhar Rao’s TRS in Telangana helps the BJP. It has decimated the Congress and weakened Chandrababu Naidu’s position in his own Andhra Pradesh. Also, KCR is unlikely to be in a coalition with the very forces that ganged up as ‘Mahakutami’ against his government and transfer his votes to them. He would much rather bet on the stable BJP at the Centre and bargain for support and resources to consolidate his position as Telangana’s hero.
Overall, the BJP has reason to lift its own chin, but only after it pulls up its socks found sagging in the states.
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Last Updated Dec 11, 2018, 5:20 PM IST