Vol. XLII No. 50 December 16, 2018

BJP Setback in Assembly Elections

THE results of the assembly elections in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan are a big blow to the BJP.  In all these three states, there were BJP governments and in two of them – Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh – the BJP had been in government for fifteen years, ie, for three successive terms. In all three, the BJP has been defeated.

The results of the elections in the three BJP-ruled states have a national significance.  After the 2014 Lok Sabha election, in the state assembly elections held so far, this is the biggest reverse for the BJP because all these three states were considered to be strongholds of the party. The defeat in these three states has dented the image of invincibility around the Modi-Shah duo which has been assiduously built up by the BJP. They have been credited with the electoral victories registered since the 2014 Lok Sabha elections in states like Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand and Assam. But now they have proved to be ineffective in their own traditional strongholds. 

The electoral reverses in the three states have come after a series of defeats in the by-elections to Lok Sabha and assembly seats.  Since January 2018, there were 13 parliamentary by-elections, of which the BJP and its allies won only three, the BJP conceded five of its sitting seats to the opposition; out of 22 assembly seat by-elections, the BJP could win only five. These results over the last one year reflect the growing discontent among the people against the Modi government at the centre and the BJP-ruled state governments. 

The widespread farmers’ distress, the adverse effects of demonetisation, the failure to provide jobs, corruption and misrule have all taken a toll on the BJP.

Sensing this popular discontent, the BJP-RSS combine had fallen back on its communal Hindutva agenda to try and create polarisation and rally support. The Uttar Pradesh chief minister, Adityanath, was used extensively in the campaign in these three states where he resorted to naked communal rhetoric and Muslim baiting. He addressed 73 rallies in these elections.  But this could not succeed in overcoming the strong anti-incumbency trends and popular discontent. 

The results of these three state elections have a bearing on the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections. Generally, the trend has been that the party which does well in an assembly election also makes gains in the Lok Sabha polls from that state if they are held six months later. The BJP had won 62 out of the 65 Lok Sabha seats from these three states in the 2014 election. By the trends in the assembly elections, the BJP is set to lose a substantial number of these seats from these three states. It will be difficult for the BJP to make up the loss of these seats in other states, especially when it is expected to lose the bulk of the seats it had won in Uttar Pradesh with the SP-BSP alliance shaping up.

In these three states, the contest has always been bipolar – between the BJP and the Congress.  Thus, the Congress has been the winner by default whenever the people wanted to remove the BJP. Unlike in Chhattisgarh where it got a sweeping victory, the Congress was just short of a majority by one seat in Rajasthan and short of majority by two seats in Madhya Pradesh.

Given the depth of the popular discontent and anti-incumbency the Congress should have been able to get a more decisive majority in these two states. Why this did not take place requires examination. One aspect is that in both these states, the Congress tried to borrow some issues from the Hindutva platform. However, raising such demands did not get them any electoral benefits. Because, people attracted to the Hindutva platform always prefer the original rather than a copy cat one.

The people have voted for Congress because they were punishing the BJP governments for their failure to address farmers’ problems, create employment and protect livelihoods.

It was not only the record of misrule of the BJP state governments that evoked popular disapproval. The verdict is against the Modi government’s policies too. After all, a major cause for the anger of the people was the burdens imposed by demonetisation and the implementation of GST. The BJP’s loss in quite a few urban constituencies attests to this fact.

Further, it was at the behest of the centre that the Rajasthan and MP governments brought in anti-labour legislations and dilution of the Land Acquisition Act. Rajasthan was also the pioneer in privatising the public distribution system and primary health service.

Though there has been an erosion of the BJP vote share in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh compared to the previous assembly election in 2013, it must be noted that it still got a substantial vote share – 41 per cent in MP and 38.8 per cent in Rajasthan. In fact, in the former it was 0.1 per cent ahead of the Congress vote share and just 0.5 per cent less than the Congress share in Rajasthan.

This underlines the scope for a BJP recovery if there is a slight swing in its favour. It also points to the likely possibility of the BJP-RSS combine stepping up its communal agenda in the coming days in view of the Lok Sabha elections.

This makes it incumbent on the newly formed governments to immediately address the problems of agrarian distress, employment generation and provision of social welfare schemes. They cannot afford to take a soft attitude to communal activities and must crack down on cow vigilantism and mob lynching.

That the Congress still faces an uphill task in reviving its national fortunes is indicated by the rout it suffered in Telangana and the loss of its sole surviving government in Mizoram.

For the CPI(M) and the Left, the only positive result was the victory in two seats in Rajasthan – a product of sustained kisan struggles in the state.

Overall, the results of the assembly elections are a setback for the BJP and the leadership of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. It provides the much needed momentum for the forthcoming battle in the Lok Sabha elections to defeat the BJP. 

(December 13, 2018)