For many BJP supporters, the results of the recently held assembly elections in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram, Rajasthan and Telangana have come as a huge setback. They were expecting a close contest in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, and victory in Madhya Pradesh. There were some who thought BJP would make a mark in Mizoram and Telangana too.
On the other hand, Congress supporters and critics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi have got a pleasant surprise. The results have revived the party and given a new hope to all those who wish to defeat the Modi-led National Democratic Alliance in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s image has got a much-desired boost and all the doubts about his leadership capabilities have now disappeared. The emphatic victory in three crucial states has suddenly enhanced his stature among other political parties and will facilitate his rise as prime ministerial candidate of a united opposition.
Now, A Direct Contest Between Rahul and Modi
Interestingly, this is what Modi would prefer too. He would love to have Rahul as his main challenger in the Lok Sabha elections. BJP leaders believe that a clear Modi versus Rahul contest will definitely tilt the scales in favour of Modi.
The assembly election results have also silenced those who were whispering about the rise of Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Vasundhara Raje as possible contenders for the prime minister’s post, in case the post 2019 LS election scenario demands a consensus candidate. Loss of power in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan has also dampened spirits of few other senior leaders of BJP.
RSS has played a critical role in the rise of BJP, but many Sangh observers feel that there has been a decline in the importance Hindutva related issues receive from the BJP leadership. RSS leaders can take solace from the fact that this electoral loss will force BJP to reset its priorities and again makes RSS a key player in planning future strategies of BJP.
Ordinary voters are happy because they have shown their might to the mighty politicians and their arrogant sycophants. This verdict will work as an alarm for all those politicians who ignore party workers and rely more on crafty bureaucrats and greedy consultants, even in political and electoral matters.
A convincing victory of the BJP in the recent elections would have greatly demoralised opposition. But now opposition leaders can hope to replicate this electoral success of anti-BJP parties in 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
The Lessons From Telangana and Mizoram
However, lessons from Telangana and Mizoram results cannot be ignored. Congress had stitched an alliance with the Telugu Desam Party and a few other parties to defeat the incumbent TRS. But the TRS, led by K Chandrasekhar Rao, has emerged stronger and swept the Telangana assembly election.
Now KCR will not support a Congress-led alliance for 2019 LS elections and instead he would strive to form a third front to take on both NDA and Congress-led alliance.
Mizoram, on the other hand, proves the importance of an alliance to defeat a powerful incumbent.
Lessons For BJP
Narendra Modi has received a shock from the voters a few months before the Lok Sabha elections, but he might not lose sleep over the assembly election results. The BJP has failed to get enough seats required for a majority in the crucial states, but its vote share has not dipped much despite facing strong anti-incumbency. So, the possibility of losing some seats in Lok Sabha election is limited. Also, there are enough MLAs elected in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan to send some MPs to Rajya Sabha when required.
An important lesson for the BJP is that money alone can’t win elections. Congress was out of power in MP and Chhattisgarh for the past 15 years and didn’t have enough resources to match the money power of BJP. Yet, it has won handsomely in Chhattisgarh and managed to win Rajasthan.
BJP has another big concern. The much touted election machinery of BJP, comprising its IT cell, team of advertising professionals, media managers, social media warriors, booth level workers and content developers, has failed to deliver despite making huge expenditures. This should be a cause of concern for the party leadership because over-reliance on such non-political professionals had cost it Karnataka too, where urban middle-class voters from Bangalore couldn’t be persuaded to come out and vote for BJP.
Many BJP workers also feel that the communication strategy of party also needs an overhaul. They are critical of the obsession with incessant trolling of opponents, instead of highlighting the party’s ideology and the government’s achievements. Some spokespersons are also viewed as arrogant and loud, who fail to impress sensitive Indian voters.
There has been a lot of talk about crores of beneficiaries enjoying the benefits of innumerable welfare schemes of central and state governments. Yet, the recent election results prove that not all beneficiaries are willing to vote for the BJP. This should be a huge concern for Modi. His government’s various schemes for minorities too have failed to change their voting preference.
Social engineering is another critical issue facing BJP. Most OBC voters are still with the party, but it has not projected many competent young OBC leaders in the centre or states. There is a dearth of young SC and ST leaders too. Farmer communities too feel ignored by the party for leadership roles. Regional parties are increasingly becoming an attractive option for such marginalised and ignored communities.
Too much reliance on bureaucrats has also lowered morale of BJP workers. Many dedicated workers feel let down by central and state governments, because “new recruits” and bureaucrats get posts which should have been given to more qualified party old-timers.
Importing candidates from other political parties, and ignoring party cadre for tickets has not worked well for BJP. Many such imported politicians speak and work against party ideology and have now begun to turn against party.
The assembly election results have once again brought to light concerns of farmers, SMEs, middle-class taxpayers, unemployed youth and women. Narendra Modi and his team need to contemplate on the unfavourable verdict and take required steps to pacify and motivate party supporters.
BJP leaders need to decide whether they would like to leave the field open for Rahul Gandhi to capitalise on rising disenchantment among voters. There is little time left for LS elections and restless Indian voters wouldn’t wait for long.
Kuldeep Ratnoo is the convenor of United Voters of India, a platform that aims to objectively raise concerns of all voters irrespective of their political affiliations.