The semi-finals are over, and the results are out. The BJP has lost 3-0 in the Hindi heartland, defeated in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan. And, where you have a loser, you have a winner. The grand old party of India, the Indian National Congress (INC) won Chhattisgarh with a thumping majority and took Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh by a whisker. In the general elections in 2014, the BJP had won 62 out of the 65 seats that these three states send to the Parliament. A BJP jolted just before the general elections, and a Congress invigorated with a shot of victory elixir is going to make the run up to May 2019 very interesting. There are three major takeaways from these results that will have a bearing on the 2019 elections.
The first is that the BJP looks tired, after just a shade under 5 years in government. Its campaign was less about what it has achieved in the last four years, and more about what long dead prime ministers have not achieved. It seemed more about statues and pride, than about jobs and the economy. Furthermore, the intensely personal attacks on Rahul Gandhi enhanced his stature rather than diminish it. The Congress on the other hand, in a post Sonia, Rahul Gandhi-led mode seemed younger and more energetic, talking the concerns of people. Their focus on jobs and agricultural distress in their campaign, seems to have hit the mark, as was casting doubt on the government’s integrity through the strategic mention of the Rafale deal. The BJP needs to learn from the Congress’ mistakes of targeting Modi when he was state CM. It only served to build up his stature. They seem to be returning the favour vis-à-vis Gandhi, and that seems awfully nice of them, but it won’t help them win.
The seconds is that the Modi wave that began in 2014, is ebbing. The personal charisma of the Narendra Modi, that was enough to sway voters to vote for the BJP, is considerably reduced. The election rhetoric sounds tired, the deliberate polarisation embarrassing and the promise of a better tomorrow vague. Add to this Adityanath’s rhetoric, there was something not so nice about the BJP campaign. And, India is essentially, at its core, nice people. People who expect a certain decorum as far as public conduct is concerned. There is an invisible 'Lakshman Rekha' that should not be crossed. And, it was. Reports indicate that the campaigns by these two star campaigners were counter-productive for the BJP. Add to this the INC’s rediscovery of Hinduism, the vaguer, fuzzier, non-political variant, that most of us follow – and you have the core Hindu voter who had been neglected by Congress for the best part of a decade, having a choice.
The third is that Gandhi is not a
pappu, and it would be dangerous for the BJP, or eminent journalists, to see him and project him as such. Since he took over last year, he has managed to invigorate the rank and file of the party. The INC that had looked like it had gone into deep coma post the 2014 mandate, and subsequent state elections, seemed to have found its fighting spirit. It up a good fight in the Gujarat state elections, out manoeuvred Amit Shah in forming the government at Karnataka, and was elected by three states in the Hindi heartland. He has led from the front, empowering his state units. His media strategy of being more accessible to the press, upping his social media footprint, increasing his presence on being available for unscripted interviews, and press conferences– has presented him in his natural state to the people. And, most people don’t dislike what they see and hear. They may not be overwhelmed by it, but there isn’t an automatic rejection. Gandhi has been tremendously aided by some sections of the news media that set out to vilify him, but end up making him look more weighty.
Finally, elections are always about the economy. About jobs, about income, about a feeling of relative prosperity. It is about hope. It is not about temples, or statues, or long dead kings, or even recently dead prime ministers. It is, in the immortal words of Bill Clinton. “The economy stupid”. Contrary to the spin, all is not well with the economy. People feel it. And, people vote accordingly.
Harini Calamur writes on politics, gender and her areas of interest are the intersection of technology, media, and audiences.