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BJP had 5 trump cards before this election, but that’s set to change now

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Narendra Modi should be now prepared to answer hard questions on economy, climate of hatred and Rafale.

Political scientists call it “self-correcting mechanisms” of electoral democracy. Just as Adam Smith’s famous hidden hand is supposed to correct distortions of market economy, competitive elections are supposed to correct the excesses of political systems. That is what the outcome of state assembly elections 2018 has done.

Auto-breaks have been triggered in a polity rapidly sliding into electoral authoritarianism, where all institutions, norms and constitutional freedoms were held hostage to the invincible cult of the Supreme Leader Narendra Modi. Suddenly, 2019 is an open race now.

First of all, the verdict has underlined the real agenda on which people vote. It has confirmed that agrarian crisis and rural distress is for real. Although the final equation for government formation in Madhya Pradesh remains unclear, there is a decisive swing away from the ruling BJP in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan as well as in Madhya Pradesh. The BJP’s losses in Malwa of Madhya Pradesh, eastern Rajasthan and central Chhattisgarh confirm that farmers’ anger has worked against the BJP, as it did in Gujarat.

Also read: Why 2019 could be first Lok Sabha election to be fought on farmers’ issues

The social break-up of the exit polls that captured the trend correctly shows that the BJP’s losses were disproportionately higher among the rural voters, especially farmers. These polls also confirm that the unemployed youth voted in a big way against the ruling party. All pre-election polls had identified jobs as the top electoral issue.

The results also attest that mandir didn’t click as an issue, despite aggressive campaigning by Yogi Adityanath. It may not be fair to draw this conclusion about the rest of the country, but we can say this much about the electoral agenda of the Hindi belt in 2019: Hindu na musalman, bas kisan aur jawan (Neither Hindu, nor Muslim; just farmers and soldiers).

The result also sends another democratic message: money and media are necessary to win elections, but they are not sufficient. It is no secret that the BJP outspent its opponent by a ratio of at least 1:10. We know that it has received 95 per cent of the electoral funds collected through the uniquely opaque but legal route of electoral bonds.

Also read: Elevating Yogi Adityanath is becoming PM Modi’s biggest blunder now, not demonetisation

As for the media, the less said the better. Suffice to say that the manner in which a large section of the ‘independent’ media has become a mouthpiece for the ruling party would go down as one of the most shameful chapters in the history of Indian democracy. It is also no secret that the BJP poured money into spawning rebel candidates and parties against its main rivals. All this did help the BJP, as it helped the TRS in Telangana. But the BJP’s defeat reminds us that you must connect to real people and real issues.

Third, the election shows the limits of personality cult. It would be unfair to conclude from these results that the Modi era is over. All the polls suggest that he was the most popular leader, way more popular than Rahul Gandhi and more acceptable than his own party. But it is safe to conclude that he can no longer swing the elections any which way and get any lamp post elected, as he did in the first two years of ascent to power.

His magic spell is broken, and he should be now prepared to answer hard questions about the economy, about the climate of hatred, about institutions and of course, about Rafale. The Congress’s most spectacular victory comes from Chhattisgarh where it did not have any clear leader, let alone someone who enjoyed a personality cult.

Also read: There’s a humongous scam in the Rafale deal. It is called stupidity

While this verdict has checked the hubris of the ruling establishment, it can also act as a corrective to the complacency in the opposition. The Congress’ failure to secure a majority in Madhya Pradesh and to win a thumping majority in Rajasthan demonstrates that the Congress cannot just sit back and wait for the Modi regime to melt down.

If the Congress could not fully capitalise on the palpable public anger against Vasundhara Raje’s government and widespread distress under Shivraj Chouhan’s rule, there is something seriously wrong with the party. For the last five years, the Congress was in the opposition, but was nowhere to be seen on the streets, carrying out an opposition’s role. Chhattisgarh was a different story, where the Congress leadership was active in launching grassroots movements and protests in the last five years.

Finally, the electoral outcome has shown the limits of alliance arithmetic. On paper, the Congress had stitched together the most powerful coalition in Telangana. On paper, the combined strength of Congress-TDP-CPI-TJS was much more than that of the TRS. Yet, the ill-conceived coalition with the party that opposed the formation of Telangana was clearly rejected by the people.

In Chhattisgarh, the Ajit Jogi-BSP coalition was supposed to trip the Congress. Yet, the people of Chhattisgarh rejected one of the most dubious middleman of state politics. The message is critical for attempts to put together a mahagathbandhan for 2019. Coalitions are useful but are no substitute for credibility. Elections are about selling a dream, creating a hope, generating a narrative. The emerging anti-Modi coalition does not have that as yet.

Also read: Stop counting state by state. 2019 will be a national election

The BJP entered the road to 2019 with five trumps: Machine, Modi, Mandir, Media and Money. The outcome of this round of assembly elections puts the first three in perspective. The BJP’s organisational machine is still formidable, although not invincible. Modi is not out, but his popularity is definitely down. Mandir can excite the faithful but not the swing voter. It is also likely to change the other two.

The media barons would recognise the need to fine-tune their message. At least, one can hope for a reduction in the most brazen pro-regime propaganda. Similarly, big money will also not put all its eggs in one basket. The Congress and other opposition parties would begin to get a share of the money they need to stay in electoral fray. Lok Sabha elections 2019 would now be contested on a less uneven playing ground. The correction hasn’t come a day too soon.

Also read: Can Congress build on state poll results or will Modi be harder to beat nationally in 2019?

The author is National President of Swaraj India.

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  1. Modi magic has gone because of farmers distress, demonetization, hate politicas, Yogi, GST, fuel prices, less purchasing power with women, no jobs, unfulfilled promises made during 2014 election rallies, constant bickering against the Congress and Rahul Gandhi and BJP has nothing new to offer in terms of ease of business like they did in Gujarat. People in the south are not interested in Ram Mandir because they have their own mandirs and own super Gods. Modi has not spoken to women voters and not asked them what they want for their home and hearth. Jai Hind. Jai Karnataka and Bharat Mata Ki Jai.

  2. I wish people stop using the Yogi title for Adityanath (or whatever his real name is). He does not deserve such exaltation.

  3. Brilliant Analysis !!

    Two more fallout of these results, the smaller parties in Mahagatbandhan cannot deny Rahul Gandhi the PM candidature now and congress mukt bharat will be forgotten quickly.

  4. It is not very surprising that the BJP was not able to retain their States and breaking new grounds in the States like Telangana and Mizoram. The Campaigning in these States clearly indicated the absence of formidable local leaders, particularly among the contesting ones. Both BJP and Congress heavily depended on their Central leaders for this purpose. This, in my view is not a fair thing to do. It is the local candidates who would be eventually be ruling if voted to power and for campaigning the Central leaders is something not acceptable except as exception. Moreover the elections to these States or for that matter any State are necessarily to be fought on the local issues of the respective States and not the strengths and weaknesses of their Central leaderships as wqs done. Both the major parties indulged in mudslinging on their Central Leadership like corruption, being Hindu, Rafale deal etc., etc. The important point to be noticed in the results is the dissatisfaction of the people with incumbent dispensation. This can not be faulted. Yes, agreed, it could be the failure of the BJP governments to come up to the expectations to the people to deserve defeat. But what is the achievement the Congress Party to deserve the win ? Incomprehensible. This is where I feel lies the weakness of the elections in our Country. There is obviously no other choice for the people to vote for BJP if they dislike Congress and vice versa. I strongly feel the BJP may deserve this fate but certainly not the Congress this jubilation. It was certainly a Hobson’s choice for the people to vote for Congress. There wqs no alternative However, it is for the Congress Party now to cash in on the goodwill that has been created by this result to mend their ways in a big way to realize the dream of coming to power at Centre in 2019. And for the BJP it is time to introspect on their strategies and course correction measures in administration rather than banking heavily on their one-man army called Modi.

  5. Other issues can be discussed separately. Media, one fears, is a doubled edged sword. Some constituents are now so shorn of any pretence of fairness, impartiality, objectivity, they will finally prove to be a liability. They have failed in their duty both to speak truth to power and to hold power to account. No feedback function to allow for midcourse corrections in good time. An echo chamber that provides transient comfort, till the EVMs deliver the bad news.

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