The Bharatiya Janata Party had everything going for it in the Maharashtra and Haryana assembly elections. It’s a long list if you start counting. Since this is Diwali season, we could say the BJP had a hand of jokers. How do you not win the jackpot with a hand of jokers?
It had nationalism and Hindutva. The Narendra Modi government had just nullified Article 370 and shown Kashmiri Muslims their place. Amit Shah promised he would throw out illegal immigrants. A Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, it seems, is now going to be a reality as well.
It had caste politics on its side. The anti-Jat consolidation in Haryana was supposed to have held ground, even as the Congress was unable to bring together Jats and Dalits. In Maharashtra, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had played a disruptive Maratha quota game.
If the BJP had been winning against a weak Congress, this time it was competing against a near-dead Congress. In Haryana, the Congress made Bhupinder Singh Hooda the head of the election management committee at the last minute. In Maharashtra too, the Congress battle between the old guard and the new guard left the state unit staring at a leadership crisis. The Congress did not even pretend to fight this election, busy with its own existential crisis.
There were the usual advantages the BJP has in any election: money power, a mouthpiece media, the Enforcement Directorate, the Central Bureau of Investigation, and the Income Tax Department.
Then, there was the popular face of Narendra Modi, described by Donald Trump as the father of India. The local faces, Devendra Fadnavis and Manohar Lal Khattar, weren’t doing badly either. They had both managed to create some persona around themselves.
There was not a single reason why the BJP and its allies should have lost a single seat in these two states. It should have, given the circumstances, won every single seat.
Okay, maybe opposition leaders have their strongholds, but that’s exactly why they poach leaders from opposition parties. This time, that trick hasn’t worked either.
Okay, maybe the nature of caste politics doesn’t let any party win every single seat. Incidents like the Aam Aadmi party winning 67 of the 70 seats in Delhi in 2015 are rare. Yet, the BJP/NDA should have at least won 2/3rd majority in these two states.
Yet here we are, seeing the BJP’s dream of governing Maharashtra without a nagging Shiv Sena come to naught. Here we are, seeing next-door Haryana give Delhi a reality check. The final tally for the 2019 Maharashtra and Haryana assembly elections is not clear even as we write this, but it is clear the BJP isn’t doing as well as it was expected to.
In Haryana, it is likely to fall a little short of the majority mark. It may or may not form the government.
In Maharashtra, it has lost seats compared to the 2014 tally, and pesky ally Shiv Sena is doing better than expected. The Shiv Sena will now go back from being a submissive junior player to calling the shots once again.
It is clear that if the Congress had actually tried to win these elections, like Sharad Pawar, it could have won not just Haryana but perhaps Maharashtra as well.
Arrogance of power
Given the BJP’s hand of jokers, its shrunken numbers in these two states carry a clear message from voters. The people of Maharashtra and Haryana are clearly rejecting the BJP’s arrogance of power. All is well, Modi says, and the great Indian voter speaks up.
The arrogance has not been limited to Modi-Shah, it has percolated to the BJP’s rank and file. A BJP leader in Haryana said the EVMs were rigged in his party’s favour.
Since 23 May, Modi-Shah has become brazen in their disregard for democracy and the democratic process. Haryana and Maharashtra have sent a happy reminder that the Indian voter cannot be taken for granted, and nationalism does not fill people’s stomachs.
What happens to all the experts now who’ve believed people vote for nationalism despite economic distress? We were told ad nauseam that Article 370 was the biggest issue in Haryana and Maharashtra. In that case, why is the BJP losing seats in substantial numbers?
The voting pattern in Haryana and Maharashtra signals a growing disenchantment with the BJP over economic slowdown. It is a response to the Modi government’s denial about the state of the economy, rising unemployment, and brazen data manipulation. Headline management goes only so far.
The Congress may not have won Haryana and Maharashtra, but the BJP hasn’t won them either. It’s a reminder that the BJP is not invincible; EVMs are not rigged; the public is not drunk on Hindutva bigotry; the opposition is letting down its voters with a leadership vacuum.
The numbers are a shot in the arm for the opposition parties and will boost their morale. This should be enough for them to come out of their despondency and start doing their job.
Views are personal.