New Delhi: The BJP’s defeat in Jharkhand is not just a major setback to the party and its central leadership, but it also raises questions about the election strategies of the BJP’s ‘Chanakya’ — Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
Jharkhand, however, is not the first instance where Shah’s organisational strategy faltered.
The 2017 Gujarat assembly elections, Congress leader Ahmed Patel’s bitterly-fought Rajya Sabha victory and the recent Maharashtra and Haryana election verdicts are among several other examples.
When Ahmed Patel foiled Amit Shah’s plan
Gujarat had an election on three Rajya Sabha seats in August 2017. The BJP fielded three candidates — Shah, Union minister Smriti Irani and Congress turncoat Balvantsinh Rajput — and the Congress its veteran Ahmed Patel.
The BJP could have easily won the two seats based on its big numbers in the assembly, whose members vote for the Rajya Sabha election. But Shah turned the election into a prestige battle between the Congress and the BJP by fielding Rajput to challenge Patel.
The election saw many twists and turns, retraction of votes cast and marches to the Election Commission.
After a six-hour drama that went past midnight, Patel emerged victorious after the Election Commission declared the votes of two Congress rebels invalid for showing their ballot papers to the BJP’s election agent.
Despite Shah deploying all the resources at his command against the veteran Congress leader, he couldn’t stall Patel’s victory.
This setback was followed by the BJP’s lacklustre performance in the Gujarat assembly elections held later that year. Though the BJP retained Gujarat for the sixth consecutive term, its tally of 99 in the 182-member assembly was its lowest in more than two decades. The Congress improved its performance with 77 seats.
In the 2018 Karnataka assembly elections, Shah’s organisational skills faltered again.
Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa had to resign from his post, two and a half days after he was sworn in as the CM. This was after the BJP, which bagged 104 seats, failed to win the support of seven more legislators to get the majority of 112 in a 224-member assembly. The party had the support of one Independent.
Yediyurappa’s resignation paved the way for the Congress-JD(S) to stake claim to form the government.
Later this year, however, Yediyurappa reversed his fortunes — almost single-handedly. The Lingayat strongman engineered defections of 15 MLAs from the JD(S) and the Congress, which caused the 14-month-old government headed by H.D. Kumaraswamy to collapse.
He even ensured the victory of 12 disqualified MLAs in this month’s bypoll, in which no central leader had campaigned.
The Lingayat leader proved that the BJP can’t form government in Karnataka without him. This also shows Shah’s limited influence in the southern state.
Shah’s ability to manage BJP’s alliance partner in Maharashtra was debated quite a lot after Uddhav Thackeray’s decision to form government with long-time rivals — the Congress and the Nationalist Congress party (NCP).
In the recent Maharashtra elections, the BJP barely managed to survive, winning 104 seats in a 288-member House. The party’s dismal performance in the Vidarbha region, where it lost 18 seats, further exposed flaws in Shah’s elections strategy.
After the results were declared, the Shiv Sena bargained hard with its ally BJP for an equal share in the power, which meant an equal number of ministries and rotational chief minister’s post. The BJP didn’t give in to Sena’s demands and the political deadlock between the two allies went on for a month.
But, suddenly, in an overnight coup, BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis was sworn in as the chief minister, with Ajit Pawar, who led a faction of the NCP, as his deputy. Pawar, however, resigned a few days later after the Supreme Court ordered an immediate floor test in the Maharashtra assembly. Fadnavis, too, resigned the same day, paving the way for the post-poll alliance of Sena, Congress and NCP to form the government.
The Maharashtra verdict, however, showed Marathas have drifted away from the BJP. And the man who succeeded in wooing them again was NCP’s Sharad Pawar.
Pawar played on the Maratha pride after the Enforcement Directorate registered a case of alleged money laundering against him.
In the Haryana elections too, Shah’s electoral skills were tested and the results were not very encouraging.
The BJP, which had launched a “Mission 75” campaign before the elections, aiming to win 75 of the 90 assembly seats, managed to win only 40 — six short of the halfway mark. The party joined hands with Dushyant Chautala’s Jannayak Janata Party to form the government.
After backtracking on the land acquisition bill in its first term, the Narendra Modi government again flip-flopped on the contentious National Register of Citizens (NRC).
Shah had last month said in the Rajya Sabha that the NRC will be implemented across the country. He repeated the same promise at an electoral rally in Jharkhand’s Singhbhum, saying the BJP government will expel all intruders before the 2024 polls.
But last week, PM Modi negated his most trusted aide’s statements by saying there was no discussion on the NRC in his government.
Political analyst Sudha Pai told ThePrint this is a major miscalculation by Shah as he never imagined that protests my Muslims against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the NRC would take such violent turns.
Selection of CMs
After a humiliating defeat in Jharkhand, Shah’s selection of chief ministers has been criticised.
Many in the BJP has attributed the Jhakhand defeat to outgoing CM Raghubar Das, who had not only angered tribals in the state by his policies but also his own party, which viewed him as an “arrogant disciplinarian”.
Das, a non-tribal, was picked by Modi and Shah to be the chief minister, overlooking many senior tribal and non-tribal leaders.
With the Delhi assembly elections due early next year, all eyes are now set on who Shah will pick as the capital’s chief ministerial face.
Surveys have shown that Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal continues to enjoy overwhelming popularity and Shah needs to pick up a strong candidate to counter him.
The home minister also has to be careful in Bihar that will go into elections next year. He has to avoid flexing muscles with Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) over seat-sharing.
Before the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh will go to polls. Shah has to be careful in picking CM candidates for each of these crucial states.
Continuing with Jai Ram Thakur in Himachal and Trivendra Singh Rawat in Uttarakhand can be a mistake as both are not considered to be mass leaders, and their ability to drive state elections haven’t been tested.
In Assam, Himanta Biswa Sarma is a more popular leader than current CM Sarbananda Sonowal.
Spirited opposition, miscalculated caste arithmetic and sidelining of mass leaders in states can expose the BJP’s vulnerability even more and the economic slowdown will only compound the party’s problem.