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Tripura is a historic win but the rest of 2018 will be an uphill climb for BJP

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In Rajasthan, MP and Chhattisgarh, BJP will face what it did in Gujarat — the onus of defending instead of challenging.

New Delhi: The results of the Tripura assembly polls once again show that the Modi-Shah combine, along with the BJP’s well-entrenched cadre base, can work wonders.

But the road ahead is expected to be tougher because the party is likely to face challenges like anti-incumbency as well as questions about corruption scandals in elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka.

Among other state elections since the stupendous win in Uttar Pradesh in 2017, it is the party’s inroads into the northeast that has been its most remarkable achievement.

Surging ahead in Tripura – it’s leading in 41 of the 59 seats that voted – and emerging as the main political force in Nagaland in alliance with Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party, while putting up a creditable performance in Meghalaya, the party has brought the focus back on its ability to win difficult elections and against odds.

Upbeat mood

Saturday’s results, coming in a year with crucial assembly elections due in Karnataka, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh would be a booster dose for the party and its cadres. This, particularly after the Congress put up a decent fight against it in its home base Gujarat, and after it was humiliated in the Rajasthan by-polls, followed by more losses in assembly by-elections in Madhya Pradesh. The BJP is the incumbent in all three states.

The energy in the party Saturday was palpable. BJP’s northeast in-charge Ram Madhav, along with Tripura state in-charge Sunil Deodhar and state president Biplav Kumar Deb, rushed to address the media after witnessing positive trends.

It now seems the party could well form government in all three states in the northeast if it manages its alliances smartly.

While BJP chief Amit Shah has attributed the success to PM Modi’s politics of development, senior party leaders believe that the results are a big boost for the party in terms of upcoming elections in Karnataka.

“In making the country Congress-mukt, BJP will contest Karnataka polls with new vigour. The victory in the northeast has infused new enthusiasm and confidence in the cadre towards Modi’s leadership,” said party spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain.

Many leaders also believe that it is the RSS-cadre like training of field workers that makes wins like Tripura possible, which is then garnished by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity.

“Party chief Amit Shah visited the headquarters and other leaders too have come to join the cadre in their celebrations. The PM too would soon join everyone at the party’s headquarters,” said a senior party leader. Incidentally, this is the first victory of the party being celebrated in its new headquarters at Delhi’s Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Marg.

The way ahead

Victories, especially laborious ones like in Tripura, do much to infuse energy in a party and its ranks. It also helps unnerve the opposition and elections are as much a battle of nerves as of numbers.

But is this enough for the BJP in a year with key state elections where it may not be in the most comfortable of positions?

In Karnataka, for instance, BJP’s two key cards — Narendra Modi and the party’s claim of being anti-corruption may not shine through as much. Modi, whose popularity in not just northern and western India but also now the eastern part of the country is quite staggering, may not carry the same weight in Karnataka.

Its anti-corruption plank, meanwhile, seems weak when it has former chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa as its face, a politician with a history of corruption cases.

In Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the BJP will face what it did in Gujarat — the onus of defending instead of challenging, a task made doubly difficult in bipolar polities.

The huge swing against it in Rajasthan in the bypolls, coupled with the poor image of the Vasundhara Raje government and her own rising unpopularity, make it a very difficult battle for the BJP.

In Madhya Pradesh, anti-incumbency of multiple terms against CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan, farmer distress and the whiff of scams are key challenges for the BJP. The party knows it faces an unpleasant task in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, even more so if the Congress gets its act together and quells its own infighting in these two states.

In Chhattisgarh, BJP is hoping to cash in on chief minister Raman Singh’s ability to win elections and manage backroom negotiations, but knows that that might not be enough.

Saturday’s results show the Modi-Shah combine, along with the party’s well-entrenched cadre base, can work wonders. But while this election machinery might be formidable, it is by no means invincible. Elections in Delhi, Bihar among others, and the recent poor show in the bypolls are testimony to that. The BJP will have to tackle the challenges ahead with even greater deft than it has so far.

Political challenges for BJP

While the chest thumping by BJP after Saturday’s results would be even more vigorous, the party by no means is unaware of the several challenges it faces, which ahead of other elections, would translate into equally daunting electoral challenges.

To begin with, the party now carries the burden of incumbency, and a rather lacklustre run at the Centre so far. Loss of jobs, massive farm distress, economic mess following demonetisation and GST, bad PR exercises like the recent Nirav Modi bank fraud, among others, are some of the conspicuous blots in its four-year run at the Centre so far. Combine these with the states where it is defending, and it is a double whammy for the party.

A difficult set of sulking allies — Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh and the Akali Dal in Punjab — have only made matters worse for it.

The opposition’s attempts to weave together a broad coalition against the BJP, if successful, would also worry it greatly in terms of the possibility of anti-BJP votes consolidating.

As we head closer to 2019, the BJP might only end up sharpening its Hindutva and nationalism narrative while pushing its new-found welfarism face alongside.

As the party looks to celebrate its well-earned success in Tripura, it would have to remember that the rest of the year may not give it many such celebratory moments, unless it pulls off more miraculous electoral exercises.

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  1. On a day when BJP has trumped over the Left in a first direct fight, it does take a heavy dose of anti BJP ideology to immediately predict a political failure for it in the near future. Well tried.

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