Will BJP recover from Congress shocker?

Updated: 12 December, 2018 13:15 IST | Dharmendra Jore | Mumbai

Political observers see Tuesday's election results as the people's thumbs down for BJP's communal agenda and its lack of focus on tackling inflation, corruption and unemployment, say coalition politics is name of the game

Congress workers in Mumbai celebrate after the party's win on Tuesday. Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi
Congress workers in Mumbai celebrate after the party's win on Tuesday. Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi

The Assembly poll results of the five states have come as a distress call for the BJP who, riding on the Narendra Modi wave, had vowed to free the country of the Congress. The resurgence of the Rahul Gandhi-led party within four years, from its worst debacle, is all set to change the tone of the run-up to the general elections slated to be held next April-May.

If played well, the Congress-led alliance may even topple the BJP at the top, feel political observers. The non-BJP players are looking forward to ending the Modi era next summer. If that happens, will the BJP lose Maharashtra next October?

Two of BJP's most popular and long-serving chief ministers Shivraj Chouhan and Dr Raman Singh were at the receiving end while facing anti-incumbency. In Chhattisgarh, the BJP lost mainly in urban seats which were considered to be its forte. This should be cause for concern for the BJP in Maharashtra where 50% of its population lives in urban areas. The BJP considers Devendra Fadnavis as one of its most successful CMs, and will go to the Assembly polls under him. In MP, the Modi government's refusal to dilute the Atrocities Act is said to be a reason for the upper castes to disown the BJP. A BJP leader said the impact could be seen in Maharashtra as well.

Though the Congress has consolidated its position beyond expectations in two states, the history of elections says that politics in MP and Chhattisgarh has not influenced Maharashtra's voting pattern much. When the BJP was in power in the Hindi belt, the Congress ruled the Marathi state for three terms. One factor that sets Maharashtra apart from the Hindi belt states is its four-party set-up.

Rahul Gandhi Wins In Achche Din, While BJP Mulls Bure Din

Senior journalist Prakash Bal Joshi said the five states will hold the key to the success of non-BJP parties, including the Congress-led coalition and third front, if any. He said the Congress was put in a better position because of the establishment of Rahul Gandhi as a leader who can win elections single-handedly.

"Rahul may finally be accepted as the leader of the coalition of like-minded parties that want to fight Modi together. The rank and file of the Congress is buoyed ahead of the big show in April-May," said Joshi.

The larger issues in the states where the BJP lost or conceded significant space to the Congress are similar. Agriculture related problems, economy in general, lack of employment and poverty and tribal issues are being used by the opposition to create anti-BJP sentiment.

Former CM Prithviraj Chavan said the results would be repeated in Lok Sabha and Maharashtra's Assembly elections as well. "There was an impression created that there is an alternative to Modi and the BJP. The small traders and common public were under pressure, but no longer feel so. All should be free to vote for their choice," he said, adding that Brand Modi has been demolished. "It's the defeat of Modi, not the CMs."

Alliances hold key
The results will have great bearing on coalition politics across the country. The Congress already has some parties on board, including the NCP, which has major stakes in Maharashtra. The national alliance— a mahagathbandhan is in the making in New Delhi. It would be interesting to see how power-holding regional parties choose their partners. The political jugad up north, down south and in the east should pave the way to Delhi for the respective alliances and fronts.

In Maharashtra, a specific arrangement, the Congress and NCP, will now enter a new phase with the former gaining an upper-hand in the bargain. The two may go back to the sharing that they had till 2014 Lok Sabha polls. The two went their separate ways as did the saffron partners Shiv Sena and BJP ahead of the Assembly polls the same year.

Chavan saw the alliance happening at any cost. "Primarily, we lost the 2014 Assembly because the two were not together. This time around we will have a pact in place for both the general polls and Assembly elections."

The saffron side is expected to be rather complex in terms of a pre-poll alliance. The BJP is very much willing to get the Sena into the fold. The Thackeray-led party has been subdued off late, but wants a bigger share, especially in the Assembly polls.

BJP spokesperson Keshav Upadhye said his party's stand on partnership with the Sena was very clear and his party always thought of the ally as the ideological brother. Sena spokesperson Sanjay Raut said the NDA was losing partners. "The Sena, too, is not very happy [with the BJP]. Introspection is needed. I don't think it's a Congress victory," said Raut.

Unwanted were rejected: Uddhav
Raut's boss and Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray did not lose an opportunity to chide the BJP. He said the results would take the country in a different direction. "The people did not care much about a [frequently asked] question about the options available to voters. They showed courage in throwing the unwanted out. I congratulate these brave people."

Uddhav's cousin Raj Thackeray congratulated Rahul Gandhi for the Congress's performance. "This is a tight slap in the face of the dictatorship. The voters have given a stamp of approval to Rahul Gandhi's leadership."

State Congress president Ashok Chavan said that inflation, corruption and unemployment combined with crimes against Dalits, minorities and women led to the failure of the BJP in all five states. "The Congress will win the Lok Sabha and Maharashtra Assembly," he said.

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First Published: 12 December, 2018 08:04 IST

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