Lok Sabha Elections 2019: It's time for BJP to tread carefully

Do the Assembly poll victories suggest that the Congress will dislodge the BJP from the Centre?

 |  4-minute read |   12-12-2018
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As this column goes to press, the results in the major states of the Indian heartland or the Hindi belt are yet to be declared, but the leads and trends are unmistakable. The Congress has swept Chhattisgarh, ahead in some 63 of the 90 seats, well past the 46 required to form the government.

Raman Singh, despite his popularity and relatively clean image, could not counteract the strong anti-incumbency against him and his party. Ironically, more than half the exit polls showed BJP ahead in this state. Rajasthan, as expected, is going the Congress way, with the ruling BJP led by Vasundhara Raje, trailing by some 30 seats. What is more, the Congress, leading in 101 of the 199 seats contested, seems to have crossed the half-way mark.

rahul-copy_121218095259.jpgThe most important takeaway from the polls results has been that the Congress is very much in the race in 2019. (Photo: PTI)

Turning tides

As for Madhya Pradesh, which the BJP was expected to retain, it’s such a close call that it’s not yet clear who will form the government. Retaining power in Madhya Pradesh, which sends 29 members to the Lok Sabha, would have been the much-needed face-saver for the BJP.

However, it looks like it will be denied even this. Mizoram, where the Mizo National Front, winning 26 of the 39 seats, has dislodged the Congress, and the BJP is opening its account with one seat. In Telangana, India’s youngest state, KCR is king. Kalvakuntla Chandrashekar Rao is all set win 88 of the 119 seats, a dramatic victory for his Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), improving its own 2014 tally of 63 with an additional 25 seats.

While some exit polls had predicted a clean sweep for the Congress in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh, what has happened is possibly beyond its, or the BJP’s, expectations. The latter, reportedly, had conducted its own exit polls, predicting for itself a smallish lead as well as a shot at forming the government in all the three states.

This has been comprehensively belied by the actual results: the Congress has triumphed while the BJP has failed to retain power in these states. The real question is whether these elections are the semi-finals for the Lok Sabha elections next year. Do these victories suggest that the Congress will rout or at least dislodge the BJP from the Centre?

These elections foretell the outcome of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. That is because state and national elections do not necessarily follow the same trends, nor are they fought on the same issues.

Moreover, the close contests that we’ve just witnessed clearly show the absence of any major wave in favour of either party. What has played out, more likely, is anti-incumbency combined with a certain degree of fatigue for familiar faces.

Wake-up call

Even if this does not mean the end of the BJP’s poll prospects, the party has been given a strong wake-up call. They will have to pull something else out of the bag to win big in 2019. What that would be is anyone’s guess. An emotive construction of the Ram Mandir or, possibly, another surgical strike? Both options seem chancy and dangerous.

babri-copy_121218103706.jpgThis won't work over and over again. (Photo: PTI)

The BJP would have to bear a very high price if something went wrong on either front. If Pakistan bests us on the border the image of not just the BJP but of Modi himself would be adversely affected. As to the Ram Mandir, the worst scenario, one that the BJP would like to avoid at all costs, is for the ruling party in Uttar Pradesh to get into a confrontation with Hindu sadhus, sants, mahants, and those demanding the immediate construction of the Ram Mandir.

modi8_121218095524.jpgGoing into the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, can BJP’s x-factor, NaMo, make the difference? (Photo: PTI)

The scenario

The ruling party will have to tread very carefully in the run-up to the 2019 elections. This is where the BJP’s “x-factor,” NaMo, can make all the difference. We know that elections are not won only on the basis of actual deliverables on the ground or even on the basis of good governance or development alone. What is needed is a rallying point, a wave to cement the masses into a cohesive political force that backs one party. What will Modi come up with? The mantra of “saaf niyat, sahi vikas” alone may not suffice.

The most important takeaway has been that the Congress is very much in the political game, as India’s second largest national party, having staged an impressive comeback. What is more, Rahul Gandhi, who completes one year as his party’s president, cannot be written off. These results are the best possible anniversary present that the man the BJP derides as “Pappu” could have received.

The slogan “Congress Mukt Bharat” seems to have lost not only its resonance but also its charm. Whoever thought that the boomerang effect in Indian politics did not cut both ways! It now appears that Rahul, far from being the BJP’s punching bag or liability to the Congress has, at last, fitted into his dynastic shoes.

 (Courtesy of Mail Today)

Also read: Rajasthan election results: Sachin Pilot faces spirited challenge in Tonk


Makarand R Paranjape Makarand R Paranjape @makrandparanspe

The writer is director, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. The views are personal.

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