The vote-share figures show that the BJP is still a force to reckon with in these two States, which should be good news for the party, come 2019
It would be an understatement to say that the Bharatiya Janata Party has received a wake-up call through the recent Assembly poll results. A wake-up call usually is in the form of a rude jolt, but the loss of three important States in north India, all of which the party had ruled, is a hammer blow. While this does not automatically mean that the BJP is on its way to losing the 2019 Lok Sabha election, it certainly is serious enough for the party to course-correct without delay — failing which 2019 could be close to a nightmare.
In Madhya Pradesh, for instance, its vote-share is only fractionally lower than that of the Congress. Battling severe anti-incumbency of close to 15 years, the BJP put up a valiant fight till the end
That said, it is hyperbolic to suggest that, going by the results in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh, the BJP will be wiped out in 2019. While the party has failed to retain these States, its performance — barring in Chhattisgarh — is not entirely without hope. In Madhya Pradesh, for instance, its vote-share is only fractionally lower than that of the Congress. Battling severe anti-incumbency of close to 15 years, the BJP put up a valiant fight till the end, falling short of the halfway mark by a dozen seats. It certainly didn’t roll over and let the Congress trample it.
Rajasthan too offers a ray of hope in these grim moments for the party. This was one State where most pollsters had predicted a clean sweep by the Congress, given the levels of dissatisfaction with the Vasundhara Raje Government. But the BJP managed a tough fight and lost honorably. Here too, the party’s vote-share was less than one percent below that of the victorious Congress.
The vote-share figures show that the BJP is still a force to reckon with in these two States, which should be good news for the party, come 2019. Besides, it must be remembered that unlike the Congress which has just about managed to reach the half-way mark or near it, the BJP had trounced the Congress in 2013. In Rajasthan, the party had bagged 163 off the 200 seats, and in Madhya Pradesh, it had cornered 165 of the 230 seats. While in the former case, it had toppled a Congress regime, in Madhya Pradesh it had made mincemeat of the anti-incumbency factor and retained power.
Incidentally, those emphatic wins had come months before the Modi wave was to engulf the nation. However, the BJP cannot ignore the systematic erosion of its support base among the rural poor, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, and even the first-time and young voters, this time around.
Not surprisingly, Congress has not made a fuss over EVMs this time around. Nor has it accused the Election Commission of India (ECI) of bias
Besides the usual measures, which includes introspection on a wide range of matters that led to its defeat, the BJP would do well to concentrate on the ‘None of the Above’ (NOTA) factor and seek to win over the confidence of these fence-sitters in the coming months. According to media reports, in 15 constituencies of Rajasthan, the number of NOTA registered on EVMs was more than the victory margin of the winning candidates. Arguably, had the voters not chosen NOTA, either the BJP or the Congress could have gained half a dozen more seats. From figures available, it appears that the BJP has been the bigger loser in the NOTA option in the State.
A similar situation prevailed in Madhya Pradesh where the BJP lost the battle by a whisker. Of the 13 Assembly seats where the winner triumphed by less than 2,000 votes, the BJP’s share was just four. Nearly 1.5 percent of voters across the State preferred NOTA — had even a part of these opted for the BJP, the party could well have retained the State.
Meanwhile, the Congress is upbeat, and one cannot grudge its leaders their hour of glory. It’s been a long time since the party had cause to celebrate. The results have come as a shot in the arm for party president Rahul Gandhi, who had been struggling to gain acceptability as a serious politician. His stature is certain to grow with three key north Indian States under his belt. But he is still far behind Modi in popularity ratings nationwide and remains problematic for various regional leaders. It would be simplistic to assume that the recent success will overnight make him acceptable as the undisputed leader of a broad-based national coalition to take on Modi and the BJP.
Not surprisingly, Congress has not made a fuss over EVMs this time around. Nor has it accused the Election Commission of India (ECI) of bias. In a larger sense, the real winner of the battle has been the poll panel, which successfully conducted the election to five States in this recent round. The ECI today is no longer a paper tiger; it not only bares its teeth but also bites when the occasion demands. The credit for this transformation goes a long way back to TN Seshan, the feisty Chief Election Commissioner in the first half of the 1990s. He transformed the staid poll panel. Among his earliest supporters had been Subramanian Swamy who was a Union Minister and influential politician in the early 1990s. Swamy has since continued to back the ECI’s many initiatives to enhance accountability in the electoral process, including its more recent decision to introduce the voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) along with the EVM. He is certainly on the right side, given that those who continue to rant against the EVMs have failed to demonstrably prove their allegation.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.