The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has decimated the Congress party across the country, except in three states. But the recent by-poll results do not augur well for the saffron party ahead of the 2019 general elections.
As the Narendra Modi government celebrated its fourth year in office by publicising its achievements, the latest round of by-elections to four Lok Sabha and 11 Assembly seats across 11 states-in which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) retained only one Lok Sabha seat in Maharashtra and an Assembly seat in Uttarakhand -ring an alarm bell for the saffron party, which is governing the Centre and 22 out of 29 states. Is it warning for the ruling party to pull up its socks or is it a glue stick for the opposition to putup a united battlefront in the 2019 elections?
The results from the four Lok Sabha and 11 assembly by-polls in the 11 states is a warning bell that the BJP and its allies can ill-afford to ignore. More than a dozen trends can be clearly seen from the shifting sands in Indian politics.
Reduced strength:With this loss, the BJP, minus its allies, now has 273 members in the 545-strong lower house of the Parliament, only one above the half-way mark.
Dependence on allies: Consequently, BJP has a simple majority on its own but is increasingly becoming dependent on its allies in the NDA.
Declining popularity: The consistently-declining popularity of the BJP across India is quite evident from these results. Also compared to May 2014, when Narendra Modi led the BJP to power, his own popularity has declined. This could affect the voting.
Loosing grip over Uttar Pradesh: Defeats at the Kairana Lok Sabha seat and Noorpur Assembly seat in Uttar Pradesh are a setback for the BJP. The state had 71 seats out of 80 Lok Sabha seats in the 2014 general elections. The defeat in Kairana comes two months after the party lost both the Gorakhpur and Phulpur seats, which were considered to be the strong bastion of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
Rejection of Hindutva: The defeat of BJP in Kairana Lok Sabha seat is significant as it has summarily rejected the politics of Hindutva. Senior ministers from the BJP, chief minister Yogi Adityanath, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi all campaigned for this by-election. In fact, Modi technically launched India’s eastern peripheral highway in Bhagpat with an eye on polls in Kairana. Prime Minister Modi usually stays away from campaigning for bye-polls. However, the leaders of the grand coalition of ‘opposition parties’— the Congress, the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), the Samajwadi Party (SP), and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) that united to contest against the BJP stayed away from the constituency this time.
Kairana is located in western Uttar Pradesh, right next to Muzaffarnagar, the location of the riots between the Jat and Muslim communities that propelled the BJP to its historic victory margins in the area during the 2014 national election. In 2014, the BJP won by a massive 2, 40,000 votes over the nearest party in Kairana. This time it lost by 40,000 votes.
Anti-incumbency: These electoral losses have also taken the sheen off the celebrations marking the four years of the Narendra Modi government. Questions are being asked about the increasing fuel prices, agrarian distress and jobless growth.
Time for introspection: The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and its ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayemsevak Sangh, should introspect on how four years of the Modi brand of politics are proving to be a nemesis.
Politics of polarisation:Two significant factors contribute to this downward trend. First is the fringe group’s war on the Dalit-Muslim block. This is manifested on the politics of cow protection and ‘love jihad’. Both these communities have been alienated through fear and attacks. Second is the attack on liberties and individual choices and freedom to political ideology. Worst is the deafening silence displayed by both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP national president Amit Shah during such attacks.
Strategy to off-set electoral loss: BJP chief Amit Shah has been talking of his party’s strategy to offset its losses in the north Indian states by winning in the Northeast, West Bengal, Odisha, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. It has to be seen whether this gamble will pay off or not?
Hindutva card: What if polarisation does not work? The Saffron party whose rise is attributed to the Ram Janma Bhoomi issue has resurfaced. Already the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, one of the RSS outfits has asserted that Hindus will launch a countrywide agitation to mount pressure on their local MPs to pass a law in the Parliament facilitating the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya, if the Supreme court’s verdict “goes against their faith”.
A decision from the Supreme court favouring the construction of a Ram Mandir will give Modi a huge upswing. It has to be seen how it will impact Indian politics.
BJP not invincible: The victories of different opposition parties in different states are an indication that opposition is no pipe dream. If they can set aside their personal egos and ambitions, the ruling BJP can be defeated.
United Opposition: If the Opposition can display the maturity as it did in Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka by burying egos and personal ambitions it can unseat the Modi government. Of course, it needs alternate narrative, a mature leadership and better communicator.
Second fiddle for Congress: To keep the BJP out of power the Congress has to adopt an accommodative stance with other regional powers, in terms of sharing seats and power.
The final nail in the coffin ahead of the 2019 General Elections will be the elections to three state assemblies currently ruled by the BJP-Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh-where Congress has a winning edge.
It is clear that the 2019 general elections will be ‘Modi versus the rest’.