- Congress has won but not yet Champion
- BJP has lost but not out
Now let us come to the Hindi heartland where Assembly elections took place in three States. Out of these three, Chattisgarh gave clear mandate to Congress with wide margin of voting. BJP performed miserably. Its defeat is complete. Like Punjab, it has become stronghold of Congress. Also, we must note that its victory is in the midst of senior Congress leaders deserted the party. It is a hard-won battle by winning over people’s minds.
Coming to Rajasthan, Congress victory is not on expected lines. All pre-poll surveys predicted clean sweep for Congress and clean shave for BJP. Surprisingly, Congress with much difficulty reached near half way mark and BJP performed not badly as expected. In fact, voting percentage of Congress and BJP is almost same. A substantial portion of votes and significant number of seats were won by others. It implies that the anti-incumbency vote against Vasundhara Raje was not converted fully towards Congress. There are limitations to Congress. People are fed up with Vasundhara Raje but not that much enthusiastic for Congress. Congress must introspect for its lackluster performance. The situation may not be similar in Lok Sabha elections.
The other important State is Madhya Pradesh. Despite three terms in power, anti-incumbency is not at higher levels. The farm distress is acute in Madhya Pradesh. The credit goes to Shivaraj Singh Chouhan. His well connect image in the public helped the party to act against the tide. Here also, the percentage of votes are almost equal between the two main parties.
What it means? Though Congress won the battle, the other side has not lost the ground. The only solace is that now a conclusion can be drawn that even in Hindi heartland, BJP is not invincible. At the same time, no automatic guarantee of seats in Lok Sabha in these States for Congress. Still Modi is having advantage in these States. The only factor emerged out of the results from these States is that Rahul Gandhi may bargain with higher tone for leadership of non-BJP front.
One more important lesson to be drawn from these election results in these three States is that development alone will not guarantee returns. The performance of these three BJP led State Governments is note worthy in the last term. A few parameters can be taken up for reference. In case of rural sanitation coverage, their performance is hundred percent; in case of rural household electrification, MP reached 100%, Chattisgarh almost 100% and Rajasthan 96%; in case of penetration of rural domestic LPG connections, Rajasthan performed extremely well with 95%, MP with 73% and Chattisgarh with 71%; in case of construction of rural houses, MP built 15.43 lakh new houses, Chattisgarh 6 lakhs and Rajasthan 5.96 lakhs; in case of rural road Construction, the ratio of uncovered villages was drastically reduced with Chattisgarh excelled by only 4% left overs, Rajasthan by 8.5% and MP by 10.9%. Also, the growth of agriculture is significantly improved in these States. GDP growth rates are substantially high. They are almost lifted from category of BIMARU. Despite all this, the people voted them out of power. It means development alone will not guarantee power. Political narrative is very important to gain/retain power. Telangana is the best example. KCR created a narrative that Telangana a newly born State should be protected from anti-Telangana forces to retain gains already brought in these four years. It clicked. But in these three States such a narrative is lacking. It is a lesson evenfor the coming Lok Sabha elections. In 2014, Modi got wide spread support with narrative for ‘ Vikas’ and fight against corruption. In 2019 again, an appropriate narrative is required besides better performance.
These State elections will not reflect the course of Lok Sabha elections. It might have settled leadership problem to certain extent in non-BJP front but not decisive for outcome of Lok Sabha elections. The issues, perceptions and mindset will be totally different. Modi factor is still dominating though not at the same level as in 2014. Additionally, BJP party and its cadre expanded and spread across the country. Its reach is less effective in South, but new additions took place in East and North East. Overall it will emerge as single largest party if not majority party in worst circumstances where as Congress is having limited pockets alone. Its reach in most populous States of UP and Bihar is limited. As long as its presence is not improved in these two States, it can not challenge BJP at national level. At best it can be called as larger Regional party not in technical terms but in factual term. The largest party naturally will have a better claim for Government formation. This is a scenario even after Semi-Final match is over.
In the interest of democracy, the second national alternative should emerge at the earliest. Hope that Congress work in that direction at least for 2024 elections. Till that time, BJP by default may take the centre stage whether one likes it or not. --- Ram