Modi magic ineffective as Rahul Gandhi’s stock : Rajeev Sharma

The biggest message from the results of the assembly polls in India’s Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Telangana and Mizoram is that the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been put on notice barely five months before the Indian parliamentary polls. The 0-5 scoreline for the BJP in these elections also proves that its much-touted slogan of achhe din (dood days) has had little has gone past its expiry date.

The Congress’ victory in the crucial states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan will inevitably raise the stature of party president Rahul Gandhi considerably. These victories are big enough for the Congress to forget its loss in the northeastern state of Mizoram to the Mizo National Front (MNF) and its drubbing in the southern state of Telangana where erstwhile the Telangana Rashtriya Samiti, led by K Chandrashekhar Rao, walked away with a road-roller majority.

Incidentally, while the MNF is a part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the TRS will be more amenable to the BJP rather than a Congress-led coalition should the contest in 2019 be as close as it turned out in Madhya Pradesh this time.

An important takeaway of the elections, at least in the three Hindi belt states is that the BJP’s obilisation strategy on communal lines—gau raksha or cow vigilanstism and other Hindutva issues—may not have helped fully. The BJP’s campaign in these three states did not address economic issues, especially the chronic problem of unemployment and underemployment. Political analysts were of the opinion that while the BJP overplayed its communal card, voters were also not enthused by the party leadership’s personalised attacks against the Gandhi family.

Madhya Pradesh proved to be quite a cliffhanger with neither the Congress nor the BJP achieving the simple majority target. Of the total 230 seats, the lead-trail margin between BJP-Congress rivals was in three digits in at least 30 seats. It was only late in the evening that the Congress managed to survive the scare and eventually became the single largest party.

Even as the final result will be clear by December 12, the BSP, which won two seats and the Samajwadi Party one, have declared that they will back the Congress which bagged 115, one short of the simple majority mark. It is expected that senior Congress MP Kamal Nath who, along with Jyotiraditya Scindia, led the campaign, will be the chief minister. The party will, however, have to take a call on selecting either senior leader Ashok Gehlot or Sachin Pilot to head the government. The party will, however, introspect why its campaign slackened in Rajasthan (which went to the polls on December 7) where it was expected to perform much better than the actual results.

Political observers attribute the BJP’s fightback in Rajasthan to a degree of polarisation caused by communal tension in UP’s Bulandshahr.

The assembly polls were billed as a semi-final ahead of the general elections in April-May 2019. The Congress has redeemed itself by ending the BJP rule in MP, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan where the results will likely influence the political narrative in the upcoming parliamentary elections. These three states together send 65 MPs to the 543-member Lok Sabha and in the 2014 general elections the BJP had won on as many as 61 seats.

The results will impact overall national politics of India and major players in a big way and will inevitably lead to political realignments. Without doubt, the biggest gainer of these polls is Rahul Gandhi. Echoing this, Pilot said: “Exactly this day, a year ago, Rahul ji had taken over as Congress president. What better gift we can give him on his first anniversary as Congress president than this?”

Asked whether he will be the chief minister, Pilot didn’t duck the question but said: “This will be decided by the party high command and the Congress legislators.”

After these results, Rahul will be taken more seriously not only by the voters and his own party leaders but also by other opposition parties. It’s clear that the opposition campaign in 2019 general elections will likely be spearheaded by Rahul and not by the BSP’s Mayawati or the Trinamool Congress’ Mamata Banerjee, though they will be crucial to stitching together a grand alliance.

While the Modi-led BJP has suffered a setback, there’s another big loser – BSP supremo Mayawati. She tried her best to extract an ideal political deal from the Congress and linked her negotiations with the 2019 general elections, demanding an unreasonable 100 Lok Sabha seats for her party. But when the Congress didn’t oblige, she announced a pre-poll tie-up with Ajit Jogi, a former Congressman, in Chhattisgarh.

The Jogi-Mayawati alliance failed to work on the ground.

The results must be a wake-up call for Mayawati. It should be clear to her that she will ensure her own political demise if she turns her back to a grand alliance in Uttar Pradesh where the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Lok Dal will play a critical role to take on the BJP. She has been out of power for 10 years and has already lost two UP assembly polls and failed to win a single Lok Sabha seat in the 2014 general elections.

As for the BJP, it’s clear that the so-called Modi magic is losing its appeal among voters. While it is early days to predict whether an opposition to his leadership will emerge within the BJP, which continues to be firmly in the grip of party president Amit Shah, the Shiv Sena, an NDA constituent, may not shy away from pulling its punches.

The Congress’ loss in Mizoram reflects that the party now has no state in the northeast under its belt. The seven states in the northeast account for 25 Lok Sabha seats, which would be crucial in the event of a tightly fought Lok Sabha elections.

The results show that the Indian political spectrum will see a contest between a BJP-led alliance of smaller parties and a Congress-led coalition. Sudheendra Kulkarni, a former aide of BJP veteran LK Advani and now a political analyst, said India will go into next general elections with national parties like BJP and Congress and that the role of regional parties in the national political narrative has shrunk now.

 Rajeev Sharma, writer is a strategic analyst and columnist who tweets @Kishkindha and article is taken from southasianmonitor.com

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