Verdict 2018, Impact 2019
The poll results this time have reinstated the focus on alliances and citizen’s issues, moving away from personality worship
At 5 pm, Madhya Pradesh showed 91 leads/wins for BJP and 114 for Congress, Rajasthan showed 73 leads and wins for BJP and 101 for Congress and Chattisgarh gave 17 leads to BJP and 64 leads and wins to Congress. Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) of KCR has clearly romped home in Telangana as has the Mizo National Front (MNF) in Mizoram.
First, the exit polls were on the right track. Let me begin with the average of Poll of Polls, i.e., the average of all exit polls done on assembly elections this time. For Chhattisgarh, the figures were BJP: 41, Cong: 43, BSP and others: 6; for Madhya Pradesh, it was BJP: 109, Congress: 111, BSP and others: 10; for Rajasthan, it was BJP: 78, Congress: 110, BSP and others: 11. Telangana had given BJP: 5 Congress: 39 TRS: 67 and Others: 8. For Mizoram, it was predicted, Congress: 16, MNF: 18, Others: 6. Broadly, the results show that the exit polls were on track, though the extent of the wins in Chhattisgarh, Mizoram and Telangana was not predicted.
Second, all tall faces were on the wane except for Telangana. BJP, in recent times, has been attempting to presidentialise all state elections, sometimes putting PM Modi in the forefront. This time, the state with a strong CM face went ahead, while Congress in most places (except in Punjab) did not have a strong face anywhere, portraying the CM in waiting for quite some time. That has not worked for BJP this time around. Neither was the Modi-magic anywhere to be seen, with an unprecedented fall in the quality of political communication when the PM himself addressed Sonia Gandhi as 'Congress ki Vidhwa', meaning that the widow of Congress has eaten up all widow pension. The Jan Ashirwad Yatra of MP CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan was dropped midway due to the absence of any popular support. From Vyapam to local-level corruption, Chouhan's image had already taken a big hit. Even Rajasthan CM Vasundhara Raje Scindia's electoral yatra was stopped mid-path facing slogans like 'Modi sey bair nahi, Rani teri khair nahi' (No enmity with Modi, but we will not spare thes queen). Dr Raman Singh has a larger-than-life image in Chattisgarh but that did not help him save the day while facing anti-incumbency against his ministers and MLAs.
Third, double anti-incumbency spelt the doom for BJP. The anti-incumbency against CM Vasundhara Raje Scindia has been tidal. Whether it be her legendary arrogance even with her own ministers and MLAs, her inaccessibility, her policy paralysis on major issues of public life, her focus only on the urban educated elite given her royal background, among other concerns, both media and public opinion has been extremely critical of her for the last two years.
There was the double anti-incumbency as well. The crafts, stones, agri-products and other small businesses were affected adversely with demonetisation as they have been dependent on the cash economy – same with GST and its multi-layers. Joblessness among the educated youth, no MSP for the farming community, the fuel price rise affecting farmers and urban middle class alike, all emanating from Central government policies, also contributed to the debacle.
The anti-incumbency in Madhya Pradesh has borne a double volume. While the people resented Vyapam, corruption and nepotism at the level of BJP MLAs and some ministers, they were agitated against the prevailing agrarian crisis (especially the Mandsaur firing on farmers), joblessness and the failure of law and order in the state. Over and above this, demonetisation harmed the cash-dependent rural economy while digital infrastructure continues to be abysmal in the hinterland. The GST decision with five layers put small traders and the SME sector in a dreadful situation. And, furthermore, the fuel price rise in the months ahead of the polls had led to a sudden price rise of commodities too.
Extreme anti-incumbency is writ large on the results – in fact, there is an impact of double anti-incumbency. While voters may not have been totally disenchanted with Chaul Baba, as CM Dr Raman Singh is often called for his cheap rice and reliable public distribution system, they were surely discontent with many elected MLAs and the prevailing nepotism at lower levels. Further, the central policies of demonetisation ruining the cash-driven rural and tribal economy, the five-layered GST troubling small and medium enterprises, along with the rise of fuel prices making living expensive and bringing down retail sales, together led to a double anti-incumbency.
Fourth, an unusually united Congress faced an unusually disunited BJP. From Chhattisgarh, where the Congress is divided between leader of opposition TS Singh Deo and Tamradhwaj Sahu, to Madhya Pradesh, where the local Congress bosses are Kamal Nath, Jyotiraditya Scindia and former CM Digvijay Singh, to Rajasthan where the rivalry has been between former CM Ashok Gehlot and state Congress president Sachin Pilot: the grand old party presented a picture of bonhomie within. Irrespective of what happens ahead, the campaign was fought with low resources but commendable brotherhood within the Congress. Whereas, the BJP, especially in Rajasthan, witnessed bitter internal divisions. Suicidal for them has been the conflict between CM Vasundhara Raje and her coterie against the Modi-Shah leadership of BJP, to the extent that she did not allow Shah man Gajendra Singh Shekhawat to take over as BJP state president.
Fifth, it is surely a shot in the arm for Congress and Rahul Gandhi. Interestingly, December 11, last year, was the day when Rahul Gandhi was formally elected as the Congress President, and exactly one year later, three Hindi heartland states have registered Congress wins under his leadership. His claim to the leadership of the united opposition has just got a fillip. However, he would need to be cautious in first, the selection of his CMs in the three winning states, as there are several claimants and this can be tricky. And second, he needs to cautiously avoid the arrogance that may creep into the party and take an accommodative stance with allies and even seek new allies. A case in point here is Ajit Jogi, who now wants to return to the Congress, and another in point is Mayawati's BSP, which has not made a major mark but is getting some 10 seats across three states of the Hindi heartland this time. Congress needs to do business with both of them, and many more like them, giving them their due dignity and space.
Sixth, the politics of alliances has also got a shot in the arm. The Congress emboldened with the three states will need to cement the opposition mahagatbandhan by consolidating the involvement of sulking opposition parties like the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, apart from the 21 parties which have met a day earlier. BJP, on its side, needs to expand its alliance after losing 12 parties so far from NDA, the latest being Upendra Khushwaha's RSLP. It needs to add new NDA partners like TRS in Telangana, Biju Janata Dal in Odisha, AIADMK in Tamil Nadu, among many others.
Seventh, moving ahead, we may see some drastic changes in BJP's political mechanism. The Budget ahead of the Centre can be highly populist, full of sops with resources taken from RBI reserves – the controversy on which RBI Governor Urjit Patel seems to have resigned two days earlier. Alongside, further polarisation will be attempted through Sangh Parivar affiliates like VHP and Bajrang Dal, the attempts of which are already underway. The government can push the Triple Talaq Bill and bring in the legislative passage of Ramjanmabhoomi Mandir, even if it faces defeat in the Rajya Sabha where it is a minority, forcing Congress to take a stand in the Parliament. Rebuilding the Modi image, a drastic measure like surgical strikes or bringing in Mallya, Lalit Modi and Nirav Modi, and attempts to delink the state polls with the central one six months down the line, will be the other possible steps for the BJP's consideration.
The whole is larger than the parts. When parts start rebelling, it catches up with the whole faster than presumed. That happened when Indira's government fell, or when Vajpayee's and Manmohan's governments lost. That can happen here too. But the last word has not yet been spoken as the Modi-Shah leadership cannot brook any defeat and may resort to drastic measures ahead from Kashmir (surgical strikes, the abolition of Article 30A) to Lucknow (Ramjanmabhoomi Bill and harsh polarisation on the ground).
(The author is a noted media academic and commentator, and is currently the Dean of Pearl Academy, and former Media Dean of Symbiosis and Amity Universities. The views expressed are strictly personal)