Millennium Post

Sounding the warning bells

Just a week before the Modi government competes its 100 days, the by-election results have come as a jolt to the BJP. The saffron party, which witnessed a spectacular victory in the Lok Sabha polls, has faced a setback too soon.   No doubt by- elections are fought and won mostly on local factors, but the results have certainly punctured the feel good factor of the BJP and given a ray of hope to the opposition.

The results of the recent by-polls to 18 Assembly seats across four states, including in crucial Bihar, were to say the least, disappointing for the BJP. Of the 18 seats, the party won seven and ally Akali Dal one, while the Congress and its allies bagged 10. The Congress won the key seats like Bellary in Karnataka and Patiala in Punjab and also managed to wrest one BJP seat from Madhya Pradesh.

The results of Bihar could be particularly galling for the BJP because much had been made of the parting of ways between the JD (U) and the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections. Modi’s two arch rivals Nitish Kumar (JD (U)) and Lalu Prasad Yadav (RJD) won 6 out of 10 Assembly seats  in Bihar where the BJP aims to form the government after the next Assembly polls. The 21 August by-elections were seen as a litmus test for the BJP as well as the RJD and JD-U, which came together after two decades soon after the Lok Sabha results, came out in May.

The jolt is all the more severe after the recent BJP defeat in Uttarakhand where the Congress won all the three seats in Assembly by-elections some time back and also in nine of the 11 Zila Parishad Chairman elections. Is there a pattern as BJP failed to hold on to the vote share it had in the Lok Sabha elections in several of these seats. Is the BJP complacent after its stunning victory in the Look Sabha polls?   What has happened to the feel good factor? The BJP has to take these as a warning signal and pull up its socks. The UP by polls are not far away where the BJP pride is at stake and the state unit faces a massive chqallenge as UP gave an unprecedented 73 seats out of 80 to the BJP in Lok Sabha polls.

The BJP explains that the by poll results should not be confused with the Lok Sabha or the Assembly polls, which is to a certain extent true.  BJP leaders in Karnataka and Bihar, were quick to blame the losses on local factors and the failure of state party units stressing that the defeats were no reflection on Modi’s leadership. The party must ensure that the state leaders are on their toes.

The results have sent some clear signals, which should be read by the political class. The first is that perhaps the BJP after its massive victory has become complacent and had taken the electorate for granted.

After its spectacular show in both UP and Bihar in the Lok Saha polls perhaps the frenzy created during the general elections has died down. The stark drop in vote share also suggests this. This was only to be expected as the reason for the frenzy has disappeared from the scene. The mood of the electorate was anti -Congress and the Congress is now defeated.

Secondly, there is a question mark about the return of the single party dominance as the electorate has kept the opposition alive keeping its options open.  These by poll results may open up new possibilities at the national level for new permutations and combinations. The results are likely to provide a shot in the arm to a largely moribund opposition and give the confidence that it could defeat the Modi factor by ensuring anti-BJP votes are not split. It was purely out of desperation that the JD (U) and the RJD had come together as also the Congress in Bihar to form a viable combination, which proved successful. The success of the secular combine shows that they can hope to succeed in future if they manage an effective coalition.  Moreover, the RJD and the JD (U) have charismatic state level leaders while the BJP lacks this in Bihar, Haryana and even Maharashtra. The question is whether this unity will continue until the Assembly polls, as there is bound to be ego clashes.

For years, the Congress was the main party, which others attacked and this anti Congressism came to an end in 2004 when even others  allied  with the Congress to get rid of the Vajpayee government. With the arrival of Modi and the BJP coming to the centre stage once again, the opposition has ganged up once again against the BJP and Modi.

Thirdly, it is too early to say whether the Modi wave is over or not. The Prime Minister normally never campaigns for the by polls. The Modi magic would be tested in the coming Assembly elections to Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand and Jammu and Kashmir. The honeymoon will continue for some time, at least for another three months.   If the inflation and price rise are not contained, then the murmur from the public will begin.

Fourthly, the BJP allies like Shiv Sena are flexing muscle after the setback. The Sena mouthpiece Saamna in an editorial has said that the party cannot depend on only Modi effect any more.  The jibe is seen as a pressure tactic to get back at BJP, which has been putting pressure on the ally to part with more number of seats.

For now, the BJP should realise that it has to bring back the feel good factor, which has been punctured if it wants to do well in the Assembly polls. The opposition too should understand it has a long way to go as the Modi’s honeymoon continues despite the setback. IPA
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