By Nageshwar Patnaik in Bhubaneswar, October 25, 2019: The just concluded polls to Haryana and Maharashtra assemblies were supposed to be a boring one sided-match. But as the results started pouring in on Thursday, it was found not to be. Electoral politics has suddenly come alive with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) unexpectedly faltering like never before.

The BJP is all set to form government in Maharashtra and may well be able to form a government in Haryana and Manohar Lal Khattar may return, but the reduced margin will definitely raise questions against BJP’s dominance. Congress may well take this to be a revival of sorts.

The BJP’s landslide victory in 2019 was claimed to be the result of a change in the Indian voter’s mindset. Many experts opined that the 2014 results showed that voters were now driven by an agenda of broad-based and inclusive development rather than caste and religion.

But both the Assembly results, however, clearly indicated that caste-based vote bank politics, rather than economic issues and social policy have determined electoral choices and these patterns have remained broadly constant over the past five decades, despite BJP’s claim to the contrary.

The stark contrast of vote share between the assembly and general elections within a time frame of just five months proves that people viewed assembly elections and general elections from different lenses. Congress won Rajasthan, MP and Chhattisgarh in 2018 assembly elections but BJP swept the 2019 general elections. Now, the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance has much reduced majority in Maharashtra, while BJP still needs support of six non-BJP MLAs to form the government in Haryana.

This is a clear setback for a party that was hoping to steamroll Congress and sprint home. In a way, the assembly election result in Haryana and Maharashtra is the first major indicator of a dip in the BJP’s popularity after Narendra Modi became prime minister for the second term in May. BJP’s reduced margin in both the states may bring party’s dominance into question.

The BJP-led NDA swept the Lok Sabha elections and returned to power with an overwhelming majority with the BJP winning more than 300 seats. As for the Congress, the 2019 Lok Sabha elections saw its second-worst performance as it barely managed to win 51 seats. The worst performance was in 2014 when it won 45 seats, its lowest tally.

The BJP was in power in Maharashtra and Haryana, while the Congress was in power in both the states earlier to that. Also results of the Maharashtra and Haryana assembly elections are significant as they come just five months after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Months before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress had been able to overthrow BJP governments in three important states – Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. But the party failed to carry this momentum to the Lok Sabha elections.

In 2014, when assembly elections were held in Haryana and Maharashtra, the BJP was not in power in either of them. In Maharashtra, the BJP and its ally Shiv Sena had been out of power for 15 years, while the Congress-NCP ruled the state. In Haryana, an erstwhile Congress bastion, the BJP was able to form a government in the state in 2014 for the first time.

In 2014 assembly elections, the BJP had won 47 seats in Haryana and formed a government on its own. In Maharashtra, it emerged as the single-largest party winning 122 seats in the 288-member assembly. It later formed a post-poll alliance with the Shiv Sena that had won 63 seats, and formed government in Maharashtra. By now it is clear that 2019 did not become a repeat of 2014 and the voters have decided something else.

Incidentally, the BJP had vote share of 58.2% in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections in Haryana, but in the Assembly elections, it has gone down to just 36.2% – a sharp fall of 22 percent of votes in its favour in just five months. This points out that the BJP has consistently done better in the 2014 Lok Sabha election than it did in the next Assembly election. Does it indicate the party’s too much reliance on the image of Modi than the work of the party organisation?

Nevertheless, these elections are a warning signal for Modi’s government. Five months ago, Modi had formed the government with a mammoth majority. What has gone wrong in such a short time? Most experts talks about economic downturn. But the Modi government has refused to admit that the economy is in a coma. The results should be an eye-opener for the government; it needs to pull up it socks and take drastic measures to revive the economy.

It should not hide behind the excuse of a global economic slowdown. These elections have also indicated that nationalism, as a political issue, has limited appeal. Modi has embraced nationalism and scrapped Article 370 with great fanfare. Modi and Amit Shah raised the issue of Article 370 in these elections.

The BJP even announced that it would honour Vinayak Damodar Savarkar with a Bharat Ratna. But the BJP sadly got any dividend from these actions. In the last few months, BJP leaders raised the bogey of NRC (National Register of Citizens) and had been seeking the NRC to be carried out in every state to weed out illegal immigrants. While Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians, Jains and Buddhists from neighbouring countries will be treated as refugees, Muslim migrants were not extended this privilege.

In fact, the results of the Maharashtra and Haryana assembly elections will not stimulate the BJP leadership much. Neither the results are encouraging for the opposition, mainly the Congress. A weak Opposition is not desirable in a democracy. The Congress should learn its lessons and believe that all is still not lost, provided the party is ready to fight.

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