Rajasthan bypoll results: Wake-up call for Modi-Shah’s BJP

On the first day of this month when Finance Minister Arun Jaitely presented his last full Union budget before the next general election, devastating and disappointing results of assembly and Lok Sabha by-elections from Rajasthan and West Bengal rattled the ruling BJP.

While in the defeat in West Bengal at the hand of the Trinamool Congress, the saffron party could draw some solace by coming second in the race ahead of the CPM and the Congress, electoral results from Rajasthan particularly are more vicious and damning. The nature of the contest in the desert state where the BJP got a bloody nose by none other than the Congress whose decimation was the declared objective of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

A close look at the results of Ajmer and Alwar Lok Sabha seats and Mandalgarh assembly seat reveals that the BJP lost between 12 and 21 percent votes share in comparison to the 2014 general elections. The biggest fall in vote share was in Alwar parliamentary seat where the BJP’s vote share dropped from 61 percent to 40 percent. Fall in vote share in Ajmer was 12 percent while it nosedived to 32 percent from 52 percent in Mandalgarh assembly seat.

Electoral mood was at test in 17 assembly seats and the BJP was defeated in every assembly segment. The electorate of the 17 assembly seats that voted in three by-elections comprises of all castes. The BJP had won 15 of the 17 assembly seats in 2013 assembly elections.

Reasons of defeat are many but responsibility of the comprehensive defeat of the BJP in Rajasthan lies with both the states as well as the central leadership. Selection of candidates was jointly done in consultation between the state and central leaders and thus neither of the two can afford to escape the responsibility by apportioning the blame to the other.

It is an open secret that the affairs of the BJP are being controlled and steered by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party chief Amit Shah. Modi-Shah duo are monitoring, supervising and directing the party affairs and the two have brought the BJP to power in 14 states and in 5 states in partnership with other parries thus expanding the party’s base exponentially in the last four years.

Recent losses in civic polls in Madhya Pradesh and a closely contested election in Gujarat are small yet potent signals of the challenges for the BJP that are emerging on the political horizon of the country. A combination of several factors had given the BJP under the leadership of Narendra Modi huge victories in 2014 Lok Sabha polls and in subsequent assembly elections in Haryana, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Assam, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh.

Anti-incumbency against 10 years of the Congress led UPA and the prevailing policy paralysis had created a fertile ground for the BJP. Hard Hinduatva meaning anti-Muslim was one factor among many others including promises of jobs, bringing of black money from foreign banks, better living standards, Congress-free India, removal of corruption and graft, responsive governance that catapulted the BJP to power with huge majority in New Delhi.

The Union budget has tried to address the problem of agriculture stress in the country side and has also tried to catch the popular imagination by announcing a comprehensive National Health Protection Scheme for 100 million poor households that is going to cost the national exchequer Rs 12,000 crore every year. The scheme is going to be launched on the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. The scheme, already being called by the BJP propaganda machine as Modicare, is aimed at reaping rich political dividends in the next general elections.

Whether the Modicare is going to be a game changer for Modi-Shah’s BJP or not cannot be predicted now but unless the scheme really reaches out to substantial number of families, people may not take this promise seriously in the light of their experience of several of Modi promises in the past.    In real terms, this would mean that the BJP would be fighting the general election and assembly elections in MP, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan along with Mizoram with its back towards the wall. The budget has been a big disappointment to urban middle class and young aspirational youth.

In absence of any visible improvement in the economic and living conditions of the people at large, particularly the weaker and poorer sections of society, Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its associate family outfits have been active in pushing the anti-Muslim agenda in the hope of getting the electorate polarized on religious lines.

The BJP had won both urban as well as rural seats in 2014 Lok Sabha elections but urban seats may not prove to be an easy cakewalk in the coming electoral battle in the light of disillusionment setting in among the middle classes which are the opinion makers.

In the face of numerous challenges, the BJP would have to ensure that opposition parties do not come together so that the party could have an upper hand in multi-cornered contests and for that the CBI, Enforcement Directorate and other central agencies are effective instruments. Moreover, majority of opposition leaders suffer from inflated egos and remain oblivious of the might of the RSS-BJP combine.

Communal polarization is the other card that is likely to be played by the RSS-BJP combine.   The Supreme Court is expected to come out with its judgement on the issue of Babri Masjid-Ram Mandir issue as it is going to start is daily hearing soon.  Construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya, thus, would be in public domain helping to polarize the society.

The BJP still has many trump cards in its hands like announcement of sudden elections catching the opposition parties unprepared but the road to victory like that of 2014 is bumpy, full of thorns, boulders and big holes.

Dr. Satish Misra is a Veteran Journalist & Research Associate with Observer Research Foundation.