The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) might have lost the battles in Madhya Pradesh (MP), Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan, but the war for 2019 still remains. And, the ruling party is most likely to go in for a course correction — like it did after losing the Assembly elections in 2015.
Failing to win any of the five states, results for which were declared on Tuesday, is a wake-up call for the BJP. The Lok Sabha elections slated 2019 are only four months away.
In 2015, the BJP had lost the Assembly elections in Delhi and Bihar. It had forced Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government at the Centre to adopt a “garib kalyan” (welfare of the poor) policy approach. The results were for all to see: In 2016 and 2017, the BJP was practically undefeatable.
This year, however, has been electorally disastrous for the BJP, which has not had a favourable outcome in even one election. It emerged as the single-largest party in Karnataka, but could not form the government as the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) took charge by forming a post-poll alliance.
Now, it has lost MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, where it was in power.
Too little, too late?
Experts said the government is now aware that providing cooking gas, affordable housing, electricity, as well as crop and health insurance to the poor have not been enough. Crisis in the farm sector, lack of jobs, and rural poverty are issues that need to be tackled.
As the results became clear, Prime Minister Modi on Tuesday evening tweeted: “Today’s results will further our resolve to serve people and work even harder for the development of India.”
The road ahead, however, is likely to be bumpy.
Rejuvenated by the recent victories, the Opposition too will make it as difficult as possible for the government. Congress President Rahul Gandhi said they would continue to question the government for its failures.
A win in 2019 for the BJP is not to be taken for granted, he said.
The ruling party has long been prepared for the eventuality that its performance in 2019 will not be a repeat of 2014, when it had won 282 seats in the Lok Sabha and had the opportunity to form the first single-party government since 1984.
Then, it had swept the Hindi heartland. Now, it hopes to recompense for losses in these states by winning seats in West Bengal, Odisha, and the Northeastern states.
Not a good barometer
An Assembly election, however, is not such a good barometer to forecast Lok Sabha elections.
In 2003, the BJP won Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, and MP, but lost the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. In 2008, the BJP again won Chhattisgarh and MP, lost Rajasthan to Congress, and lost the 2009 Lok Sabha.
However, the BJP’s 2013 wins in these three states did act as a precursor to the 2014 victory.
There are other factors at work as well.
The Congress significantly improved its vote share in the three north Indian states. But, the BJP has been able to hold on to respectable vote shares in Rajasthan (38.3 per cent) and MP (41.1 per cent).
The vote shares of the Congress in these two states are 39.3 per cent and 41 per cent, respectively.
The Modi factor
A BJP strategist on Tuesday said the Opposition would discount the “Modi factor” in the Lok Sabha polls at its own peril.
Unlike the current round of Assembly polls, the PM would campaign more frenetically in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls. However, unlike in 2014, the BJP will face a united Opposition in 2019, particularly in key states such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
With the likelihood of BJP falling short of the majority mark, it would also need to make new friends and strengthen its equation with older ones, such as the Shiv Sena.
Modi continues to be popular in much of urban and semi-urban India, and his government is likely to take measures to shore up its acceptance in rural India. The Sangh Parivar has already indicated it wants the Modi government to pave the way for an early construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya.
Farm spending should see an increase in the interim Budget, with a focus on more efficient transfer of subsidies directly into the bank accounts of farmers.
The government could replicate the Telangana model of direct transfers. The K Chandrashekar Rao-led Telangana Rashtra Samithi has leveraged its policies to win spectacularly in the state.
If experts are to be believed, a nationwide farm loan waiver covering the entire gamut of growers could be tried.
Farm economist Ashok Gulati said with the BJP losing its grip firmly over rural India, there looks like a strong possibility of a national farm loan waiver, something like what the Congress in 2009 to come back to power.
Gulati said this would cost the exchequer about Rs 4-5 trillion which the next government at the Centre will have to bear from its resources. So far, seven states have announced farm loan waivers totalling around Rs 1.9 trillion.