The Semi – Final Elections

The much hyped semi-final before the general elections in 2019 is finally over. As expected Congress has a lot to cheer about. BJP possibly has done a shade better than what was expected in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh but suffered a rout in Chhattisgarh where it seemed very confident to come back to power. Once again Indian voter has surprised most poll analysts and predictors. Without a doubt Rahul Gandhi (and Sonia Gandhi) would be very relieved with the results after a series of flop shows in various elections since 2014. Though Congress may not admit it but these results would certainly come as a reprieve for the Congress President to establish some credibility about his abilities to lead and win elections for his party. While it is celebration time for Congress, it is certainly time for BJP to do a reality check.

The question that would be doing the rounds in BJP circle is what went wrong in the Hindi belt where BJP lost all three states. There can be no single reason for this poor show. However if one was to stick ones neck out and attribute the loss to one single reason it would have to be BJPs delay in recognising the problems of rural sector and failure to find a creditable solution for farmers since all three states in question are agrarian economy driven states. Some may argue that schemes for financial inclusion, hygiene and sanitation, LPG gas for cooking, building low cost homes and rural electrification were all targeted at the rural sector. While there cannot be two opinions about such claims but what is missing here is a solution that addresses the heart of the problem faced by the farming community. The real problem is their inability to get a decent remuneration for their produce on a recurring basis. While this has been a perennial problem for decades under various governments, the expectations from BJP and Mr Modi were very high and therefore the bigger disenchantment. Is it any wonder that BJP lost heavily in rural constituencies in all three states?

The other major issue that BJP needs to understand and find a solution is on how to manage allies and create friends within the political system in the country. In Indian context regional parties are important and at times can play a critical role in national politics. Any national level party that ignores this fact does so at its own peril. States like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra,Punjab, West Bengal, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have very strong regional parties.BJP has a rather poor track record in maintaining healthy long term relationships and developing mutual trust with regional parties of substance. BJP’s relationship even with its long term allies like JDU and Shiv Sena is often at an edge and party leadership is often found wanting in this regard.

A ‘CongressMukt Bharat’ may be a good internal party slogan for motivating cadres but does not cut much ice with public at large when shouted from every tree topin the country. There may be many problems that the Congress party may have created over last many decades, but the fact remains that many Indians have been born with and brought up on a staple diet where Congress has been the main flavourand such sloganeering will never go well with them. Somewhere BJP went overboard in its quest to obliterate Congress and ridicule its past leadership.Instead they should have focussed on doing what is good for the nation and allowed their deeds to speak for themselves.  It is well known that ‘politics makes strange bedfellows’. That is part of politics and at times a necessary step towards political success. BSP and SP, sworn enemies who could never see eye to eye came together in Uttar Pradesh to rout BJP in the by elections in March 2018.But arrogance, a trait that defines current BJP leadership overtime, prevents BJP from reaching out to others who could further its goals. ‘We can do it alone’ is what most BJP leaders believe instead of being realistic, practical and prudent in their political approach.

There arecertainly a host of other factors including anti-incumbency, Rafael dealinsinuations, lack of job creation for youth, fuel prices that would haveplayed their part in the reverses suffered by BJP.

The list should include Demonetisation (DeMo) and implementation of GST but in reality their impact could not have been substantial. DeMo is done and dusted and not relevant today. Despite some initial reservations of the informal business sector on GST, it is now an accepted way of life and better understood by most. In any case effect of DeMo and GST in rural areas and small farmers was minimal and therefore could not have caused any substantial losses at the hustings to the ruling party.

Ram Mandir,despite its hype and political overtones, is not really an issue when it comes to votes. The fact that Ram Mandir is not an issue that attracts votes is obvious from its absence in all political rallies held by BJP in the recent elections. Politicisation of Ram Mandir is a ploy adopted more by Muslim leadership and those who wish to seek Muslim vote banks. In reality Ram Mandir is more like a wake up call for the 83% Hindus in the country to understand and maintain their Hindu heritage that has little to do with politics directly. 

The next question is has Rahul Gandhi finally arrived and was he the reason for Congress party’s success? This is debateable to say the least. Any leader of a party will claim credit if his party wins elections – to that extent Rahul cannot be made an exception. His stock with other opposition parties would certainly lookup post these results. However the success of Congress is attributable more to the fault lines within BJP rather than any recognisable strengths that may have sprung up within the Congress party or in Rahul Gandhi as its leader. In all his campaign speeches Rahul Gandhi had only two points that he focussed on –corruption in Rafael Deal where he hinted that BJP had passed on a benefit of Rs 30,000 crores to Anil Ambani (Reliance ADG) and that BJP (read Mr Modi) had no lived up to the promises made during their run up to the national elections in 2014. Both very vague and unsupported insinuations. At no point did Mr Gandhi try to dissect the NDA government’s performance in a logical or factual manner supported by facts and figures. The other stand out feature of his campaign speeches was the total absence of what he proposed to do if his party came to power. He had nothing to offer to the voter barring some promises of freebies to farmers in form of loan waivers. Did his party have a plan to address the issues of job creation or farmer distress or a more efficient implementation ofGST? Mr Gandhi never touched on these issues. In short all that Mr Gandhi was doing was to be critical of Mr Modi and spreading some half-truths to woo the voters.What can be said in favour of Mr Gandhi is that this time around he toured extensively and did not take off on a vacation either midway or immediately after the electioneering ended. Instead he stayed put and was on hand when the results came in.

Does this mean that BJP lost all the three Hindi belt states due to problems of its own making? The answer unfortunately is yes. BJP must try to come across as apolitical outfit that while professing nationalism refrains from belittling all others, finds ways and means to be more accommodative and understanding ofother political parties and focuses on its good work to establish its credentials with the voters on a long term basis. Efforts to run down past leaders or their parties or focussing on ridding the nation of any political party will always be counterproductive and not in the interests of either BJP or the nation itself. The nation needs a healthy political environment where political opposition should be welcome so that it spurns the party in power to do more. It would be foolish to assume that a single political party could rule a diverse nation like India both at the centre and in states.

Saroj Chadha, an engineering professional, is a successful entrepreneur. Having retired from the Indian Army after having served for over 23 years, he has also been a consultant for leading Indian and Multinational electrical companies. He lives in New Delhi.

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