NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the ruling BJP face a tough challenge in the Lok Sabha elections in the coming summer in the wake of its defeat in the recent Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh and mounting worries on the economic front.
Even at the end of 2017, no one would have given the opposition a chance in the next general elections after BJP’s sweeping success in Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections in the wake of demonetisation and surgical strikes on terror hideouts across the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir and its ability to come to power in other states where it was not the largest party.
However, the BJP was contained in Modi’s home state of Gujarat in the year-end Assembly elections where it was stopped short of the 100 mark, signalling the green shoots of recovery for the Congress.
The change in the last one year became evident after a united Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samajwadi Party defeated the BJP in the Lok Sabha by-elections in its strong holds like Gorakhpur and Phulpur and along with the RLD, in Kairana in Uttar Pradesh. The Congress worsted the BJP in parliamentary by-elections in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and in Karnataka.
Also, the Congress was quick to learn from BJP’s game elsewhere and surrendered the Chief Minister’s post to the JD-S in a post-poll tie up to keep the BJP out of power in Karnataka, despite the saffron party emerging the single largest in the summer of this year.
The results of the recent Assembly polls in five states, where the Congress snatched power from the BJP in the Hindi heartland, has given a major boost to the opposition parties and could be a factor in the battle for control of the next Lok Sabha.
During the year, the BJP had lost seven out of the 13 by-elections in parliamentary constituencies. Of these, it held nine since 2014. It could retain only Palghar in Maharashtra and Shimoga in Karnataka.
Since 2014, the BJP managed to retain just six Lok Sabha seats in by-polls. Besides Palghar and Shimoga, it had won Lakhimpur in Assam, Shahdol in Madhya Pradesh, Beed in Maharashtra and Vadodara in Gujarat.
In the last four-and-half-years, the party has lost Lok Sabha by polls in Ratlam in Madhya Pradesh, Gurdaspur in Punjab, Alwar and Ajmer in Rajasthan, Kairana, Phulpur and Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, Bhandara-Gondiya in Maharashtra and Bellary and Mandya constituencies in Karnataka. The BJP’s tally in the Lok Sabha has come down to 268 from 282 in 2014.
The results of the recent Assembly polls and the by-elections may have signalled the weakening of the “Modi wave” of 2014 the road ahead may not be easy for the saffron party, given the fact that major parties like SP and BSP in Uttar Pradesh are planning an anti-BJP alliance and formation of the RJD-led alliance in Bihar, the two states which send 120 of the 543 elected MPs to the 545-member Lok Sabha, where two members are nominated.
Although the BJP-led government has been counting various of its schemes including Mudra, Ujwala, Saubhagya, opening of ‘jan dhan’ bank accounts, One Rank One Pension, and decisions on demonetisation, GST and the surgical strikes across the border in Pakistan as its major achievements in last four-and-a-half-years, the issues related to farmers and impacts of demonetisation and GST, NPAs crisis have come as a major dampener for the ruling party.
Unlike in 2014, when they were the challenger at the Centre and in many states, when an untested Modi made various promises, he and his party would now face a lot of questions to answer on the “achhe din” they had offered to the electorate.
During the last election campaign, Modi had promised one crore jobs a year and depositing of Rs 15 lakh in each persons account from the black money to be repatriated from abroad. The opposition is likely to rake up the issues and demand answers over the crisis of unemployment and agrarian distress among others.
Besides, the party is also facing the heat from the VHP and RSS, which have been mounting pressure on the government for constructing a Ram temple at Ayodhya by bringing a law or ordinance. Opposition parties allege that the sangh parivar, headed by RSS, may like to raise the political temperature on their pet issues to polarise the political situation.
Although the Supreme Court has given a clean chit to the government on the Rafale fighter jet deal, the issue remains live as the Congress has been pushing for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe.
In the Hindi hearltland of Bihar, where the BJP had won 22 of the 40 seats in 2014, Chhattisgarh (10 out of 11), Haryana (10-10), Himachal Pradesh (04-04), Jharkhand (12-14), Madhya Pradesh (16-29), Rajasthan (25-25), Uttarakhand (05-05), Uttar Pradesh (71-80) and Delhi (07-07), 182 out of 225 seats came into the party’s kitty in 2014.
In the present political scenario, political analysts feel the BJP is unlikely to repeat its performance of 2014, especially in key states like Uttar Pradesh as the coming together of the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh, social equations are likely to change.
In Bihar, the ‘mahagathbandhan’ of Rashtriya Janata Dal, Congress, Hindustani Awam Morcha and Rashtriya Lok Samata Dal has already been formed. Though the Janata Dal-United has now allied with the BJP and the LJP, the grand alliance remains focussed on social engineering of Maha Dalits, extremely backward communities, along with RJD’s traditional Muslim-Yadav votebank.
In Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh the BJP has already lost power to Congress and the BJP’s numbers are likley to drop in 2019.
In Maharashtra, the BJP ally, the Shiv Sena, may cause anxiety as both the parties don’t sharing good vibes. Maharashtra is the largest state after Uttar Pradesh as it sends 48 MPs to Lok Sabha. In the last election, the BJP won 23 seats and the Shiv Sena won 18.
In Gujarat, which is considered the BJP’s bastion and the Hindutva laboratory, the state to which Modi and BJP President Amit Shah belong, it may not be easy to repeat the 2014 performance given the Congress’ fightback in last year’s Assembly polls.
Andhra Pradesh has 25 seats in the Lok Sabha. Earlier, the BJP and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) fought together, with the BJP winning two seats and the TDP 15. Now, the TDP is out of its fold, the BJP is trying to woo a new ally in the form of YRS Congress – at least post poll.
In Tamil Nadu, where it is facing heavy headwinds, the party is trying to woo the ruling AIADMK, which is itself split, to take on a formidable DMK-Congress combine in which a number of other regional parties will also find a place. The state has a tradition of voting one way and the results in 40 seats including one in Puducherry will be crucial to the national outcome.
(Brajendra Nath Singh can be contacted at email@example.com)