The results of the Maharashtra and Haryana assembly elections should not enthuse the BJP leadership much. The results are not as encouraging as the BJP would have wanted them to be. In Maharashtra, the BJP-Shiv Sena will form the government. The combo has crossed the majority mark, though with a reduced tally since 2014. In Haryana, the BJP had aimed at more than 75 of 90 seats. It struggled to even reach the majority mark of 46. The results should be seen as a tragedy for the opposition. In both states, their performance could have been much better, had they gone in with hope and preparation. This was a classic case of an opposition resigned to defeat even before the election. Now it can only regret a lost opportunity.
There are five takeaways from these elections
1.These elections are a warning signal for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government. Six months ago, PM Modi had formed the government with a bumper majority. For the first time in its political history, the BJP won more than 300 seats. The numbers were beyond the party's expectations. What has gone wrong in such a short time? The economy is in dire straits. Every economic indicator has shown a downward trend. Most institutions, including the RBI, have revised GDP figures for India. Industrial production is showing negative growth. Of eight core sectors, five have shown negative growth. Export and Import figures are down. There is mayhem and virtual bloodbath in the auto sector. The country is suffering from severe rural distress. Demand is down. The stock market is disappointed. The problem is, 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.
2. These elections have also indicated that nationalism, as a political issue, has limited appeal. Since forming the government, PM Modi has taken nationalism to a different level. The Article 370 decision was taken with great fanfare and it was projected that only PM Modi had the will-power to fight anti-national forces and only he could give the correct response to Pakistan. Just before the election, a mini-surgical strike was executed across the border to destroy four terror launch pads in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. It apparently did not have much of an impact on voters. One must remember that PM Modi and Amit Shah raised the issue of Article 370 in these elections. The BJP even announced in its vision document that it would honour Vinayak Damodar Savarkar with a Bharat Ratna. Another ploy to milk the appeal of nationalism. But it failed to give the BJP an overwhelming dividend.
3. These elections also indicate that the consolidation of the Hindutva vote has not crossed a critical mass. In the last few months, BJP leaders raised the bogey of NRC (National Register of Citizens). Their leaders across the country have demanded that the NRC be carried out in every state to weed out illegal immigrants. It was stated that Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians, Jains and Buddhists from neighbouring countries will not be asked to leave. They will be treated as refugees. But Muslim migrants were not extended this privilege. The BJP is planning a law. Its leaders spoke about "internal enemies and termites" without specifying. The deportation and identification of Bangladeshi Muslims has been an old Hindutva agenda.
4. Opposition parties, especially the Congress, are in disarray. They are still in shock. In the five months since the national election, they have done nothing to inspire confidence in voters. Rahul Gandhi, Akhilesh Yadav, Mayawati, Tejashwi Yadav, all have gone into their shell and are refusing to come out. The Congress is in tatters. Rahul Gandhi resigned. Congress leaders are at each other's throats. The grand old party has no single narrative. The party is vertically split on the issue of Article 370 and Veer Savarkar. It has failed to make the economic slowdown a national issue. The Congress's big faces have been reduced to Twitter leaders. With better preparation and leadership, the Congress could have easily turned the tables on the BJP.
5. The time has come for the Congress leadership to stop dictating terms to local leaders. Regional leaders should be given power and autonomy to function. Bhupinder Singh Hooda is a classic example. Two months back, he was so frustrated with the top leadership of the Congress that he was ready to leave the party and float his own regional outfit. Finally, Sonia Gandhi relented and he was made the leader of the campaign committee with an assurance that his writ would run in the election. If a timely change had been made in the leadership in Haryana and Hooda had more time, maybe the Congress would have won a majority on its own. Similarly, Sharad Pawar proved his mettle and his hard work paid off in Maharashtra, where the Congress was leaderless. Since the death of Vilasrao Deshmukh, the Congress has had no leader of stature in the state. It did not encourage anyone in the last five years to emerge as a regional leader with any kind of social mass base.
A weak Opposition is not desirable in a democracy. The Opposition, particularly the Congress, has disappointed people immensely. The Congress should learn its lessons and reboot for a new fight. Today's results show that all is still not lost, provided the party is ready to fight.
(Ashutosh is a Delhi-based author and journalist.)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.