In Jharkhand Defeat, 6 Big Lessons For Modi And Shah

The result of the Jharkhand assembly election is no surprise. In fact, this was one election where most pollsters had more or less predicted BJP's defeat much in advance. In contrast, in Maharashtra and Haryana, the BJP was very upbeat to begin with and even pollsters predicted its victory. But the results in these two states were a rude shock. And apparently the BJP has learnt no lessons. 

The Jharkhand results have six takeaways:

1) Nationalism and Hinduism as an electoral strategy have limited appeal among voters. It clearly shows that the BJP/RSS/Modi misread their massive mandate in May. The BJP not only improved its tally viz-a-viz 2014 but also crossed the 300-mark which was very commendable. But after coming to power, Modi took a series of initiatives to implement the RSS's Hindutva agenda. The Triple Talaq bill was pushed through parliament. After this, Modi removed Article 370 and converted a full-fledged state into a centrally administered unit. The demand for the removal of Article 370 goes back to the formation of BJP and its earlier avatar, the Jan Sangh. The Modi government was so euphoric in its zeal that it did not even bother about the global reaction to the issue of putting Kashmir under severe restrictions.

The Supreme Court verdict on Ram Mandir was another booster for the Sangh Parivar. The BJP did not leave any stone unturned to take credit for the court verdict. In fact, Amit Shah promised at a recent rally in Jharkhand that within four months, construction would begin for a sky-high temple.

Then the BJP ensured the Citizenship Amendment Bill was passed in parliament. And Amit Shah announced many times that the National Register of Citizens (NRC) would be carried out across the whole of India. This provoked nationwide protests. But these measures failed to impress the Jharkhand voters. If the BJP was hoping to consolidate Hindu votes through these initiatives, then they should be hugely disappointed. Jharkhand voters were just not interested in the BJP's brand of nationalism and Hindutva.

2) Jharkhand has put a serious question mark about Modi's ability to deliver states as the supreme leader for the BJP in assembly elections. It has lost Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and now Jharkhand. In Haryana, despite all the hyperbole, the BJP could not get a majority on its own. Modi seems to be losing his Midas touch.

3) Amit Shah is admired and feared both as a leader and party president. He has undoubtedly galvanised BJP's organisation and turned it into a poll machine. Experts had started saying with Amit Shah at the helm, it is unthinkable that BJP can lose an election but the humiliating defeat in Jharkhand breaks the myth that he is the Chanakya of Indian politics. Amit Shah addressed a dozen rallies but voters were not impressed.

4) In Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani's time, the BJP had a very strong second line of leadership. Every state had two to three strong regional BJP leaders. But with Modi on top, the BJP has been reduced to a two-man army. Other leaders have no say. Strong leaders like Vasundhara Raje, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Raman Singh, Uma Bharti, Prem Dhumal etc. have been marginalised. They have no say in the party's decision-making. Raghubar Das is neither charismatic nor a great organiser. He does not have the capacity to win a state on his own. Once Modi/Amit Shah failed, the BJP fell flat in the state. This weakness will cost the party dearly in the long run.

5) The arrogance of the leadership is proving detrimental to the party. In Jharkhand, had the BJP not allowed its allies - the AJSU, JDU and LJP - to move out of the combination, the results could have been different in the state. Similarly, in Maharashtra, the BJP lost its three-decade-old friend, the Shiv Sena.

6) The time has come when Modi and his party should take the economic crisis seriously. Every survey has shown that unemployment is the most important issue for voters. In the Jharkhand election, price rise has also added to the BJP's problems. The economy is virtually in the ICU and the Finance Minister is in denial. If immediate corrective measures are not taken, the BJP will pay a heavy price in the future.

Modi is a fast learner. And he knows how to weave a new narrative. But the loss in Jharkhand is stark and it is time for him to take a few bold steps and do some serious re-thinking and future planning if he has to stay the course. 

(Ashutosh is a Delhi-based author and journalist.)

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