The BJP will form the government again in Maharashtra and in Haryana - with outside support - but the real story of the two assembly elections is that voters have applied a timely check on arrogance and shrill hyper-nationalism. And that the economic implosion matters.
The BJP had won an absolute majority in Election 2019 just months ago.
It was a gamble for Amit Shah, Union Home Minister and BJP president, to make the scrapping of Article 370 (ending special status to Jammu and Kashmir) the main issue in the two state elections. Shah was also the face of the elections, holding a record number of rallies. Neither the face nor the issue seem to have gained much traction.
In Haryana, the BJP, which plans to repeat Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar (indicated by Shah and Modi at the party thanksgiving), requires the support of Gopal Kanda, who was jailed in 2012 after a young air hostess committed suicide blaming him. Not exactly the best advertisement for the Modi's government's "Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao" slogan.
Kanda is expecting a ministerial berth and flew to Delhi in a BJP-charted aircraft to negotiate with Shah.
Maharashtra decided to stand with 79-year-old Sharad Pawar of the NCP after he tackled an Enforcement Directorate notice - an election special - using old-fashioned political smarts. The doughty Maratha leader's viral picture addressing a public meeting in pouring rain in Satara became the defining image of the Maharashtra elections.
Pawar has won the grudge match against NCP defector and Shivaji Maharaj's descendant Udayanraje Bhosale, who had switched to the BJP before the elections.
Haryana saw the Jats clamber onto the Bhupinder Singh Hooda bandwagon. The political warhorse delivered, even though he was given charge of the party's campaign in September, after the Congress dithered for months over the removal of Ashok Tanwar, a Rahul Gandhi protégé, as state chief.
Hooda had to threaten a public rebellion for the party to finally act. Hooda and even Anand Sharma went public saying he should have been given charge earlier.
Senior Congress leaders said the Haryana Jats decided to support Hooda after Tanwar's abusive attack on him at an unprecedented protest outside interim Congress president Sonia Gandhi's residence in Delhi.
Have the Maharashtra and Haryana results made politics "normal again"?
They have certainly showed that local issues such as agrarian distress, the collapse of the Punjab and Maharashtra cooperative bank and the economic growth slump do matter to voters.
The BJP, whose slogan in Haryana was "abki baar 75 paar", is chasing MLAs after a hung assembly and Devendra Fadnavis, who will be Maharashtra Chief Minister again, will now have to contend with Aditya Thackeray and a resurgent Shiv Sena as partner. Uddhav Thackeray shot off a quick public reminder of the 50/50 formula that Shah had agreed to.
Shah's swagger, the aura of invincibility, the inevitability of a BJP win that he had so carefully cultivated, has certainly been dented. Yet, the BJP has held on to its two governments.
Opposition parties, mainly the Congress, are acting like winners, simply because they were not decimated as they had feared.
The Congress barely managed a campaign in Maharashtra, with its leaders publicly attacking each other. A BJP leader quipped, "Congress asli Ram bharose party thi Maharashtra mein."
Leaders like Hooda, Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, his Madhya Pradesh counterpart Kamal Nath, (won the Jhabua by-election) are a near-extinct and endangered breed in the Congress.
Team Sonia Gandhi is jubilant as it claims to have delivered political results. So its hold over the organisation will continue.
Rahul Gandhi's absence was another standout feature of these elections. The former Congress chief addressed barely seven rallies and did not even tweet a comment on the results. Yet, most leaders say he will be back as party president sooner rather than later, and there lies the real problem at the heart of the Congress decline - a leader who can't deliver and whose lack of appeal the BJP exploits.
Pawar drove home the fact that using central investigating agencies such as the Enforcement Directorate and the Central Bureau of Investigation has its limitations.
The strategy of taking in defectors en-masse, which Shah used in both the states, also missed the mark. Most defectors lost, including Alpesh Thakor, who was defeated in a by-election in Gujarat. The BJP cadres resented the newcomers.
Most opposition victories are short-lived these days, but the wise Indian voter has underlined that an effective opposition is a must.
(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)
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