Rajasthan Shock Wave For BJP Leaves Its MPs Elsewhere Worried

Published: February 03, 2018 12:39 IST
The first day of February in Delhi brought with it the first hint of spring as well as the Union Budget, and a flurry of crucial by-election reverses that raise serious questions about the electoral health of the BJP. That the counting day for the by-elections happened to coincide with the Budget was I'm sure nothing but an innocent coincidence. After all, why would the Election Commission, an independent constitutional authority meant to safeguard our democratic processes, want to help the ruling party of the day bury the news of significant electoral losses in the media maelstrom that customarily accompanies the Budget? Why indeed?

There were by-elections for two Lok Sabha seats and one assembly seat in Rajasthan, all BJP-held seats. In the Alwar Lok Sabha constituency, the Congress won the seat with a margin of nearly 2 lakh votes, overturning a large BJP majority of 2.83 lakh. In the Ajmer Lok Sabha constituency, the Congress won the seat with a margin of over 84,000 votes overturning a comfortable BJP majority of 1.7 lakhs. Most extraordinary of all was the Mandalgarh assembly seat, where the Congress candidate won by nearly 13,000 votes despite a Congress rebel taking away a whopping 23% of the vote. The Congress won 58% of the vote in Alwar, 52% in Ajmer, and would have conceivably won a similar vote-share in Mandalgarh had there not been a Congress rebel in the field. What's more, the Congress ran ahead in all 17 assembly segments that voted, with the Lok Sabha constituencies representing eight segments each, which represent 8.5% of the 200-seat strong state assembly. There was a tectonic swing in the vote-share of more than 15%. The fundamental reversal of fortune in terms of the vote and seeing it as an augury of the BJP's future electoral prospects are beyond argument.

Many in the media are trying to portray this decisive verdict against the BJP in Rajasthan as solely a reflection of Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia's poor performance, and to a considerable extent, it is a fair assessment. But any Lok Sabha by-election, especially when the ruling party holds the seat with large majorities, is by default a referendum on the central government as well. And BJP leaders may not admit this in public, but in private, they are definitely worried, if not panicked. What was the Budget if not a desperate attempt to assuage the widespread anger prevalent in rural India, so much so the PM felt the need to give a second Budget speech outside the parliament just in case we had not gotten the message already?

Rajasthan is not only a large and electorally important state, it is also where the BJP swept all 25 Lok Sabha seats in the Modi wave of 2014 that traversed north and west India, the "north-west monsoon" as Rajdeep Sardesai famously described it. The by-election result comes after a highly polarised campaign with the controversy around "Padmaavat" dominating the conversation, but also the lynching of Pehlu Khan by cow vigilantes looming like a spectre in the background. The BJP candidate in Alwar was also accused of making overt comments that put the Hindu-Muslim issue front and centre.

That the voters firmly rejected this poisonous manner of campaigning should be a lesson to the Modi Government that the only thing that can save them in the coming general election is pure performance and not divisive agendas designed to distract from the main issue of governance or lack thereof. However, I won't hold my breath for this moment of enlightenment.

There was a consolation of sorts in the West Bengal by-elections for the BJP, leap-frogging to a distant but vastly improved second to the electoral behemoth that is Trinamool Congress. In the Uluberia Lok Sabha constituency, the Trinamool held their seat with a staggering victory margin of 4.74 lakhs. In the Noapara assembly seat, the Trinamool snatched this Congress-held seat with an impressive victory margin of a little over 63,000 votes. The BJP's vote-share did improve, but so did the Trinamool's with its dominance ever more evident and it looking ever more likely to sweep the state in the general election despite the BJP's best efforts.

The CPM vote-share seems in freefall and the Congress footprint in the state continues to contract. With the CPM rejecting any talk of an alliance with the Congress, the latter may have no choice but to go hat in hand and be satisfied with whatever seat-sharing alliance Didi deigns to offer them.

The Budget may have succeeding in diverting the spotlight from the by-election result in the media, but in the minds of BJP MPs, it hit home like an electric shock. It is assumed that the PM and Amit Shah will replicate their strategy, tried and tested in Gujarat, to ward off anti-incumbency by replacing a large percentage of sitting MPs with new candidates. There is a sense of foreboding within the BJP parliamentary party, oscillating between fear of facing the axe from their leaders before the election and, surviving that, the fear from ominous electoral precursors signalling a tough fight ahead.

Budget Day ended with the general consternation that major announcements like the much-vaunted new healthcare plan, predictably christened ModiCare, and the increase in Minimum Support Price for crops had been presented with almost no details about how they would work on the ground and how they would be paid for; these and other questions put by journalists and experts to North Block mandarins were left largely unanswered. It was reminiscent of what followed demonetization and the GST roll-out.

A complete disregard for the finer intricacies of competent administration in exchange for an obsession for flashy and fleeting publicity could ultimately  be what decides the fate of the Modi Government. The voters of Rajasthan may well have already given us a preview of the general election to come.

(Krishan Partap Singh is a novelist and a member of the Aam Aadmi Party.)

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.

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