Is divisive agenda to blame for the defeat of India’s Modi in crucial states?

Manoj Chaurasia
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Everyone was expecting a setback for Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), but surely not to this extent.

Coming just ahead of the next parliamentary elections due early next year, the party’s defeat in elections to three key states – Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh – has come as a huge setback to the ruling regime.

And, very obviously, this is set to directly impact the ruling national coalition, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), which the PM heads in the upcoming general elections.

The result is being described by some as the personal defeat of the Prime Minister since he had led the poll campaigns in all these three states, widely projected as “semi final” to the next Lok Sabha (lower house of parliament) polls in 2019.

ALSO READ: India’s Modi concedes defeat in key state elections

The three states where the BJP has lost an equivalent of 65 Lok Sabha seats, and in the last 2014 LS polls, it had made a virtual clean sweep by winning 62 seats there. The level of Modi wave at that time is underlined by the fact that the BJP had won 25 out of 25 in Rajasthan, 27 out of 29 in Madhya Pradesh and 10 out of 11 in Chhattisgarh.

The defeat of the party in its stronghold is thus bound to cause demoralization in the BJP camp which impact will be seen in days to come.

Also, this was for the first time since Modi came to power in New Delhi that the BJP has lost three key Hindi-speaking states all at a time which has come as a morale booster for the Rahul Gandhi-led opposition Congress party. This has also made it clear that Modi is not “invincible” anymore!

Divisive agenda

For the past few months, the BJP had been raking afresh the issue of Ram temple apparently to polarize the majority Hindu voters and if the defeat is any indication, their idea has flopped badly.

That means the BJP is required to rework its poll strategy without any delay and focus on the issues concerning the common men, instead of raising the emotive issues.

What is further alarming for the BJP is that the allies have gone on slowly dumping the NDA, irked at their raw deal and BJP failure to fulfill the commitments it had made to the voters ahead of last Lok Sabha polls.

ALSO READ: Modi storms to historic Indian election victory

In the past few months, as many as 11 allies have quit the NDA – the latest being Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) headed by Upendra Kushwaha who was a junior Human Resources Development Minister in the Modi cabinet.

The OTHER nine parties which pulled out of the NDA include Hindustani Awam Morcha, Telugu Desam Party (TDP), Haryana Janhit Congress, Swabhimani Shetkari Saghtana, Nagaland People’s Front, Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, Jansena Party, Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhgam.

According to reports, parties such as Pattali Makkal Katchi and Janadhipathya Rashtriya Sabha are indicating their level of desperation while the Shiv Sena led by Uddhav Thackeray is on the verge of dumping the NDA.

A bust placard of Congress President Rahul Gandhi is seen through a shower of rose petals as party supporters celebrate in New Delhi on December 11, 2018. (AFP)
A bust placard of Congress President Rahul Gandhi is seen through a shower of rose petals as party supporters celebrate in New Delhi on December 11, 2018. (AFP)

Caste equations

Upendra Kushwaha, a prominent backward leader from the state of Bihar, pulled out of NDA on Monday and his exit is set to deal a severe blow to the coalition in the coming elections.

Experts say continuation of Kushwaha with the ruling alliance could have fetched a significant percentage of backward class votes for the BJP, which primarily banks on the support of upper castes.

Also, Kushwaha enjoyed a clean image and had raised the most pertinent issue of reforms in the education sector which concerned all communities. His resignation is set further damage the BJP in the coming polls.

Kushwaha alleges that the Prime Minister didn’t come clean on people’s expectations and failed to fulfill any of pre-poll promises that he made to the voters in the run up to the 2014 elections. His criticism appears genuine to a large extent.

ALSO READ: All hues of Saffron to dominate 2019 elections in India

During his extensive poll campaign in the last election, Modi had promised to grant special financial package of Rs500 billion and special status to Bihar, which is lagging behind in the matter of development index. Both his promises remain unfulfilled till date.

But it is not just the allies who look at things this way. “The Prime Minister had also promised to bring black money stashed away in foreign banks and credit Rs1.5 million in the bank account of each Indian citizen but he never even discussed the issue in public once coming to power,” a political analyst told Al Arabiya English.

According to the analyst, his promise of providing 20 million jobs too proved worthless; “Instead he imposed demonatization which led to the shutting down of many industries, leaving many unemployed,” he says. All these factors, according to them, will combine to deal a severe blow to the NDA in the coming polls.

India’s GOP

Another important factor that is being talked about is that victory has suddenly galvanized the Congress party headed by Rahul Gandhi who was being treated with disdain by the rival camp.

The Grand Old Party (GOP) had looked like a demoralized force after a series of defeats at the hands of the BJP in the past four years. Also no one was taking Rahul seriously but this victory suggests that the masses have begun to slowly pay attention to him and the issues he has been raising, which could prove crucial.

The way Rahul took the questions from the media persons and answered them with confidence on Tuesday indicates he has come of age and is mature enough to lead the party and a coalition that is in the making to take on Modi’s BJP.

ALSO READ: Pitch for Ram Temple in India gets shrill as 2019 polls approach

While the BJP leadership kept focused on raising the issues of Ram temple, revealing the caste of deity Hanuman and promising to change the name of Indian cities bearing Muslim names, Rahul was seen raising issues of farmers, poverty, corruption and rising unemployment among youth which went down well among the common men.

“The people are no longer ready to pay attention to unproductive issues and the defeat of the BJP in three states only says this,” says political scientist Sachindra Narayan.

By “unproductive issues” he means issues like Ram temple and changing names of cities in which the common men are least interested. Modi’s BJP, however, brought them center stage hoping to reap dividends.

But it was this divisive agenda that seems to have caused this embarrassing defeat so close to the general elections.

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