Assembly Elections 2018: Why BJP’s Loss is Not Congress’s Gain

Politics

Assembly Elections 2018: Why BJP’s Loss is Not Congress’s Gain

Illustration: Akshita Monga

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fter a long, long time, the Congress party symbol looks like it’s asking for a high five instead of signalling for the BJP to halt its onward charge. The date December 11, 2018 is going to be remembered by Congress faithful as the day the BJP’s vision of a Congress-mukt Bharat was dealt a deadly blow by the electorate. Of the five state elections being declared on this day, managing to win Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, and significantly bloodying the ruling BJP’s nose in Madhya Pradesh, all in the BJP’s Hindi heartland backyard, proves that you can teach a Grand Old Party new tricks.

Whether those tricks are anything to be proud of however, is another question entirely.

Even as the results of these polls appear encouraging for the Congress on the surface, the truth is that they reaped the incidental benefit of being one of the two largest parties on the political stage. More than a Congress victory, this round of state assembly elections will be remembered as a BJP loss. Despite the CBI clean chit, Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s name being dragged through the mud in association with the Vyapam scam came back to haunt the BJP in its stronghold, as did Rajasthan CM Vasundhara Raje’s disastrous tenure marked by unemployment and sectarian violence. On a national level, bad press for the party due to the Rafale scam and a listless economy will have contributed to a drop in support for BJP before the votes were cast. An overreliance on UP CM Adityanath as star campaigner outside his home state – a square peg for a round hole if there ever was one – proved to be a flawed strategy. The BJP is entirely responsible for the uncomfortable bed it finds itself in today.

This year’s state assembly elections can be viewed as a weather-vane, to judge which way the wind will blow come 2019.

As the Congress goes into celebration mode, it would do well to realise that to treat today’s results as a triumph would be equivalent to a beauty pageant runner-up celebrating being given the crown because the winner was disqualified for bad behaviour. Rather than expressing faith in Congress as an alternative, most voters have voted against BJP; this election was marked by anti-incumbency and the ruling party’s failure to create jobs. Let’s also remember that the Congress has also failed to offer a clear alternative to the BJP’s Hindutva agenda — if anything, Congress in 2018 is BJP minus cow vigilantism. Over the last year, Rahul Gandhi made a public show of his temple visits and declared his gotra openly. By toying with the idea of turning into BJP-lite in the run-up to this election, the Congress inflicted an ideological defeat upon itself.

Another question that will rear its head for the Congress once the endorphin rush of victory has worn off, is who will lead the government in the states where they have won. In Rajasthan, there’s two options in Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot, while in MP, should the Congress form the government, there is likely to be a heat between Jyotiraditya Scindia, Kamal Nath, and former CM Digvijay Singh. For all its claims of having risen above its history of being a one-family party, it still seems like the surname Gandhi is the only certain route to a powerful seat in the Congress establishment. This lack of clarity in the power structure might still prove to be their Achilles’ Heel during next year’s Lok Sabha election, because Rahul Gandhi is still viewed as a joke candidate for PM by many, despite the significant personal growth he has made over the last few election cycles.

Despite the significant personal growth he has made over the last few election cycles, Rahul Gandhi is still viewed as a joke candidate for PM by many.

Mujeeb Faruqui/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

This year’s state assembly elections can be viewed as a weather-vane, to judge which way the wind will blow come 2019. All parties are going to be using this occasion to take stock of where they stand, and how to improve their position next year. For BJP, they have to wake up to the reality that the brand of mandir politics they’re currently employing is not capturing the public’s imagination the way they would have hoped. The Congress on the other hand, is going to have to come up with a clearer strategy than merely relying on anti-incumbency and Modi’s tepid showing as PM. Modi’s cult of personality, though waning, is still strong.

For the Opposition, whose prospects looked so bleak in 2014, yesterday was a happy twist in the tale. Luckily for the BJP though, picture abhi baaki hai mere dost.

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