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BJP’s crushing defeat gives Rahul’s party much-needed revival platform

The BJP’s morale-shattering defeat in the saffron bastions of Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh and its failure to reach the halfway mark in Madhya Pradesh has placed the Congress on a much-needed revival path and thrown the next year’s Lok Sabha contest wide open. The Congress’ success in the three crucial Hindi heartland States will also firmly establish the leadership of Rahul Gandhi and help him shed the numerous pejorative tags so often hurled on him by his critics. While Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan were smooth sail for the Congress, MP turned out to be a cliffhanger. The counting went well over 16 hours and the leads kept changing. In the end, the Congress virtually shattered Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s dream for a record fourth term by pushing the BJP to second spot in a hung House. Even as the Congress had either won or was leading in 114 seats, two short of majority, State Congress chief Kamal Nath wrote to the Governor at 10.30 pm, staking claim for forming a Government and claiming the backing of newly-elected independent MLAs. Governor Anandi Ben Patel told the Congress leaders that they will get an invite from the Raj Bhavan only after the Election Commission had declared the final result. At midnight, the Congress was ahead on 114 seats and the BJP on 110. Results of around half-a-dozen seats were still awaited. But the possibility of the Congress forming a Government looked bright since the Governor was bound to invite it fist to prove its majority, which it could do with the help of the independent MLAs. When Kamal Nath wrote to the Governor, around the same time, Prime Minister Narendra Modi came out with a series of tweets which virtually showed that he had accepted the defeat. The PM tweeted, “Victory and defeat are an integral part of life. Today’s results will further our resolve to serve people and work even harder for the development of India.” In another tweet, the Prime Minister said, “We accept the people’s mandate with humility. I thank the people of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan for giving us the opportunity to serve these States. The BJP Governments in these States worked tirelessly for the welfare of the people.” The final tally may not reflect the extent of the Congress gain. In both Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, the BJP had secured over 10 per cent more vote than the Congress in the 2013 Assembly polls. Bridging the gap and going ahead in such scenario is not an easy task unless there is a massive undercurrent against the ruling party. The results show that anti-incumbency — both against the State Governments and against the Centre worked decisively in favour of the Congress and helped it demolish the BJP’s strongholds. The setback will haunt the BJP like a dreadful nightmare in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls for more than one reason. To start with, in all the three States the “minorities” consisted of mere six to seven per cent vote, far below the percentage of the Muslim vote in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, etc. The outcome shows the success of Rahul’s pursuit of “soft Hindutva” as well the failure of the BJP in reviving the Hindu frenzy by raking up the issue of Ram temple in a big way. The Congress strategy was two-fold: Consolidate minority vote bank and make sure that the BJP does not succeed in polarising the Hindu vote in its favour. No surprise that while Congress leaders like Kamal Nath were caught in video tapes making downright “communal;” overture to the Muslims in Madhya Pradesh, the same party was also promising “gaushala” in every districts and “temple run” became the hallmark of Rahul’s election campaign. On its part, the BJP kept telling the voters that it was the only party committed to building grand Ram Temple at Ayodhya while its opponents were trying to scuttle the same. Prime Minister Narendra Modi bowled a googly when he referred as “fatwah” Rahul Gandhi’s innocuous remarks that the PM should think of the poor, the helpless, the unemployed youth, the farmers, etc, while invoking Bharat Mata Ki Jai in his rallies. The choice of word “fatwah” in a Rajasthan rally by the PM was clear sign of desperation to polarise the voters. Alas, it didn’t work! It was obvious that the issues of unemployment, the tragic legacy of demonetisation and GST, the plight of farmers, the anger among the upper caste voters, the disenchantment of the Dalits were such overwhelming “negatives” for the BJP that “Hinutava” chant failed to save the saffron outfit from the wrath of the disillusioned voters. With just five months to go for the Lok Sabha polls, the setback in these three crucial States will make the BJP’s task to return to the power at the Centre much more difficult. Together, the three States elect 65 MPs to the Lok Sabha. The BJP had won 61 of these seats by capturing all the 25 seats from Rajasthan, bagging 26 out of 29 seats from Madhya Pradesh, and 10 out of 11 seats from Chhattisgarh. Now that the party has been voted out of power in these three states, the BJP will face serious challenge in retaining its number, which could seriously jeopardise its chances of returning to power at the Centre. On the other hand, the Congress will be well-placed to capitalise on the momentum and try to increase its tally in a bid to meet its stated goal of winning nearly 125 seats in the Lok Sabha. The BJP leadership possesses no magical wand to address the anger of millions of unemployed youth in the remaining five months, but it will be expected to take serious steps to reach out to Dalits, tribals, upper castes, farmers, and business community, the last two were hit hard by note-bandi and GST. The outcome shows that both in tribal and Dalit belts the Congress has done far better than the BJP in all the three States. The same trend has been witnessed in case of the upper caste vote. A sizeable section of the upper caste voters in Madhya Pradesh shifted away from the BJP, according to preliminary analysis of the result. The upper caste voters were unhappy over the amendment to the schedule caste atrocity act and launched major Statewide movement against the BJP on this count. Nearly two lakhs NOTA votes are believed to have come from the upper caste voters. The setback will make BJP’s sulking Maharashtra ally Shiv Sena all the more emboldened when the two parties negotiate seat-sharing for the Lok Sabha polls. Even someone like Lok Jan Shakti party chief Ramvilas Paswan will now go for hard bargaining with the BJP to get at least six-seven seats in Bihar. The BJP has to worry on another major count. The fact that both Shivraj Singh Chauhan and Raman Singh had excellent track record in governance and yet they lost shows that they might have become victim of anti-incumbency against the Central Government. It’s obvious the Modi magic did not work in the three key States. This should give serious food for thought to the BJP, which heavily counts on the PM for its electoral successes. The semi-final of the Chowkidar vs Namdar contest has decisively gone in favor of the former, who among other weapons, aggressively used the Rafale ammunition to successfully attack his nemesis. Rahul and the Opposition will relax at their own peril after these victories. The Modi-Shah duo is capable of striking back. The month ahead is going to see the Modi Government unveiling a series of populist measures and the Congress-led Opposition taking steps to ensure one on one contest against the BJP in the Lok Sabha polls. Read more posts… Wednesday, 12 December 2018 | Navin Upadhyay | New Delhi

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