With Assembly polls in eight states, 2018 was the year of elections. It was the year of constant campaigning by political bigwigs, sloganeering and ground-level lobbying by party workers and a back and forth of accusations. Now that the last of the Vidhan Sabha elections are over and results of the polls in Rajasthan, Telangana, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Mizoram declared, a political blame game is expected, but none against the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, of course.
"Frankly, Narendra Modi taught me the lesson — what not to do," Congress president Rahul Gandhi said on Tuesday evening after his party won a clear majority in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh and was leading in Madhya Pradesh. "PM Modi was handed a huge opportunity. It is a sad thing that he refused to listen to the heartbeat of the country. The arrogance came in."
It's not surprising for Rahul to make such a remark (though it's refreshing to hear something other than his go-to "chowkidaar chor hain") — the Congress chief has been largely credited for the party's campaigns and subsequent victories in the Assembly elections. But what's plenty loud in its silence is the BJP's lack of comment on whom to blame for its losses, or poor performance, in states considered key ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Evident among this is leaders steering clear of any sort of criticism of any colleague in any of the states that went to polls in the past month, especially Modi. This is even more conspicuous on Tuesday as the BJP and its leaders have always been quick to credit Modi and his rallies in poll-bound states for even the most marginal victories.
'Modi's guidance reason for election victory'
Earlier this year, there were elections in Tripura, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Karnataka. Soon after the results were declared in Tripura, the BJP formed the government in alliance with the Indigenous People's Front of Tripura (IPFT). Although there was less than a fraction of a difference in votes between the BJP and CPM, which had ruled the northeastern state for over two decades, the saffron party had ascribed the victory to Modi.
BJP general secretary Ram Madhav had said: "The prime minister had addressed four rallies in Tripura. He had worked very hard and continuously monitored our campaigning. The credit must go to him."
Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath had also said that Modi's popularity, along with the people's trust in the BJP to bring about growth and good governance, would ensure the party's win in Tripura. The BJP did not fail to reiterate this point after the results were declared.
The Meghalaya elections resulted in a Hung Assembly, with neither the Congress nor the National People's Party (NPP) winning a clear majority. The NPP ultimately formed the government with allies, including the United Democratic Front and two BJP legislators. Here, too, the BJP credited the "Modi wave" for its best performance ever in this northeastern state — two seats — and moving a step forward in its campaign to ensure a "Congress-mukt North East".
In this Christian-majority state, Modi had tweaked his usual "Hindutva" campaign to project that the BJP was not anti-Christian and had not "remained a silent spectator when Christian missionaries and minority workers were terrorised in conflict zones", referring to rescue of 46 Indian nurses from Iraq.
In the third northeastern state that went to polls earlier this year, Nagaland, the BJP saw its biggest jump in seats — from one in 2013 to 20 this year. It ultimately went on to form the government in alliance with the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP), dethroning the Congress.
All praises from BJP chief ministers
Soon after the results for the three northeastern states were announced, the chief ministers of BJP-ruled states gave the credit for the party's performance to Modi and his policies. "The party is achieving historical success in Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya under the able leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and I want to congratulate all party workers, PM Modi and party president Amit Shah," Adityanath had said.
Uttar Pradesh BJP chief Mahendra Nath Pandey had also attributed the BJP's performance in the North East to the prime minister and Shah while Uttarakhand chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat, Himachal Pradesh chief minister Jai Ram Thakur and other state BJP leaders congratulated Modi for the BJP's poll victory in Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland, calling it a "triumph of Modi's agenda of development".
In the run-up to the Karnataka elections on 12 May, Modi held 17 rallies — a clear indicator that the BJP was banking on his oratorical skills to sway voters in the party's favour. Although this did play out for the party, where it won 104 seats, though with a smaller share of the votes than the Congress, it was the Grand Old Party that pulled a BJP and formed the government in the state with the Janata Dal (Secular). But in Karnataka, too, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman credited Modi with the party's performance.
Even earlier, after the BJP clinched Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand after the Assembly elections in 2017, the party gave Modi the credit for its victories. BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya said, "Modi's slogan of sabka saath, sabka vikas triumphed as people rejected the caste-based politics of the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party."
Replicating strategy to depend on Modi's rallies backfires
Now on to the five most recent elections. Rajasthan, Telangana, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Mizoram went to the polls days apart between 12 November and 7 December. The final results were declared on the morning of 12 December, when counting of votes concluded in Madhya Pradesh after over 24 hours.
The Congress is set to form the government in three of these five states — Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan — while the Telangana Rashtra Samithi and Mizoram National Front won their respective states. The BJP was trounced in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan and lost in a close contest in Madhya Pradesh. It is in this state that no one blamed the party top brass although former chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan took responsibility for the defeat. In Chhattisgarh, Raman Singh, who, "as the chief minister", took responsibility for the BJP's loss in Chhattisgarh.
The saffron front had fielded numerous star campaigners in all five states throughout the election season, including Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Road Transport Minister Nitin Gadhkari. But once again, it relied on Modi's influence as the prime minister to swing the results in its favour.
The prime minister addressed four rallies each in Chhattisgarh and Telangana, 10 each in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh — shunting between the two states constantly between 25 November and 5 December — and at least three in Mizoram. His high-intensity campaigns primarily focussed on accusing the Nehru-Gandhi family of decades of corruption as well as the BJP's usual Hindutva-leaning goals. Not a lot of this resonated with voters, especially in Chhattisgarh, where the local issues of Naxal threats and the agrarian crisis matter far more than whether a Ram temple would be built in Ayodhya.
In Rajasthan, party strategists were aware of Vasundhara Raje's unpopularity, because of which, they tried to rely on Modi's appeal, at least among BJP voters, to ward off the anti-incumbency sentiments against her. "We expect a massive change in the mood once the prime minister is here," a senior BJP functionary in Rajasthan had said before Modi's rallies began.
But that's not how things turned out.
BJP shaken, but in denial
In 2013, Raje was quick to thank Modi for the win, saying he was a "huge "contributor to their success and "his shadow and guidance was of prime importance". This time around, there has been no word from Raje or any other BJP leader, besides thanking the party central leadership for guidance and party workers.
So far, there have only been non-answers from senior BJP leaders when asked about the defeat in the Assembly elections. Remarks by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Home Minister Rajnath Singh lacked modesty, with both choosing to shift the focus away from the "Modi government". Rajnath said the results were not a reflection of the Modi government's performance while Jaitley rejected the contention that the results were "a reflection on any individual".
In his congratulatory message on Twitter, BJP president Amit Shah very glaringly left out the Congress. "Congratulations to Shri K Chandrashekar Rao ji and the TRS for the impressive victory in the Telangana Assembly elections" is all he said in his Twitter post.
There is also no word from Adityanath — one of the BJP's star campaigners in all five states — on the party's losses even though the prime minister himself accepted the BJP's defeats "with humility". "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," Modi said on Tuesday evening. However, neither the prime minister himself took responsibility for the defeats nor did anyone in the party dare to blame him or BJP president Amit Shah for the fiasco.
Besides Raman Singh, none of the party top brass seems willing to take the blame for the BJP's abysmal loss in the Assembly elections, even though they were quick to claim credit whenever they won. Shah's refusal to congratulate the Congress for its resounding wins reeks of a certain degree of arrogance. These two aspects along with the fact that the BJP refers to its victories as a referendum of Modi's credibility but rejects such claims after losses — as Jaitley and Rajnath did — go to show that the BJP's supposed "humility" is far from that and these Assembly election losses were anything but what it had expected.
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Updated Date: Dec 12, 2018 13:37 PM