Assembly Election Results: Sticking with Hindutva politics and not local issues cost BJP Chhattisgarh, MP and Rajasthan

The results of the Assembly elections indicate that people were hankering for what the BJP has been unable to digest and remains in denial about — a change in government. The Congress forming government in three of the five states that went to polls in the past month — albeit by a narrow margin in one — can be considered a sign the BJP must not ignore going into 2019. That people are growing tired of its repetitive narrative harping on about its Hindutva agenda and the promise to build a Ram Temple in Ayodhya is now clear.

In the five states where elections were held between 12 November and 7 December, the error the BJP made was to focus primarily on these subjects that are considered of "national" importance, and not ones that plagued the states over the years. It didn't help that the saffron front didn't fulfil a lot of the promises it made before the last elections, leaving angry voters to fend for themselves.

File image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah. AFP

File image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah. AFP

For instance, in development-oriented Chhattisgarh, where 75 percent of the population is in the agrarian sector, the subjects BJP leaders, including Modi and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, focussed on did not resonate with voters. At a rally in the state, Modi accused the Congress of being in cahoots with "Urban Naxals", a term one would not expect a farmers in a remote corner of Chhattisgarh to be familiar with.

Similarly, it was a bad move by the BJP to peddle claims that it had done more for tribals and farmers during its term than the Congress had ever done, when the ground reality was far from it. The farmers that BJP leaders addressed at rallies in Chhattisgarh were aware that the BJP had neither raised the Minimum Support Price for paddy — the principal crop grown in the state, from Rs 1,750 — nor provided adequate facilities for irrigation in regions that required them. The saffron party also underestimated the impact the Congress' promise to waive farmers' loans would have in all the three states where has been been dethroned.

The Adivasi population, too, was aware of the neglect it faced from the BJP government in Chhattisgarh, aware that the Raman Singh administration had made a mockery of the Forest Rights Act and handed over protected forestland for commercial exploitation.

Furthermore, Raman Singh, who lost his bid for a fourth term in the Chief Minister's Office, had declared in August that "Naxalism was on its last legs" in Chhattisgarh. However, the latest attacks by Naxals in the state's Dantewada region — one in Aranpur and the other in Bacheli — claimed nine lives altogether, once again removing the smokescreen the BJP seems to always be trying to throw between facts and its claims.

Add to these the lack of jobs in the state and the growing discontent among the educated youth, who were forced to work as daily-wage labourers, a BJP trouncing was in store from the beginning. This growing unrest, clubbed with the agrarian crisis, the ever-present Naxal threat and tribal woes, overshadowed Raman Singh's efforts to bring about development in the state, including improving its infrastructure.

Along similar lines, voters are ostensibly still bewildered by the BJP's choice to field Adityanath as one of the star campaigners in Telangana, where he has no influence whatsoever. Here, too, the Hindu hardliner stuck to his chants of "Ram Mandir banayenge" (we'll build a Ram Temple) and the promise to continue with his renaming spree. At rallies in Karimnagar and Nizamabad districts, Adityanath had announced that the BJP will rename Karimnagar "Karipuram" and Hyderabad “Bhagyanagar” if voted to power in Telangana. Only the yogi knows what prompted him to believe voters wanted these rechristenings, instead of loan waivers, jobs and investment support in farming.

In Rajasthan, the BJP nearly didn't stand a chance from the get-go. Vasundhara Raje's growing unpopularity — both among the state party leadership as well as the public — worked against the party from the beginning. This sentiment of anti-incumbency, the view that the state didn't see the development it was promised in the past five years led to the party's downfall, along with Rajasthan Congress chief Sachin Pilot's rising clout and apparent credibility.

Although Shivraj Singh Chouhan didn't face any such unpopularity issues in Madhya Pradesh, his leaning towards reservation — in view of the Supreme Court's judgment diluting the Scheduled Case/Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act — had upper caste communities perturbed. The killing of farmers in police firing in Mandsaur did not help turn the table in the BJP's favour in the slightest.

Party strategists believe that the results won't have an impact on the BJP's 2019 prospects as Assembly elections don't matter much on the national platform and are fought primarily on local issues. Why, then, did the BJP adopt its usual Hindutva stance during campaigns in these states instead of focussing on creating jobs, improving the condition of farmers and other such matters that truly concerned voters?

This faux pas is what could cost the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections next year.

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Updated Date: Dec 12, 2018 16:19:46 IST

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