Congress victories should not dishearten BJP; history shows 2019 polls likely to be a different ball game

Way back in March 1998, the National Democratic Alliance government under the leadership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee was sworn in at the Centre. The BJP won 182 Lok Sabha seats, a tremendous achievement (by then standards). The Congress was down to 141.

By end of that year, Assembly elections were held in Delhi, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. The BJP was routed. The Congress scored massive victories, snatching Delhi and Rajasthan from the BJP and Djivijaya Singh triumphantly returned to power for a second term in undivided Madhya Pradesh.

 Congress victories should not dishearten BJP; history shows 2019 polls likely to be a different ball game

File image of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. AFP

Four months later, in April 1999, the Vajpayee government fell by one vote. Fresh parliamentary elections followed. The BJP under Vajpayee was back in power at the Centre, winning all seven seats from Delhi and performing well in the Hindi heartland.

In early 2004, the BJP leadership (Vajpayee and Advani) dissolved Lok Sabha and advanced parliamentary elections by five months because in December 2003 it swept polls in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh (created in November 2000 after bifurcation of Madhya Pradesh). They thought results of these Hindi heartland states reflected the general buoyancy in the mood for the Vajpayee government and the BJP and thus an early parliamentary election would help them easily return to power. However, the BJP lost.

Turn to December 2013, the BJP, the prime contender for power in New Delhi, lost the Assembly election to a newly founded Aam Aadmi Party, but won all seven Lok Sabha seats in April-May 2014 parliamentary elections.

Beyond a doubt, 11 December, 2018, will go down as an important date in the Indian political calendar: the day the Congress snatched power from the BJP in three Hindi heartland states. It is a big moment for the Congress — and an undoubtedly joyous one — and its president Rahul Gandhi, who tasted success after a string of failures.

But past experience suggests it would be erroneous to jump to conclusions as to what might happen in 2019. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s political rivals and critics see Tuesday’s verdict as a precursor to what they think could happen next year. Several reports have predicted a loss of seats for the BJP. But what the prognosticators fail to consider, perhaps conveniently, is that each election is different, with a different kind of arithmetic and chemistry.

Consider the results of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Telangana and the percentage of votes major parties received:

The Madhya Pradesh House is basically hung, with the Congress emerging as the single largest party with 114 seats, but falling two short of the majority mark. The BJP is a close second with 109 seats. Ironically, the BJP secured more votes than the Congress: the saffron party received 15,642,980 votes and a 41 percent vote share while the Congress got 15,595,153 votes with 40.9 percent vote share. After being in power for three terms, it was a commendable performance by Shivraj Singh Chouhan, BJP workers and leaders.

Rajasthan again is a Hung House, Congress as the single largest party with 99 seats with two short of majority. The BJP won 73 seats. The difference between Congress and the BJP is only .50 percent. The Congress got 39.3 percent and BJP received 38.8 percent of vote. In Chhattisgarh, Congress won in a landslide.

Thus, for the BJP, results are not as bad as they looked at first glance. Madhya Pradesh has 25 Lok Sabha seats, Rajasthan 25, and Chhattisgarh 11.

Another important state which went to the polls in South India was Telangana. Some opinion polls predicted that Congress-TDP-Left coalition would give a tough fight to ruling TRS and may derail Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao, but Tuesday's results showed a remarkable victory for KCR-led TRS. The party won 88 of 119 seats that went to the polls. Its poll percentage was 46.9, way ahead of Congress’s 28.4 percent. Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP only won two seats.

There is speculation, informed or otherwise, of a tacit understanding between BJP and TRS for a post-poll alliance. The Telangana Assembly result puts the new friendship between Rahul and Chandrababu under stress. It remains to be seen whether they go to parliamentary polls as allies or separate in fewer than six months.

Updated Date: Dec 12, 2018 19:20:16 IST