Maharashtra, Haryana Assembly election results show BJP has done well, spurious narrative-makers have suffered setback
To see Maharashtra and Haryana election results as a 'punishment' for the BJP when the saffron unit emerged as the single-largest party in both the states and is set to retain power in both defying the iron rule of anti-incumbency in Indian politics is to deliberately misread the verdict and interpret it through the prism of confirmation bias
A day after results in Maharashtra and Haryana, emergent narrative is that the voters have 'taught BJP a lesson' and Prime Minister Narendra Modi's 'halo has dimmed', apparently because people are angry and upset with the BJP's 'mismanagement of the economy, joblessness' and 'arrogance'
To see in the verdict as a 'punishment' for the BJP when the saffron unit emerged as the single-largest party in both the states and is set to retain power in both defying the iron rule of anti-incumbency in Indian politics is to deliberately misread the verdict and interpret it through the prism of confirmation bias
For days, one read, saw and heard 'in media' that the saffron unit will demolish the Opposition because there is apparently no Opposition. One didn't hear any BJP leader, big or small, making this statement
The overwhelming mandate that the Modi-led BJP had received during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections not only demoralised the Opposition but also convinced the media and the commentariat of BJP's 'invincibility'
The vote share has reduced to 25.75 percent from 28 percent five years ago â�� chiefly due to reverses in Vidarbha and Marathwada regions â�� but it is also to be noted that Fadnavis became only the second chief minister to complete a full term of five years after Vasantrao Naik and the first chief minister in 47 years to do so
The day after Assembly election results in Maharashtra and Haryana, it seems as if the BJP has suffered a severe setback. The emergent narrative among the Opposition and a section of media is one of schadenfreude. One is being told that voters have "taught BJP a lesson" and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s "halo has dimmed", apparently because people are angry and upset with the BJP’s "mismanagement of the economy, joblessness" and "arrogance". Just a day before the results, the media and exit polls were predicting a clean sweep for the BJP in both the states. Wisdom is in hindsight.
For those who didn’t get the memo, a dose of reality is in order. The BJP is set to form governments in both Maharashtra and Haryana, and contrary to the emerging narrative, the reality is that the party has done well in holding on to power in two crucial states and even increasing its vote share in one.
There’s always a danger, in the immediate aftermath of elections, to analyse the results and look for strands that may make sense of the larger picture. The danger lies in the fact that proximity often interferes with reality, and one needs a bit of distance and time to get a better perspective.
The BJP went into the Maharashtra and Haryana Assembly elections as the incumbent. For days, one read, saw and heard 'in media' that the saffron unit will demolish the Opposition because there is apparently no Opposition. One didn’t hear any BJP leader, big or small, making this statement. BJP’s top leadership was confident — because one doesn’t deserve to be fighting elections unless they are confident of victory — but when it came to work ethics (strategising, connecting, organising and campaigning for the elections) neither Modi, nor party president Amit Shah, senior ministers, incumbent chief ministers or other leaders and their footsoldiers, were found wanting.
The BJP’s election machinery was as efficient as ever. Leaders put in the hard yards, connected with the people, made tactical alliances and set targets for the party to achieve in coordination with mid-level and grassroots workers as a well-oiled unit. That is how the BJP functions (at least in the Modi-Shah era) and there was no reason for anyone to do anything different. Modi and his generals in the party remain rooted to the ground and it is misleading to suggest that they would have missed the pulse of the people.
What may have happened, in effect, was that the overwhelming mandate that the Modi-led BJP had received during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections not only demoralised the Opposition but also convinced the media and the commentariat of BJP’s 'invincibility'. It may have even raised unrealistic expectations within the party.
A combined effect of these factors resulted in huge hype and a narrative that convinced even seasoned commentators that BJP’s win is a fait accompli. Writing in The Print, political analyst and Swaraj India party chief Yogendra Yadav predicted: “You don’t need to waste Thursday morning watching the counting of votes for Haryana and Maharashtra. The result is as good as known.”
To this hype was added the exit poll forecasts that foresaw a clean sweep for the BJP and total annihilation of the Opposition. Leave alone the pundits in the studios looking at the exit poll forecasts, even alliance partners NCP and Congress started blaming each other — before the actual results were out.
In the run-up to the Assembly elections, the BJP had welcomed a number of turncoats from Opposition parties both in Maharashtra and Haryana. This added to the impression that Opposition’s ship is sinking and that the stage was set for a stunning demolition job by the BJP. The Opposition was expected to just roll over and die.
It is important to stress, once again, that this entire narrative was a combination of factors that can hardly be laid at the BJP’s door, so when the actual results belied the expectations of those who believed in their own narrative, it is disingenuous to suggest that the BJP was done in due to its "underperformance" and "arrogance". The BJP did not suffer a setback. The results, quite clearly, are a setback for those who believed in their own narrative that had nothing to do with reality.
The voters have delivered a verdict as all voters do in a true democracy. The results are nuanced, multi-faceted and even chaotic and messy. But to see in the verdict as a "punishment" for the BJP when the saffron unit emerged as the single-largest party in both the states and is set to retain power in both defying the iron rule of anti-incumbency in Indian politics is to deliberately misread the verdict and interpret it through the prism of confirmation bias.
In The Indian Express, Pratap Bhanu Mehta writes, "The election gives a small, but important reprieve against the BJP’s arrogance and their consolidation of power... The Opposition can take some heart from the fact that there is political space for them to exploit. But this political space can only grow and have a multiplier if there is more smart and credible coordination amongst all Opposition groups that converts a protest vote into an alternative economic and ideological narrative."
One wonders whether the writer considers winning elections in a democracy a “consolidation of power”. If that is the metric, then indeed the BJP is guilty but then it would suggest that all parties seek consolidation of power but only the BJP succeeds, presumably because the people trust the party and its leadership to deliver. More likely, however, such sentiments are expressed when the vox populi deliver verdicts that are not to the elitists' liking. The rationalisation of personal dissatisfaction then takes curious twists and turns. What we see in Mehta, a public intellectual and a liberal, is little else then elitist contempt for democracy.
It is also preposterous to suggest that Opposition can take “heart” from the results. In Maharashtra, a state where the Congress has long enjoyed power, the party slipped to the fourth spot. There might be a temptation among Opposition and a section of the commentariat to see BJP’s reduced numbers as a proof of the party’s waning fortunes, but Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis isn’t far from the truth to point out that the 122 seats that the BJP had bagged in 2014 had a strike rate of 47 percent, whereas wins in 102 out of the 164 seats that it contested this time (partner Shiv Sena had the rest) gave it a strike rate of 70 percent. The vote share has reduced to 25.75 percent from 28 percent five years ago — chiefly due to reverses in Vidarbha and Marathwada regions — but it is also to be noted that Fadnavis became only the second chief minister to complete a full term of five years after Vasantrao Naik and the first chief minister in 47 years to do so.
Similarly, in Haryana, where anti-incumbency has always played a big role, the BJP is within striking distance of forming a government after finishing with 40 seats, six short of the magic figure. It is also important to note, however, that the BJP's performance hasn't been in line with its own expectations. The party had set a target of 144 in Maharashtra and 75 in Haryana. That it couldn’t reach those figures owes to a lot of convergent factors that would be analysed threadbare. Off the cuff, it is evident that "rebel" party leaders in both states played a crucial role in hampering BJP’s chances. Most of these are party faithful, leaders with deep mass connect who wanted to retain their tickets but became disgruntled at BJP’s strategy of accommodating turncoats.
That this could harm the BJP had been discussed but not wide enough to be taken into consideration. In most cases, the rebels either won as Independents or spoiled the BJP’s plan by eating into votes and letting a third candidate win. In Haryana, for instance, sitting BJP MLA Randhir Kapri fought as an Independent from Rewari, and queered the pitch of BJP candidate Sunil Musepur. The seat went to Congress. In Dadri, Haryana, BJP ‘rebel’ Sombir won as an Independent and BJP’s Babita Pohgat bit the dust.
Fadnavis admitted this reality in Maharashtra. He said that the BJP "could not contain this (rebel factor)” but claimed that “almost 15 rebels who have been elected had expressed their support to the alliance post polls. We are considering their support as they are our party workers".
Balancing between faithful party workers and those that are drawn to the party at the prospect of sharing power is part of the natural pulls and pressures that any dominant party goes through. The BJP should be more worried at the return of caste-based politics that Haryana has thrown up, indicating that its strategy of moving towards caste-agnostic politics is premature. These are pressure points the party must address and solve, but the larger point remains that the Maharashtra and Haryana election results are not a setback for the party. If anything, they reinforce the new reality of Indian politics.
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