Within six months of the epochal Lok Sabha elections results, voters have given a jolt to the BJP, which was hoping for similar results in the assembly elections in Haryana and Maharashtra.
In Maharashtra, the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance is set to form the government in the state, albeit with a stronger Opposition in the state assembly. Haryana, however, proves a cause of worry for the saffron party as there the party could not win a majority on its own, as it had done the last time in 2014.
In both states, BJP got fewer seats than what it had won in the 2014 assembly elections.
Last time in Maharashtra, the BJP had won 122 seats out of 270 seats while contesting independently (with the Shiv Sena fighting separately). This time, in an alliance with the Shiv Sena, the BJP managed just over 100 seats. In terms of vote share, the BJP got 25.7 per cent share against the nearly 28 per cent it had earned in both the 2014 assembly and 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
In 2014, the BJP won assembly elections in Haryana for the first time, taking 47 seats with a 33.2 per cent vote share. It was a jump of 43 seats from the tally of four seats that it had previously won in 2009. Now, with 40 seats likely to be in its kitty (as per trends by 9 pm), it has a bigger chance of getting the support of six more MLAs in order to reach the majority mark. The party has been wooing independents, many of whom were BJP rebels.
The election outcome will also depend on Dushyant Chautala's newly formed Jannayak Janta Party (JJP) - a breakaway unit from INLD - with the question open over who they will support. The Bhupinder Singh Hooda-led Congress have also been trying to win people over to form the government. In Haryana, the BJP increased its vote share compared to the 2014 assembly elections by nearly three per cent (with a total of 36.5 per cent), but this was still a drop from the 58 per cent that it received in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Lessons for the BJP
These elections results have thrown up some interesting insights into the mind of the voters and the strategies adopted by different political parties.
During these elections, the BJP made nationalism its main plank. The revoking of Article 370, the implementation of NRC, surgical strikes, and an anti-Pakistan rhetoric were all invoked, repeatedly, in elections in both states. The issue had worked to BJP's advantage during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections as it got more seats than it had in 2014. The Balakot strike pumped up the mood in BJP's favour with Narendra Modi seen as a mascot of development and strong leadership. But, in these assembly elections, the issues of nationalism appear to lose some of their sheen as local factors take over.
This shows BJP's attempt to "nationalise" the state elections by invoking national issues may not always work. Both Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah had attacked Pakistan during their elections rallies, seeking to remind voters of the strong action taken in Kashmir and of the idea of teaching Pakistan a strong lesson.
So, whenever elections are held to elect Modi, voters repose faith in him. But, it becomes an uphill task for the BJP when there is the presence of strong local Opposition leaders. The elections once again show that while Modi's personal popularity remains intact, as was visible during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, when it comes to electing local leaders, voters can become complacent - or even look at stronger alternatives.
Another big takeaway of these two elections is the way the dominant castes have responded to the BJP. In both Maharashtra and Haryana, the Modi-Shah team had picked up a non-Maratha and non-Jat as chief minister respectively. This was to reward the way non-dominant castes had voted in favour of the BJP. Devender Fadnavis is a Brahmin, while M.L. Khattar is a Punjabi by caste.
But, as the election results reveal, there is a push back from the dominant castes in these states, despite the BJP going all out to woo them. In Haryana, the majority of Jats (who make up roughly 28 per cent of the state) sided with Hooda's Congress and the Sharad Pawar-led NCP.
Though the BJP may manage to form the government in both states, Hooda and Pawar have again emerged as key players, showing that it was too early to write off satraps who have grassroots presence.
These elections also gave a sign that going all out against a political player can be counterproductive. Central investigating agencies like the CBI and ED had aggressively pursued cases against Hooda and Pawar. In a dramatic step, Pawar had offered to visit the ED office when the agency started its probe against him and other NCP leaders. This helped draw sympathy for the Maratha strongman. Similarly, the CBI had been closing in on Hooda in multiple cases of corruption.
Internally, there was talk about complacency and arrogance setting in within the ruling party after the 2019 elections. The party had dismissed talk of farmers distress and of a slowdown in the economy. A result of this is evident, perhaps, in the form of a lower voter turnout, as BJP voters may not have stepped outside to vote. Voters appeared to give a similar lesson to the BJP as they did during the Gujarat elections where the Congress emerged as strong Opposition.
Even in the byelections to the 51 assembly seats in different states, the BJP won just 16 of them; the Congress 13; with most of the remaining votes going to the other Opposition parties.
The BJP, for the first time, won in the border state of Sikkim, where Sonam Tshering Venchungpa and Yong Tshering Lepcha won from Martam-Rumtek & Gangtok Assembly seats. Here, these elections showed that turncoats who have been winning the past elections after switching sides to the BJP may not find favour with voters in the next election, as was made evident in the case of the BJP's candidate losing in the Satara Lok Sabha bypoll (and the NCP winning it). The BJP candidate Udayanraje Bhosale, who came from NCP, lost to his cousin who contested on an NCP ticket. A similar fate met Alpesh Thakor, who left Congress to contest on a BJP ticket in Gujarat.
The elections are likely to cast its shadow over the next round of assembly elections in Jharkhand and Delhi, due in the next a few months. The BJP as an organisation may also change, as new leadership under J P Nadda is likely to be set up by early next year. But, the strong imprint of Modi and Shah will continue to remain in the party.
(The article first appeared on The Week)