Not going to be easy for the BJP henceforth

With Himachal won and Gujarat retained, the Bharatiya Janata Party now runs the show in 19 states. Himachal Pradesh was in the BJP bag to begin with, and the relative lack of interest shown by both the incumbent Congress and challenger BJP in the Himalayan state’s election campaign proved it, as did the general lack of surprise at the result. Gujarat is where the action was, a sort of quarter-final before the semis of 2018 that will feature the major states of Congress-ruled Karnataka first, and BJP bastions of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan later. Lokmarg looks at the Gujarat result and the next big contests: Gujarat: It’s not easy for Modi from here Gujarat has 26 Lok Sabha seats; a simplistic and gung-ho conversion by the BJP had set the party a 150-seat target in the state’s 182-member House. It was Gujarat’s first state election after Narendra Modi became prime minister, and in that sense a referendum on his performance by the people who propelled him up in the first place.  It was also, like Uttar Pradesh earlier this year, a verdict on the demonetisation exercise of 2016 and the rollout of the Goods and Services Tax. The Congress has ended up with a very respectable 80 seats while the BJP has slipped to 99. The scary part for the BJP is that 27 of the seats featured winning margins of less than 2,000 votes. A mild swing in these seats would have given a mirror image result in favour of the Congress, and that’s how close it was. Voteshare figures, despite being skewed across regions, also show the Congress catching up. What’s worked for the Congress is its alliances with caste groups and the new-found love of temples new president Rahul Gandhi has displayed. It is also significant that the Gujarat result is despite the near absence of Congress organisational structures at the grassroots level across the state in contrast with the BJP’s well-oiled machinery. In the earlier part of the campaign, the Congress questioned the development plank the BJP was selling, and that seems to have partly worked too. The rural vote has been largely for the Congress while the cities and towns have gone with the BJP. A tentative conclusion is that demonetisation and GST aren’t gamechangers in the business centres, like the Surat region that went entirely with the BJP. The flip side is the agrarian distress produced by the trickle-down model of business facilitation that the BJP so aggressively pushes in tandem with the usual socialist government schemes. Exclusion from the pie of slowing growth is manifesting itself in caste terms, and the Congress has picked on it already. Bottomline: The Congress is set to work harder on shedding the rather sticky pro-minority tag it acquired in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Expect more soft Hindutva from the new president. Emboldened by Gujarat, the Congress is likely to build alliances with disaffected caste groups across the nation, like the Reddys of Andhra or the Jats of Haryana. It will also continue to hammer at the development model that the BJP leans on every time. It’s going to get tougher for the BJP from here. Karnataka: The next big one Elections are due in Karnataka in April-May 2018. They will be preceded by early summer elections in three states of the North-East: Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura. The North-East is the BJP’s targeted growth area after the four southern states, and it rules in three states of the region—Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur— already. In Nagaland, the BJP has a comfortable ally in the ruling Naga People’s Front; the resulting Democratic Alliance of Nagaland has ruled the state since 2003. The state is 90% Christian and almost wholly tribal, so the BJP should be likely to hang on to coat-tails of the NPF and hope the peace accord it signed with the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (I-M) in 2015 gives it some traction of its own. In largely Christian Meghalaya, Mukul Sangma heads a Congress government. The BJP took one seat in the last elections but has it hopes up after winning six of the seven Assembly segments in Shillong—one of the two Lok Sabha constituencies of the state—in the 2014 general elections. It’s uphill for the BJP, but there could well be a significant saffron showing here. Tripura is the only Indian state where the communists are in power under the widely acknowledged leadership of Manik Sarkar who will be seeking a Modi-beating fifth consecutive term as chief minister. Having only lost elections for two decades, the state unit of the Congress is at odds and ends. Mamata’s Trinamool is a new player but the BJP fancies its chances in Tripura, Amit Shah making Agartala one of his important outposts in the region. Karnataka, with its huge 224-seat House and 28 Lok Sabha constituencies, is where it gets interesting. It is the only southern state where the BJP has had a government of its own, and thus a support base and local party structures that are considered strong enough in the north and coastal parts of the state. A rainbow of castes and communities, Karnataka’s electorate is always seen in terms of caste combinations. The BJP’s chief minister of choice is BS Yeddyurappa, the man who made a mess of the job his last time, leaving as his Karnataka legacy the memories of chief ministers being changed, scams and scandals. Yeddy is a Lingayat, a powerful community that seeks recognition as a non-Hindu grouping. He has been cultivating the depressed castes with great energy for months now via statewide yatras. The Congress has named serving Chief Minister Siddaramiah as the man they will continue with. Siddaramiah is from a backward caste and has stitched up, probably better than Yeddy, a combination of backward castes and Muslims. Besides, he led the party to victory in two Assembly bypolls soon after the crushing BJP victory in Uttar Pradesh earlier this year. Gujarat is very different from Karnataka but the Congress showing in the western state will be a booster shot for the dole-friendly ruling party. What about Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan? Along with the BJP-dominated tribal hinterland of Chhattisgarh and the North-East state of Mizoram, these two saffron biggies will be headed into elections at the end of 2018. Karnataka will, of course, set the tone but there’s a larger issue at play here. The General Elections of 2019 will be around the corner, and the BJP— that makes it a virtue to prefer simultaneous state and general elections— is more than likely to club them with the big one of the coming summer. It is as likely that the General Elections may be brought forward by a couple of months to avoid an endlessly long election season through the Winter and Budget sessions of Parliament, and for the politically expediency of not setting up a big semi-final right before the national contest. A BJP loss in Karnataka, a real possibility, will turn the likelihood of early general elections into a certainty. A victory will give the party momentum it will not want to lose over the months till the general election. Bottomline: The BJP will put all its got into the Karnataka elections while attempting to continue growth in the North-East but is likely to announce the clubbing of year-end elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram with brought-forward general elections. The Congress must retain Karnataka if it is to put up a fight for the next Lok Sabha. Rahul will have had a few months till then as president. Gujarat was the hop, and Karnataka will be the skip before the big jump of 2019.   // ]]>