What was behind the Bharatiya Janata Party's unexpected losses in spite of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's high ratings. Will this be a wake-up call for the BJP?
India’s ruling federal party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is set to lose control of three state governments in elections that have sent shock waves across the right-wing Hindu nationalist outfit and its supporters.
Elections held over the last one month for five state assemblies, the results of which are still trickling out at the time of writing this article. Of the five states—Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh, Rajasthan, Telangana and Mizoram—the BJP was in power in the first three.
According to the counting trends, the final figures of which are expected to trickle in later tonight, the opposition Congress party was leading in Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh and Rajasthan all of which are politically influential states in India’s northern heartland.
The Congress lost its only state government in India’s north-eastern state of Mizoram, where a regional party, the Mizo National Front (MNF) came to power in a clear victory.
In the southern state of Telangana, the incumbent regional government—the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS)—was re-elected comprehensively defeating the Congress and its ally, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP).
In all, of the five states, the BJP lost power in three and the Congress in one. For the Congress, the loss was more than adequately compensated as it is set to come to power in three major states.
The Congress party swept the elections in Chhatisgarh, is comfortably poised in Rajasthan and is ahead of the BJP in a close finish in Madhya Pradesh, the outcome of which could yet go either way.
Congress matriarch Sonia Gandhi told reporters that the results were an outcome of the hard work put in by her son Rahul Gandhi who is the national president of the party.
Top BJP leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and national party president Amit Shah have yet to comment on the poor showing of their party.
Does this spell trouble for Modi?
The elections to the five state assemblies are particularly significant as the all-important parliamentary elections are scheduled for May next year. These elections will likely determine the fate of the BJP and Prime Minister Modi.
The elections seen as a de facto referendum on the popularity of the ruling BJP and its policies. If indeed this is a referendum, the results are a wake-up call to the Modi government.
However, BJP leaders commenting on the defeat of the party in the state elections said the results were due to local reasons and had nothing to do with the popularity or the standing of prime minister.
BJP Member of Parliament Sanjay Kakade was quoted by a news agency as saying that the party neglected development issues and paid the price.
The chief minister of the eastern state of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, a trenchant critic of the federal dispensation, told reporters that it was a disaster for the BJP.
“The party is nowhere,” she told reporters.
What issues drove people to the polls?
For the BJP, its ouster from three state governments comes at a time when it is facing criticism for its mishandling of India’s central bank, the Reserve Bank of India leading to the controversial resignation of its governor Urjit Patel on Monday.
Earlier, the federal government came under fire over a major showdown between the top two officials in the country’s premier investigative agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). The agency is under the direct control of the prime minister’s office and the responsibility for the unseemly events is landing at Modi's feet.
Ms Mamta Banerjee referred to these events in her reaction saying that the federal government under the BJP was “misusing India’s institutions”.
Since the BJP came to power in 2014 under the leadership of prime minister Modi, the party and its government in Delhi has been subject to criticism over the controversial decision to demonetise India’s currency notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1000.
The demonetization from November 2016, led to the banning of an estimated 86 percent of the currency in circulation. This brought hardships to all sections of the population, especially the poor, small traders and the farming community.
Following demonetisation, the Modi government implemented the GST (goods and services tax), aimed at bringing the entire country under a single tax umbrella. This caused further problems to the business sector across the board leading to questions over the ability of the Modi government’s administrative abilities.
In the run-up to the parliamentary elections next year, these two issues could prove a stumbling block for the Modi government. The opposition Congress and regional parties attributed the BJP’s poor results in the state elections on Tuesday to these factors too.
An ally of the BJP, the Shiv Sena’s spokesperson Sanjay Raut told reporters that the results were a “clear message and it is time for us to introspect”.