It is a universally acknowledged fact that inflation hurts both the voters as well as political parties in power.

This Diwali eve, the ruling BJP got a terrible jolt in the bypolls held in Himachal Pradesh, West Bengal, Haryana and Rajasthan, even though it made big gains in Assam.

BJP reverses

In Himachal the BJP lost the Mandi Lok Sabha bypoll and three Assembly seats for which elections were held. The defeat of the ruling party was so bad that in one of the Assembly seats, Jubbal-Kotkhai, BJP candidate Neelam Seraik got only 4.6 per cent or 2,644 votes, and lost her deposit. A BJP rebel, who was denied the ticket and contested as an independent candidate, secured 23,662 votes, though the Congress won the seat. The Congress swept all the four seats in Himachal.

A blow in Himachal, the home State of the party president JP Nadda, doesn’t augur well for the ruling party, as Assembly elections are barely a year away.

In Rajasthan, the Ashok Ghelot-led Congress, on the back foot till recently, won both the Assembly seats, wresting one from the BJP. In West Bengal, the Mamata Banerjee magic continued, with the TMC winning all the four Assembly bypolls. In doing so, it snatched the two seats that the BJP had won in the April Assembly election, which the BJP had hoped to win big, but lost miserably. Now a reverse exodus towards the TMC has already begun, and in three of the four Bengal seats the BJP candidates lost their deposit. But in Telangana and Madhya Pradesh the BJP got a breather, winning in the latter two of three seats. Assam was a huge face-saver; the party won three seats and its allies the remaining two, scoring a 5-0 for the BJP and allies.

Petro price slash

But overall, the election results were a big jolt, and the BJP-led government at the Centre responded swiftly by slashing, within a day, excise duty on petrol and diesel by ₹5 and ₹10 respectively. The festival of Diwali came in handy for the red-faced decision makers, and we had pious homilies on how this decision would bring cheer to the people during the festival of lights.

After the Centre had reduced the excise duty on petroleum products, BJP-ruled States further reduced the price of petrol and diesel by ₹8-9. Soon, and for the first time since July 2021, the price of petrol in 15 States — all ruled by the BJP — and three Union Territories, was less than ₹100. The latest to join the price-cut race is Congress-ruled Punjab, which too faces Assembly polls soon!

So for now, the sky-rocketing prices of petroleum products have been curtailed, teaching a valuable lesson to voters. If you use your vote wisely, it can bring politicians to their knees. What all the sarcasm and biting posts on social media could not do, the loss of a few Assembly seats has achieved. The message is clear — vote banks and loyalty of traditional voters can only go this far, and no further.

Disenchanted voters

Even the most ardent fans of this government, turned bitter critics during the second and much more lethal wave of the Covid pandemic when their loved ones had to struggle for oxygen supply and hospital beds, and then a slot at the cremation ground. Playing to the gallery may enthuse your voters, but when inflation starts pinching, the same voters will turn away from you.

And that is the beauty of a democracy… even the most humble and lowly can use their votes as weapons if they remove the blinkers from their eyes and see beyond the magic spell that politicians weave around them. And not a single political party is an exception here.

Congress is one party that knows what happens when voters reject patronage and turn their backs to parties. When voters get disenchanted, through the ballot they can make any party irrelevant.

The BJP will do well to remember this and not ignore livelihood issues.