Assembly polls: A reality check for BJP

| Updated on October 25, 2019

Its electoral performance has been underwhelming due to economic factors

The somewhat unexpected Assembly election results in Maharashtra and Haryana have once again underscored the complexity of voter behaviour and elections in India. Starting from an invincible position where it had won all ten Lok Sabha seats in Haryana and 41 out of 48 seats in Maharashtra in the parliamentary elections held just four months back, the ruling BJP is staring at hung house in Haryana and is dependent on its volatile alliance partner, the Shiv Sena, to cross the simple majority mark in Maharashtra. The results are all the more intriguing given the surrender of the Congress in the face of the BJP’s formidable election machinery. In contrast to the relentless campaign by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief and Home Minister Amit Shah, the Congress was hardly visible on the ground. Even so a BJP campaign that revolved around ultra-nationalism and Article 370 has not delivered them the results they might have expected. The Opposition can take heart from the fact that there is space for a counter-narrative around economic issues.

There are some key takeaways from the results, going beyond the routine distinction that is made between bada chunav-chhota chunav (different voter choices exhibited for Parliament and Assembly elections). Firstly, the ruling party can no longer ignore the reality that economic downturn and rural distress are impacting voter behaviour. The trend that started from Gujarat Assembly polls where the BJP barely managed to hold on to its three-decade-long citadel in the face of angry Patidar farmers in Saurashtra, and continued through Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan elections, has once again surfaced in Haryana and Maharashtra, even if in a less pronounced way. Secondly, the BJP’s experiment with non-dominant castes with projection of a Brahmin in Maharashtra and a non-Jat in Haryana as Chief Minister seems to be unravelling with the impressive strike rate of Sharad Pawar’s Maratha muscle and the surprise show by Bhupinder Hooda and Dushyant Chautala, both from the Jat community.

As for economic issues, it is remarkable that the NCP has done well in industrial hubs such as Pimpri-Chinchwad, Nashik and Aurangabad, where the employment effects of the auto slump were keenly felt. It was perceived in the Sangli-Kolhapur belt that the State government was indifferent to sugarcane crop loss due to floods; in Marathwada, drought and farm suicides were latent issues. In Haryana, crops such as sunflower, jowar and barley have been ruling below MSP. Cane arrears and tomato, onion and potato price volatility have contributed to a scenario of rural distress, amidst bleak job options. Fasal Bima Yojana payouts were reportedly delayed and tardy. Overall, the message of the polls is clear: put the economy back on the political and policy agenda.

Published on October 24, 2019

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