Election results for the four State Assemblies in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Telangana on Sunday are reflective of the ruling BJP’s complete domination of the Hindi heartland and ability to defeat the Congress in a straight fight. After Karnataka, the Congress’s expansion in the neighbouring Telangana is the only face-saver for the Opposition in these polls, touted as the semi-finals for the 2024 general elections.
The BJP has put up a particularly impressive show. It would help the party showcase the inevitability of its victory under Prime Minister Modi in the 2024 general elections. Like in Gujarat, where the BJP is seemingly unbeatable, Madhya Pradesh has become a contiguous saffron fortress where Shivraj Singh Chouhan has led the party to victory for the fifth time. Together with Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh, the heartland States of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh account for 171 Lok Sabha seats where the BJP’s organisational strength is now complimented by its control over the respective State governments. The BJP juggernaut under Modi has discovered a new momentum, while the Opposition flounders in the absence of strategy or strong leadership. Rahul Gandhi’s pet issues — caste census and corporate corruption — have failed to cut any ice.
The Congress has failed to match BJP’s pivotal strengths — a formidable organisation, strong leadership and astute strategy. Its leadership in Kamal Nath and Ashok Gehlot in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, respectively, appeared tired and exhausted, compared to the energy that the BJP infused by fielding fresh candidates and as many 18 MPs and Union Ministers in the three northern States. In Rajasthan, the infighting between Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot coupled with the Chief Minister’s refusal to replace unpopular MLAs with fresh faces cost the party. The BJP bagged 41.69 per cent of the vote share as compared to the Congress’ 39.53 per cent (while votes were still being counted for all States). The Congress was unable to rein in Gehlot or Kamal Nath who ran the campaign on their own terms and fielded their favourites. The BJP did not hesitate in experimenting with new faces in Madhya Pradesh. It ended with a whopping 48.56 per cent of the vote share, as opposed to Congress’ 40.42 per cent. In Chhattisgarh, coupled with the infighting between Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel and his deputy TS Singh Deo, corruption charges against the government undermined its popularity. The BJP’s pushback n the tribal State was impressive with the party winning 46.30 per cent of the votes, against Congress’ 42.22 per cent.
The only consolation from the Congress came from Telangana where it overcame the ruling Bharat Rashtra Samiti by bagging 39.37 per cent of the votes compared to 37.37 per cent for the latter. The campaign was orchestrated by the newly-appointed AICC member Sunil Kanugolu who turned the latent anti-incumbency into a wave. But the Opposition must iron out its leadership and strategy issues if it is to do better next year.