By Amulya Ganguli
It may be too early to say that the latest election outcome indicates that the tide is turning, but there is little doubt that the days of the BJP’s surging success are over.
That the setbacks which the party has suffered in Maharashtra in terms of being unable to reach its 2014 tally, and in Haryana where it may not be able to form a government in spite of the party’s aggressive nationalist card, is highly significant.
It is now obvious that the BJP’s Article 370 gambit hasn’t fired the imagination of the people as much as the party had hoped. Nor has its other communal ploys such as a nationwide National Register of Citizens to weed out the “termites” (illegal Muslim immigrants).
Instead, it is the dire economic situation which swayed the voters’ preferences. It might have done so even in the last general election if the BJP hadn’t played up the air force’s surgical strike in Balakote to swing the ballots in its favour.
The opposition might have fared even better this time if there was no infighting in the Congress in Maharashtra between Milind Deora and Sanjay Nirupam, and in Haryana between Bhupinder Singh Hooda and Ashok Tanwar, and if the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) had worked more closely together in Maharashtra.
If they didn’t, the fault lay mostly with the Congress, which was so rattled by the shakiness of its top-heavy structure after Rahul Gandhi’s decision to resign from the party president’s post that it refrained from undertaking any serious campaigning.
Instead, it was left to the 79-year-old NCP veteran, Sharad Pawar, to take the fight into the BJP’s camp while Rahul Gandhi made only a few desultory appearances. Not surprisingly, the NCP’s tally was higher than that of the Congress.
It was the Congress’s seeming reluctance to enter the electoral fray in real earnest which persuaded the political analysts to write the party’s obituary.
But the outcome has shown that the Congress is back from the dead. Even as the leaders squabble among themselves, the people still recall the party as it was in its better days and repose their faith in it.
It is this popular trust at the ground level which was missed by the scores of opportunists who switched over to the BJP. Now, they may regret their wrong career moves.
For the BJP, the results have led to the shelving of the more than 2,000 laddoos and firecrackers which had been stored in anticipation of a victory in Mumbai.
The BJP will also look askance at the Shiv Sena’s more creditable performance which cannot but make the “junior” partner even more assertive. As it is, the Shiv Sena had asked why Narendra Modi had to address 10 rallies in Maharashtra, Amit Shah 20 and Devendra Fadnavis 100 if the opposition was so weak.
Since the BJP banks on emotive issues to win elections, the party may now wonder about its tactics when even such a dramatic constitutional coup such as revoking Article 370 and promising to have “physical jurisdiction” over Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), as external affairs minister S. Jaishankar had said, failed to yield the desired results.
There will also be questions about the BJP’s supposedly invincible election machinery and the party’s 24x7x30 approach to politics, which were supposed to have left the other parties far behind.
But the reality is apparently quite different. The voters have again confirmed that they are not influenced by rhetoric, but make up their own minds, which they express even by not voting.
Arguably, the lower turnout on this occasion gave the first indication about a decline in the clout of an exceptionally gung-ho, cadre-based party like the BJP with its support base extending to the social media and even several television channels.
As a commentator pointed out, there may even be a message in the response of the voters to questions during the exit polls. The vast difference between these polls, which are supposed to give a fair idea of the outcome, and the actual results shows that the voters did not tell the truth because of the “fear” factor.
It goes without saying that if the BJP arouses fear, it is a party which will not find it easy to win. The reason for its success in Maharashtra is obviously the NCP-Congress’s failure to present itself as a credible alternative because of the absence of a leader who could match the non-controversial Fadnavis.
But the scene in Haryana was different because of the active role played by Bhupinder Singh Hooda unlike, say, Prithviraj Chauhan in Maharashtra.
The kingmaker in Haryana may well be the leader of the Jannayak Janta Party (JJP), Dushyant Singh Chautala, if it agrees to support the Congress to form the government.