By Harihar Swarup
Total routing of the BJP in three by-elections is Rajasthan, say the party leaders, is no indication of coming polls in Karnataka; nor will it affect the year end poll in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. Irrespective of the BJP leaders misplaced optimism, it is hard to ignore a clear anti-incumbency verdict sent by Rajasthan’s voters. The verdict could have bearing on the future of individuals – Chief Minister Vasudhara Raje and Congress’s Sachin Pilot, who led the respective party campaigns in the state.
Whichever way one looks at the results of by-polls, this is a clear win for Sachin and a loss for Raje. The Chief Minister has an occasionally uneasy but largely cordial relationship with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Some important leaders of the RSS do not like her. Still, she was, and remains the party’s strongest leader in the state – and did lead it to a victory in 2014.
One theory has it that the BJP suffered a defeat because of Raje’s imperious style of governance and angry Rajputs who wanted to teach the party a lesson. The Rajputs believed the BJP had not done enough to ban Padmaavat, a movie which they believed showed one of their historical/mythical figure, Rani Padmavati of Chittor, in bad light.
Another has it that it was a mixture of anti-incumbency and some smart candidate choices by the Congress. The agrarian crisis, the most important factor behind the BJP’s poor showing in Gujarat, doesn’t seem to have played a part, although, much like Gujarat, farmers in Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh, which too go to polls later this year, are unhappy.
It is unlikely that the BJP will try to look beyond Raje, and risk the possibility that she may break the party, but both the central and state leadership of the party will look at the by-poll verdict as a sort of wake-up call.
On the other side, the victory further may have made Pilot, if only temporarily, the biggest Congress leader in the state, marginally ahead of Ashok Gehlot and Jitendra Singh. All three have chief ministerial aspirations which the Congress central leadership will have to manage.
With a maximum of eight or nine months before the Assembly elections in Rajasthan, both Raje and the BJP’s leadership in Delhi find themselves in a position they will not like to be. Raje has to win back voters even as she fights claimants for her chair within the party. She has a strong following within the party, a significant electoral base and is especially popular with women, but it will not be easy for her to repeat her 2013 performance.
Ground reality, say pollsters, is different; Rajasthan is worst placed among Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh going to poll by the year end. In addition to heavy anti-incumbency, Chief Ministers of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh – Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Raman Singh respectively – have become quite unpopular. How the voters will react to the situation has to be watched? Let us wait for Decembers when the three states go to polls.
The major state that goes to polls in May – Karnataka – may be the trend-setter. If the Congress manages to retain the southern state, which is within the realm of possibility, it could go into 2019 (when Lok Sabha elections are due) feeling confident.
Immediately, in the Northeast, in Tripura and Nagaland, the poll process has begun. After having been the main opposition party for 25 years and in power twice in Tripura, the Congress party finds itself scrambling to patch together alliances and retain its dwindling support base, even as the BJP looms large in the horizon.
The BJP with its aggressive entry into the state’s politics is seen as posing a threat to the ruling Left Front in Tripura. The Congress, on the other hand, is in a state of disarray, troubled by in fighting and resentment against the party leadership.
A disturbing development is that the Congress’s working president in the state and the erstwhile Tripura ruler, Maharaja Kirit Pradyot Deb Barman Manikya, has threatened to resign. While members of the royal family have been Congress loyalists for decades, they have being presently wooed by the BJP. Deb Burman says: “My only response is that I want to put up a fight against communists. They have systematically destroyed heritage and culture of tribal in the state.”
Evidently, Deb Burman did not like Congress’s decision to go soft on the Left Front over the past decade. This has led to a sense of disenchantment among party leaders and workers in Tripura, where the Communists were still their main rival, he says.
The Left Front, led by CPI-M, appears to be on strong wicket with the Congress party in disarray and the BJP still to establish in Tripura. The Marxists have ruled the states for decades. Chief Minister Manik Sarkar continues to be most popular leader because of his frugal and austere style of living. His affidavit for the 2018 Tripura Assembly election revealed that he is the poorest of all Chief Ministers of India.
In a major development, 11 parties in Nagaland, including Naga people’s Front (NPF) and it ally NJP’s state unit, have come together and decided not to field any candidate in the Assembly poll. In fact, the move has forced the BJP to suspend two of its local leaders for supporting the poll boycott resolution. The Naga parties, along with Naga tribal and civil society groups and Naga insurgents outfits including NSCN(IM) have jointly called for achieving a solution to the Naga issue before elections.
One wonders if the elections can be held in Nagaland in this situation. Even if the polls are forced, it will be a farce. (IPA Service)