Both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP national president Minister Amit Shah congratulated party workers Thursday evening and applauded the results in Maharashtra and Haryana. Although the party was below the halfway mark, Modi called the Haryana result an “unprecedented” achievement, cited the 3 per cent increase in the party’s vote share over the last Assembly elections and flagged the fact that BJP, a minor player before 2014, was all set to return for a second term in power.
However, in the party headquarters, there was no mistaking the low-key nature of the celebrations. For, the BJP, riding on the high of its 303 Lok Sabha seats, the high-octane pitch on Article 370 and a call to expel all illegal migrants and implement the National Register of Citizens across the nation, had lost seats in both states.
Speaking to The Indian Express, BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya, who was in charge of Haryana when the BJP won the 2014 polls, said: “The PM’s popularity and Shah’s leadership brought the BJP back to power in both the states. The party could have done better micromanagement on the ground. Our workers could have been deployed more effectively to mobilise support and consolidate votes.”
The BJP, which had led in 79 of Haryana’s 90 Assembly segments in the Lok Sabha elections barely five months ago fell to 40. In a state that, ironically, provides a healthy recruiting ground to the armed forces and when apart from state leadership, both Modi and Shah repeatedly highlighted Kashmir and Article 370 in their rallies.
Modi addressed 16 rallies ahead of the October 21 polling in these two states, Shah held 25. In Maharashtra, the party fell well short of NDA’s target of 220+ despite a wave of defections — most engineered by the BJP — from the Opposition Congress and NCP which had faced their worst electoral results in the Lok Sabha elections. The BJP won 105 seats of 164 as against the 122 it won from 260 seats it contested last time.
In the Lok Sabha elections, BJP was leading in 125 Assembly seats and Shiv Sena led in 105 seats totalling 230 of 288.Apart from the slip in Shiv Sena, the BJP slipped in Vidarbha, the home turf of chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, and Western Maharashtra where it had lured many from the Opposition ranks.
“We were expecting to win a majority on our own in Maharashtra. Now that we need to rely on Sena to form the government, it could be more demanding,” said a senior party leader underlining that the BJP will face changed equations in a state with a more confident Opposition led by Sharad Pawar’s NCP and, of course, a more aggressive Sena.
The verdict in these two states is being seen as a message to the BJP-led government as well as its leadership that voters differentiate between a national election and state polls. And that national issues may not always outweigh local issues. The results may nudge its attention towards the economic slowdown which, incidentally, has been publicly contested and downplayed. Indeed, at least three leaders in the party indicated that the setback in the two states could have been influenced by aspects of economic distress.
The results also highlight the limitations of vilifying the politically dominant communities in these states. The BJP tried to rally numerically smaller and the politically less dominant communities against Marathas (Maharashtra) and Jats (Haryana). The fact that it lost significant ground right in the backyard of its CMs, Vidarbha (Fadnavis) and North Haryana (Khattar), puts a question mark on the effectiveness of its regional satraps to hold the party’s fort against dominant caste politics.
Party sources said the BJP leadership “relied” on these satraps without “paying heed” to other leaders including ministers which led to a number of rebel candidates fighting against official candidates.
Some BJP leaders admitted that the results will also be factored in as the party plans for upcoming elections in Jharkhand and Delhi. The results are also a signal to BJP’s unconventional choices as CMs — Raghubar Das (Jharkhand), Yogi Adityanath (UP), Trivendra Rawat (Uttarakhand), Jairam Thakur (Himachal Pradesh), Vijay Rupani (Gujarat), Sarbananda Sonowal (Assam), Biplab Thakur (Tripura) among others — that “some of them may have mistaken Modi’s popularity as endorsement of their leadership,” said an insider.
The struggling Opposition can seek some comfort in the fact that the results fit a pattern that indicates the BJP finds it hard to improve its performance in states where it’s already in power and is seeking re-election.
Modi’s dramatic and sweeping victory in 2014 upset many a calculation and the BJP won Maharashtra (2014), Haryana (2014), Jharkhand (2014), Assam (2016), Uttar Pradesh (2017), Uttarakhand (2017) and Karnataka (2018) — but in all these states, it was in opposition. However, it has struggled to improve its position in states where it was seeking re-election: Gujarat (2017), Madhya Pradesh (2018), Rajasthan (2018) and Chhattisgarh (2018).
Indeed, it took Modi’s concerted personal push to stave off a setback in his native Gujarat in 2017.
This trend is also reinforced by the results of Assembly bypolls where the party is in power — Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Bihar. The BJP has won seven of 11 seats that went to polls in UP Assembly. The party won three of six seats in Gujarat and in Bihar, the ruling alliance won only one of the five seats. This when Assembly bypolls are generally considered an easy win for the ruling establishment.