As expected, the BJP will be in the saddle in Jharkhand. As expected, it has won a sizeable number of seats in Jammu and Kashmir, ensuring that it could be a major player in government formation. These are no mean achievements. The march of the BJP began a year ago. It retained Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh and went on to achieve a landslide win in Rajasthan. Then came the clear majority in the Lok Sabha, followed by a convincing victory in Haryana. It did very well in Maharashtra but failed to reach the magic number of a majority. As the year ends, the BJP has reason to be happy that it has kept up its momentum. It has made inroads in states where it has not historically been strong, such as Haryana, Maharashtra and now J&K. It has not allowed the Congress to rise from the debris of the parliamentary elections. It is also looking for opportunities to checkmate state-level players.
The affiliates of the Sangh Parivar are keenly pursuing the objective of turning India into a Hindu rashtra, so the BJP should be happy to be a Hindu party in a Hindu rashtra. But it is not clear how happy the BJP is. Does it celebrate its streak of impressive electoral performances or is it sulking over the limits of its most recent showing?
Just as in Maharashtra and Haryana, the BJP chose to contest without any major ally in Jharkhand and J&K. Its not aligning with the PDP in J&K or with the JVM in Jharkhand led to multipolar competitions in both states. In Haryana, that strategy had paid off, but in Maharashtra, it yielded limited dividends. Jharkhand, too, shows that the BJP has won a majority (with help from its pre-poll ally, the AJSU) but it could easily have failed to do so. In J&K, a friendless BJP succeeded only to a certain extent.
Another interesting feature of these two assembly elections is that, in spite of the BJP surging ahead and seat tallies showing major upsets, the vote share of most parties appears to be near-stable. This means the BJP has gained mainly from smaller parties and independents. Its main rivals in both states have held on to their vote share. Moreover, the BJP’s vote share might have improved from the assembly polls of 2008-2009, but it has nosedived from the Lok Sabha numbers, in both Jharkhand and J&K.
Opponents of the BJP can draw succour from these details. They may be reassured by the fact that it has failed to sweep Jharkhand or emerge as the largest party in J&K. But more than that, they would heave a sigh of relief that, in spite of a BJP on the upswing, non-BJP parties have managed to hold on to their votes and, in the case of the JMM and PDP, even seats.
Since its inception, Jharkhand has consistently witnessed fluid political competition. The JMM was seen to be the political beneficiary of the state’s creation, but it has failed miserably all these years. The BJP made inroads and, after its parliamentary victory, seemed to have a significant advantage in Jharkhand. It is in this context that the BJP victory in Jharkhand appears rather tame. In J&K too, the BJP created hype from the time Prime Minister Narendra Modi went to Srinagar on Diwali. Since then, it has trumpeted its efficient handling of the floods and even managed a coup of sorts by getting Sajjad Lone to praise Modi. All that, however, remained what it was — hype.
The BJP might protest that its performance in both states should be seen against the backdrop of its electoral history. But the results will inevitably be assessed, not against the BJP’s strength on the ground in either state, but in light of the expectations it raised. Ever since its parliamentary victory, the BJP has been creating unrealistic expectations about itself and about what Modi can deliver. This has generated a climate of opinion that, irrespective of local factors or equations, Modi can produce an electoral victory as if it were the magician’s proverbial rabbit.
Given the Congress’s dismal performance over the last year, the BJP also got into the habit of underestimating other players in the political arena. Just a couple of months back, the Shiv Sena was similarly underestimated in Maharashtra. In this latest round of elections, the BJP failed to gauge the potential of the JMM. True, the JMM could not give the state a stable or good government. But it has managed to preserve its tally from 2009, which prevented a steamroller victory for the BJP in Jharkhand. In J&K, the BJP, above all, underestimated the aloofness of voters in the Valley.
Dangerously, it chose to further the division between Jammu and the Valley. In adopting such a strategy, it has done a disservice to Modi’s efforts at statesmanship. This, in turn, does a disservice to its larger cause. In failing to recognise the state-level dynamics, it did not appreciate the possibility that the PDP might benefit both from the popular disaffection with the Omar Abdullah government and from the BJP’s shrill pro-Jammu rhetoric (including that about a Hindu chief minister for the state). The BJP had miscalculated that the Congress would lose its votes, which would help it sweep Jammu.
These are not merely tactical miscalculations. They are born out of a confidence that there are no competitors. Inflated expectations emerge from an exaggerated reading of its winning streak. These misapprehensions may remain with the party as it celebrates its year of electoral success. Whether it learns from its errors will become evident in the approaching assembly elections in Delhi.
But as the BJP’s year of victory concludes, some larger questions remain. The first surrounds Modi’s leadership. To be a successful party, the BJP will have to come out of his shadow. With its very limited organisational strength at the moment, that seems improbable. The second, and even more complex, question is to do with the party’s image. Having won elections on the plank of development, the BJP must now devote itself to the task of governance, even as it goes into election mode from time to time. Given the noise that friends and supporters of the party (including some inside the BJP) are making, it is doubtful if it can graduate to being a party of governance from a party of acrimony.
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