A resurgent Congress has made crucial gains ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections with the party all set to form governments in the Hindi heartland of Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh on its own strength. The fight remains tight in Madhya Pradesh. The victories will gloss over the party’s defeat in Mizoram, which was the only northeastern state in its kitty.
Down south, riding strong on Telangana pride and its welfare schemes, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi is headed for a landslide victory in its first Assembly elections after the formation of the state in 2013. TRS chief K Chandrashekar Rao’s gamble for early polls paid rich dividends with the ruling party winning 83 seats and leading in 5 of the 119 constituencies. The Congress-TDP alliance, ‘Prajakutami’, has won 20 seats and is leading in 1, according to the Election Commission.
Addressing a press conference later in the day, KCR said TRS would play a crucial role in the national political arena. “We dedicate this victory to the people of Telangana. This is a positive vote for us. We are going to play a very crucial role in national politics. We will give a new definition to the national political scenario” he said. Rao, who is set to return as CM for a second term, further said, “Today’s results…Telangana has shown the way to the whole nation. Today, Telangana stands (as) a non-Congress, non-BJP state.”
The outcome of the elections is significant as Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan account for 65 Lok Sabha seats, of which the BJP grabbed 62 in 2014 when the Narendra Modi wave was at its high.
In Rajasthan, the Congress emerged as the single largest party with 99 seats, falling two seats short of securing the 101-majority mark. It means the party needs support and a post-poll alliance to form the government. State party chief Sachin Pilot had announced that it was open to post-poll alliances with like-minded and anti-BJP parties.
“People have rejected the BJP across three states. They were in power and used government machinery but still could not win the elections. Sitting ministers are losing their seats. We will comfortably form the government in the state. We will be open to like-minded parties as well as those who are against the BJP’s ideology,” he said.
The election results are reflective of the voters’ disappointment with outgoing Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, whose tenure was marred by farmers’ agitation, Rajput protests over Anandpal Singh encounter, an ordinance to gag media, lynchings and cow vigilantism and Padmavaat protests.
In 2013, BJP’s victory was significant not only for the number of seats it won (163) but for the fact that it cornered the highest vote share — 45.17 per cent — of a single party since 1998. This time, the BJP’s vote share was down to 38.6 per cent while that of the Congress saw an increase by six per cent.
The caste equation also seems to have played a role in the poor showing by the BJP. Jats and Meenas, both comprising about 10 per cent of the population, are numerically significant communities in the state. The Jats have been at loggerheads with the Gujjars over the latter being included into the existing OBC quota and eating into their benefits. Meanwhile, the Gujjars have been demanding Scheduled Tribe status, which has been awarded to the Meenas and, as a result, they have more representation in the bureaucracy. The anger seems to have extended to dissatisfaction with the administration.
In Madhya Pradesh, the Congress and the BJP are neck-and-neck, with the Grand Old Party leading in 113 seats, a much-improved performance over the 58 seats it won in the 2013 Assembly elections. Interestingly, in case of a hung house, the BSP may emerge as the kingmaker, with trends showing the Mayawati-led party ahead in six seats. There were reports that state party chief Kamal Nath was in talks with BSP for a post-poll alliance, which may dash the hopes of a fourth consecutive term for outgoing CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan.
In terms of vote share, there was not much difference between the two parties, with BJP cornering 41.3 per cent and Congress 41.2 per cent, a five per cent increase from 2013. It seems the soft Hindutva agenda unleashed by state Congress president Kamal Nath and party president Rahul Gandhi’s frequent temple visits and a promise to rebuild Ram Van Gaman Path, a route that Lord Ram is believed to have taken, has worked for the party.
Moreover, what has also played a decisive role is the vote of the tribals and Adivasis. In the Chambal region, which has a majority of the SC population, Congress is leading in 24 seats out of 32. In the Malwa (tribal) region too, Congress had a lead in 27 seats as compared to BJP’s 10. Before the elections, Congress had appointed Surendra Choudhary, a Dalit, as the secretary in charge of the state to win back Adivasi and Dalits voters, who were disenfranchised with the Chouhan government over neglect of their community.
The Congress is poised to wrest power from the BJP in Chhattisgarh after 15 years, with the Grand Old Party leading in 68 seats, well above the magic figure of 46. The ruling BJP, which had somehow scraped through in 2013, securing a mere lead of 0.7% votes, was a distant second with 12 seats in the 90-member assembly.
In 2013, the BJP garnered 41.04 per cent of the total votes and the Congress polled 40.29 per cent. The difference was stark this time, with BJP garnering just 32.9 per cent of the vote share as compared to 43 per cent of the Congress. The turnaround of the Congress lies in the party making inroads in the central part of the state. There are 67 seats in central Chhattisgarh, of which Congress is leading in 42 seats, a gain of 28 seats compared to the 2013 polls.
Traditionally, the BJP has shown strong numbers in the central and northeast belts of Chhattisgarh, with Chief Minister Raman Singh having a greater level of acceptability in the plains than the extremism-hit regions. In the plains, locally he is referred to as the ‘Mobile wale baba’ following the launch of the Sanchar Kranti Yojana, a scheme aimed at increasing mobile penetration by distributing mobile phones to 5.5 million people in the state, in July, and was supposed to have an effect in the elections.
CM Singh submitted his resignation to the Governor and said he accepted responsibility for BJP’s poor showing.”We (party) will sit and introspect,” he told reporters in Raipur.
However, it is in Northeast where the Congress has cut a sorry figure with even Mizoram Chief Minister and Congress candidate Lal Thanhawla losing from both his home turf Serchhip and Champhai South seat. The Mizo National Front (MNF) snatched the last Congress bastion in the Northeast, capturing 26 seats in the 40-member Mizoram Assembly and returning to power after a gap of 10 years.
Led by two-time chief minister Zoramthanga, the MNF, which got only five seats in the 2013 Assembly polls, cornered 37.6 per cent of the vote share, reducing that of the Congress to just 30.2 per cent. Though the MNF is a member of the North-east Democratic Alliance, it has refused to share space with the BJP in the state. After winning the elections, Zoramthanga ruled out any post-poll alliance with the BJP or the Congress.
Later in the day, outgoing Mizoram CM submitted his resignation before the Governor, saying, “This is very disappointing. I didn’t expect this. I think I underestimated the new formation ZPM.”