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December 15, 2018

The first taste of defeat

Opinion

December 15, 2018

The BJP’s defeat in the recently-concluded state assembly elections in India has damaged the impression of invincibility that the party had projected since the 2014 general elections.

For the first time, doubts have been raised about Indian Prime Minister Modi and his handpicked leaders. The BJP’s defeat also challenges the rhetoric created by the pro-Modi media that the PM is undefeatable and the Congress has failed to pose a serious challenge to him.

Is this the beginning of Modi’s end? It is too early to predict his fate at this stage. But there is no doubt that he has lost his popularity among various sections of the population. The general elections in May 2019 are crucial to Modi’s future. A defeat in the upcoming elections could seriously undermine his leadership in the BJP and his political future.

One thing can be said with certainty about the May 2019 elections: an interesting battle lies ahead. Before the BJP’s defeat in the state assembly elections, the general impression was that the party was strong enough to win for a second term, albeit with a reduced majority. But now, the resurgent Congress and its allies can pose a tough challenge to Modi and the BJP. But it will still be difficult for the Congress to singlehandedly defeat the BJP without forming an alliance with other secular, national and regional parties. Nevertheless, it is now going to be a much closer and hard-fought election than many had assumed.

For the BJP, this is a major setback as it has lost in its key states. The BJP was defeated in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, which are considered to be the party’s heartlands. The party had ruled Madhya Pradesh for the last 15 years. But the Congress crushed its monopoly by winning five seats more than the BJP.

In Telangana and Mizoram, both Congress and BJP witnessed defeat as regional parties the TRS and the Mizoram National Front won by a landslide. Both the Congress and the BJP performed poorly in Telangana. The Congress/TDP alliance only managed to win 21 seats while the BJP won a single seat in this important South Indian state.

In Mizoram, the MNF defeated Congress, which had ruled this tiny state, and won by a clear majority. The BJP finally opened its account in this state by winning one seat.

The Congress won by a landslide in Chhattisgarh where the BJP were routed. All polls and surveys indicated a hung assembly, with a slim lead for the Congress. But against all expectations, the Congress trounced the BJP with a huge majority. Nobody predicted such a heavy defeat for the BJP who was ruling this state.

Overall, it was a disappointing election for the ruling party. The BJP wanted to launch the general election campaign on a good note. But these election results have exposed its dwindling electoral strength in key states. Although the BJP might be popular in the Hindi-speaking belt, it has lost support in the rest of the country.

The Congress has made a strong comeback in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. This will undoubtedly boost the morale of Congress supporters nationally. Rahul Gandhi has finally come out his mother’s shadow and emerged as real challenger for Modi.

The ruling BJP lost state assembly elections in five key states as a majority of rural voters turned away from the party. The BJP performed poorly in two key states. Rural voters and farmers showed their anger against the ruling government for not supporting them in their time of need by punishing the BJP in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Mizoram.

The neoliberal and pro-big business economic policies espoused by the Modi government are the main cause of the BJP’s defeat. Modi failed to deliver on his promises to the farmers and the unemployed youth as India’s economic boom and high growth rates haven’t touched the lives of poor farmers, landless wage labourers and peasants.

There were hopes that the BJP, led by right-wing populist Hindu nationalist Modi, would do something to overcome the agricultural crisis and improve the conditions of rural India. But nothing really happened on this front in the last four-and-a-half years of the Modi government. Indian farmers and the rural poor voted overwhelmingly for Modi in the 2014 general election that swept him to power.

But he cannot count on this happening once again as a crash in commodity prices and surging fuel costs fuelled dissatisfaction among the rural population. The results of the state assembly elections in five states are clear indication that Modi’s rural support is dipping. He has already lost a significant rural support base. If this trend continues till May 2019, it will cost him dearly.

Two-thirds of India’s population depends on farming for their livelihood. But agriculture constitutes around 14 percent of the country’s total economic output. Despite the surge in migration to cities over the past two decades, more than half of the population still lives in rural areas.

The mood in rural India has changed over the years. There was a big swing towards the BJP and Modi before the 2014 general elections among the rural population. There were high hopes that Modi would deliver on his promises. But now, these hopes and illusions have been shattered.

According to Gallup, 14 percent of India’s rural population considered itself to be “thriving” in 2014. Now, only four percent of people in rural India believe that they are “thriving.

During Modi’s tenure, the living family wage in India fell between INR 17,300 per month and INR 17,400 per month. Meanwhile, wages paid to low-skilled labourers decreased to INR 10,300 per month in 2017 from INR 13,300 per month in 2014.

When people see their lives moving in the wrong direction, they want change. These election results reflect the changing mood in Indian society.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

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