The ‘surprising’ results from Maharashtra and Haryana are arguably more a setback for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah than the BJP, though they have been virtually synonymous for quite some time.
On Thursday, the Bharatiya Janata Party may have won the election in alliance with the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra; and the BJP at the end of the day may well form the Government in Haryana with support from the JJP. But the biggest losers on the day are the Prime Minister and his deputy Amit Shah.
Whether BJP accepts it or not, voters in the two states have rebuffed the duo’s politics and rhetoric in no uncertain terms. Attempts were on to pass the blame for the party’s poor showing to the rebels in Maharashtra and to chief minister Khattar for selecting poor candidates in Haryana.
And while anti-incumbency against the BJP governments in the two states was clearly a factor, as evidenced by the defeat of several heavyweight ministers in both states and also by the large victory margins with which important opposition leaders won, the PM had made the two state elections into a referendum on his Kashmir policy and the government’s plan to roll out NRC throughout the country.
At the time of writing, as many as seven ministers were trailing in Haryana while in Maharashtra, ministers like Pankaja Munde, Ram Shinde, Jaydutt Kshirsagar, Dilip Sopal, Rohini Khadse and Arjun Khotkar had lost their seats.
Notably, while Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis won with a margin of 30,000 votes, NCP’s Ajit Pawar won by a margin of 1,65,000 votes, Chagan Bhujbal by 48,000 votes while Ashok Chavan of the Congress won by a margin of 97,000 votes.
While the Congress left the campaign in the two states to the local level leaders, the BJP relied largely on the Prime Minister and Amit Shah to campaign for it. Somewhat amusingly, critics of the Congress were at the same time blaming the party leadership for leaving it to the local satraps and also holding up the party’s good showing to the decision to keep the national leaders largely away from the campaign.
In contrast, BJP’s campaign was helmed by the Modi-Shah duo.
By making all elections about himself, the Prime Minister has made himself vulnerable. It may well be argued that the BJP would have even less appeal without Modi at the helm, that it is his personal popularity and ‘alleged’ integrity that keeps propelling the party; that but for his larger than life image, BJP would have fared even worse.
But then for precisely the same reason, PM Modi must take the major responsibility for the electoral setback of the BJP along with Amit Shah. No Prime Minister before Mr Modi has invested so much time and energy in state elections and it is precisely because of his Presidential form of campaigning that the BJP has been rooting for “one nation, one election”.
But the unexpectedly strong showing by the Opposition in the two states indicate a sharp dip in the PM’s popularity and waning enthusiasm for Amit Shah’s vain attempt to emerge as the second ‘Sardar’.
In rally after election rally, Amit Shah threatened to roll out the National Register of Citizens (NRC) throughout the country and thundered that the Government would throw out every infiltrator from the country. While the US Congressional Committee described the NRC this week as a ‘crackpot’ idea, the voters in Maharashtra and Haryana too have shown little enthusiasm for the NRC, revocation of Article 370 and cross border terrorism.
If anything, the results indicate the voters’ fatigue with the duo’s nationalistic rhetoric and penchant to dub everyone else as unpatriotic or, worse, as traitors. Indeed, both of them spared no effort to convey that the Indian National Congress in particular and the Opposition in general were Trojan horses in league with Pakistan.
But the results clearly show the limits of not just the PM’s own popularity but also of using Pakistan, nationalism and terrorism as electoral planks.
The duo also tried to politicise the defence services as in the past elections. They dwelt on the fact that both Maharashtra and Haryana contributed a significant number of defence personnel and that the Opposition was not sufficiently sensitive to the sacrifices made by them. The blatant ploy didn’t work and that comes as a relief.
But will the duo learn their lessons? Given the past and their track record, it seems doubtful. Will the BJP pay for their highly centralised campaigns in future and their use of nationalism and Pakistan as poll planks? Time will tell.