Modi’s BJP’s worst electoral defeat in Legislative Assembly

25th Jan 2019
Modi’s BJP’s worst electoral defeat in Legislative Assembly

The BJP and PM Narendra Modi lost election invincibility
(Photo: Norbert Schiller/World Economic Forum/Creative Commons)

Sajeda Haider

Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi’s right-wing nationalist party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), had its worst electoral defeat last month since it came to power with a thumping majority in the 2014 General Elections.

Five of the country’s 29 states held Legislative Assembly (law-making state bodies) elections and the BJP lost in all five polls bringing an abrupt end to the party’s 5 year golden election win.  More importantly the defeats demolished the idea that Modi and his lieutenant and BJP President, Amit Shah, were invincible in electoral politics.

With the general election due in May this year, the Assembly election had greater significance as they were considered to be the semi-finals giving an indication of the political mood of the public. Until these Assembly elections the BJP’s electoral juggernaut had been trundling across the country winning one state election after another, making the upcoming general election look like a walk over for the BJP. However the BJP’s defeat has given a fillip to the opposition, particularly the Indian National Congress (INC), to take on the ruling party and turn the general election in to a real fight.

Of the five states that held elections, BJP’s defeat in three were more important as they had been ruled by them for as long as 15 years. Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chattisgarh in central India have long been strong holds of the BJP and its ideological mentor the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and in all three of these states they were toppled from power by the INC in a straight one-on-one fight.

Since 2014 the INC has won just two Assembly elections on its own so for it to win three important BJP bastions just months before the general elections must have been particularly galling for the Modi-Shah duo who had been in every election speech demanding an INC-free India and a single-party rule in the country. Not only was it an electoral setback but it is also an ideological defeat of their avowed goal.

In Chattisgarh the BJP faced a rout after being in power for 15 years with INC winning more than a two-thirds majority. In Rajasthan, where the BJP had come to power in 2013 and from where in the 2014 general election they had won all 26 of the parliamentary seats, they endured a decisive defeat at the hands of the INC. But the biggest surprise came from Madhya Pradesh, India’s largest state, where three-time BJP Chief Minister, Shivraj Chauhan, was considered extremely popular, the INC snatched victory in a close fight.

Unlike in previous election when within hours of the results Modi has taken credit for the wins by holding victory meetings at the party headquarters, in defeat he was not as quick to accept responsibility despite having campaigned extensively. In fact for a couple of days both Modi and Shah remained quiet not commenting on the losses and finally, the BJP chief ministers of the losing states owned responsibility for the debacles.

The losses are significant for the BJP for the general election because in 2014 it had won as many as 62 seats from these five states. The Assembly elections results suggest that it is unlikely for the BJP to replicate 2014 with the sentiment of the public not in their favour, and even if they lose half of the 62, Modi’s dream of winning a second-term has become that much harder.

For the opposition, the results came as morale boost and a pointer that if they wish to beat the BJP’s election machine they need to unite and fight it together. Where there are triangular contests it is the anti-BJP vote that gets divided and BJP emerges a winner. The opposition has paid heed and already alliances are beginning to form.

Having had four and a half years of a Modi government, as the biggest democracy in the world heads into the last leg before its next election what is clear is that this time the vote is either ‘for Modi’ or ‘against Modi’.

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