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17 December, 2018 10:43:28 AM

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The phoenix has risen

Interestingly while the winners were counting their gains, the BJP was nowhere in the picture: a rude shock for a party that rode the victory wave in 2014
Kumkum Chadha
The phoenix has risen

The shadows of 2018 will loom large on 2019: the elections to the five states that went to polls recently have signalled the way things may shape up next year when general elections are due and the BJP led Narendra Modi government will be put to test.
The state elections were the first round: the second to be the grand finale as it were. Led by BJP Chief Amit Shah the BJP leadership exuded confident of scoring a 5:0 i.e.

bagging all the five states and leaving nothing to the Opposition. But dreams are not horses and when the final results were out it was a kind if reversal with the 5 divided amongst the Opposition and a zero in the BJP’s kitty.
This is how the scenario has unfolded and events panned out: Of the five states that went to elections, the Congress trounced the BJP in three states namely Chhattisgarh where it had a spectacular win over BJP’s longest serving Chief Minister Raman Singh and is back in the state after 15 years; Madhya Pradesh where it has emerged the single largest party in a close contest and Rajasthan where the party fell short by two seats of the 101 majority mark. While Telangana Rashtra Samiti or the TRS won the election bringing in K.Chandrasekhar Rao as Chief Minister for the second time, the Mizo National Front wrested the state from the Congress.
Interestingly while the winners were counting their gains, the BJP was nowhere in the picture: a rude shock for a party that rode the victory wave in 2014 and continued to showcase Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the invincible leader. That was one part; the other and the more important being that his contender Rahul Gandhi was ridiculed and dismissed as pappu: the theme being that he is no match to Modi either in competence, administrative skills or running a country.

 For a party that was looking to a 15 year run of power in the Centre, the results of the crucial state elections, dubbed as  “semi-finals” in some quarters, have come as a rude shock. For the Congress however it has been a revival in less than five years: from being reduced to 44 odd seats in the Lok Sabha and no hope for the future; Rahul taking off on vacations more than being in Parliament and coming across as a novice inept at handling the complexities of a country like India were challenges that Congress seemed ill equipped to handle. But the recent results have not only given it a fresh lease but also signaled that it is the beginning of a new era: an era where the Congress from being at the bottom of the rung is now a major player and a tough competitor. Not only that it has the grit and wherewithal to challenge Modi and give the BJP a run for its money.

 For those who want to dismiss this election as having “little or no consequence” on the fortunes of the BJP at the national level are fooling themselves. There is a view that these elections are focused at the leadership at the state level and have little impact on the way the country will vote its Prime Minister in 2019. The other is that it would be suicidal for the BJP to miss the writing on the wall and take these results as a clear warning to mend its ways. The reality lies between these two extremes. Even while the anti incumbency did take a toll on the BJP, it also put a question mark on Modi’s delivery mechanism and whether the ‘achche din’ promise was just humbug. While the anti incumbency was a factor the state governments had to contend with, the achche dinslogan is national and therefore has resonance across India.

 Therefore, one cannot read 2018 election results without its bearing on the outcome in 2019. The two go together and even if local issues were a factor in these elections, 2018 results cannot be seen in isolation.

 One has to go beyond numbers and decode the underlying message and that message has more relevance in the context of the BJP than it does vis a vis the Congress; it is more about Modi and less about Rahul Gandhi; it is more about the Government in power than one in the near future; and it is more about policies than it is about politics.

 Clearly the recently concluded elections are not a one off. If anything  it has lessons for the BJP that should not be ignored. If it does, it does at its peril. More than that there is a warning of how events could unfold in 2019. The BJP could well do to shift focus to ground realities and some bitter truths: about the Modi magic dying;  people being angry at unfulfilled promises; about a government that is non inclusive; about its doublespeak and more importantly about losing a battle in which it clearly had an advantage.  

 Till two years ago when Modi asked for time people were willing to walk the mile; when he said he would deliver, they believed him; when he said his is a pro-poor government they were willing to wait and watch. But at the fag end of his term, there seems to be disenchantment, anger and disgust at being led up a path that goes nowhere; farmers are distressed; there are no signs of even half the number of jobs that were promised. Add to that the communal divide, seers turned Chief Ministers more worried about changing names of cities than governing a state, the saffron agenda taking centre-stage and institutions being devalued.

 Politically, the India-picture has never been as grim as it is today: grim and worrisome. And this has been proved amply by the BJP’s dismal performance in the state elections.

Therefore, the saffron party needs to sit up, rethink its strategy and do some introspection on what went so terribly wrong. More importantly it needs to shed its arrogance and accept that the enemy that it had so far underestimated has now risen like a phoenix and this time around it has from the ashes.

The writer is a senior Indian journalist, political commentator and columnist of The Independent. She can be reached at: (kumkum91@gmail.com)

SHK

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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