The powerful oratory of Narendra Modi and the superb organising skills and deft strategising of Amit Shah have brought the BJP rich dividends in the recent Assembly elections in Maharashtra and Haryana. Bereft of a leadership of substance at the State level in both states where the Congress held sway, it was a formidable challenge for the Modi-Shah team to overcome that challenge.
That the BJP won both states virtually on the strength of Modi’s campaign was without doubt a fine achievement but that the party had to bank upon a prime minister to spearhead state campaigns to the exclusion of local bread and butter issues shows how much ground the State BJP needs to cover to make allowance for the fact that the party cannot afford not to build up a state leadership sooner than later.
The party was helped a great deal by the fact that the Congress was in disarray and the moral standing of its leaders Sonia and Rahul Gandhi was at its lowest ebb, for having ducked responsibility for the party’s rout in the Lok Sabha elections and for the huge credibility gap that Rahul suffers from.
The fact that the Congress persisted with Prithviraj Chavan as chief minister despite his public image of being a poor administrator and an undynamic leader made things even easier for the BJP and Modi.
The Congress has had a culture of dissidence and it was no surprise that Ashok Chavan, Narayan Rane, and Prithviraj Chavan worked against one another’s interests and the party high command had to look on passively.
The Shiv Sena was never in with a chance of winning a majority of seats on its own steam and the strategist in Amit Shah ensured that the Sena, fuelled by the ambition of Uddhav Thackeray to be chief minister, snapped electoral links with the BJP. It was essentially Uddhav’s obstinacy that led to the break of the alliance between the BJP and the Shiv Sena which suited the former beautifully.
To be fair to the BJP, it did come within three seats of an electoral understanding with the Shiv Sena but Uddhav Thackeray stuck to the resolve to contest 150 seats and no less, forcing a stalemate which Amit Shah did not mind.
Some political observers are saying that the results reflect a failure of Narendra Modi to win Maharashtra with a clear mandate. That is less than fair. Modi cannot be blamed for the lack of local leadership in both Maharashtra and Haryana. Besides, the passing away
of Gopinath Munde dealt a severe blow to the BJP.
The BJP’s campaign centred around over two dozen Modi rallies over 10 days across Maharashtra which included even challenging the Pawars in their bastion Baramati which no prime minister had dared do earlier for three decades and more.
In Haryana too, the BJP owes its victory to Modi’s rallies. That Bhupinder Singh Hooda’s governance was exemplary in some ways and yet he was routed is a big achievement for Modi. Even though nothing was proven on the dubious land deals of Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra about which the BJP had tomtommed aggressively during the Lok Sabha campaign, Modi’s diatribe against Vadra did make a major impact on the electorate. Now, with a BJP government at the helm both in the Centre and the state, there will be public expectation that the party would not offer alibis especially after the prime minister has made Vadra’s land deals an issue.
What is also significant about the BJP victory in Haryana is that the dominance of the Jats in Haryana politics has been watered down. After having being ruled by three successive Jat chief ministers, Haryana, for the first time, has a non-Jat chief minister, Manohar Lal Khattar. Yet, it was clever politics that prompted the BJP to put up a sizable number of Jats so as not to alienate this community that accounts for 23 per cent of Haryana’s population.
Since existing Maharashtra and Haryana BJP leaders are political lightweights, it would be interesting to see whether the Congress practice of remote-controlling the chief ministers belonging to its party would be replicated by the BJP high command. The BJP has been consistently critical of the Congress ‘culture’ and any witting or unwitting replication of that would be frowned upon by many.
The BJP will also need to come down hard against corruption within its ranks because while it has done well with corruption as an election plank as it sat in the opposition, it will be watched closely for the misdemeanours of its ministers.
Already, in byelections after the Lok Sabha polls, an element of disillusionment with the BJP has been manifest especially in the politically-crucial states of U.P. and Bihar. With Assembly elections less than a year and a half away in both these states, the BJP will need to buckle up for hard battles. With his growing volume of work, it may not be possible for the Prime Minister to devote too much time bailing out the party from state-level crises of leadership.
It is therefore imperative that State-level leaders be nurtured so that there is no vacuum of leadership when the time comes to make choices.
The last thing the people would like to see after decades of misrule by the Congress is a return to wheeling dealing, corruption and arrogance under BJP governments.
The next few months and years would be a testing time for the BJP. If it wants the complete rejection of the Congress over the next many years, it would have to demonstrate that it is different.