It would be erroneous to reach any definite conclusions while reading the results of by-elections, as the seats are scattered and too small in number. Then, it is also assumed that byelections tend to tilt the results in favour of the party in government. It could also be said that every election is different from the other and that no two elections are similar. Still, I can’t resist talking about the recent byelections, as these elections hint at a story that needs comprehensive analysis.
At the outset, it appears that the byelections in the 29 assembly and three parliamentary seats are a mixed bag. If the TMC led by Mamata Banerjee swept Bengal, then the BJP and its allies had a clean sweep in Assam. In Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan, the Congress won all the seats. In Bihar, the JD(U) had an upper hand. In Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka, the BJP and the Congress have their share of seats. But a deeper analysis suggests an undercurrent against the BJP and the Central government, which if not checked, could spell trouble for the BJP.
The BJP brass needs to understand the following facts pinpointing the deeper issues and to address them.
One, victory and defeat are part of electoral politics but what should worry the BJP is the margin of defeat. The West Bengal result is an eye-opener. Of the four seats where polls were held, the BJP lost its deposit in three and its total vote share shrank by approximately 23 per cent. What is more alarming for the BJP is that of the four, it had won two seats - Dinhata and Shantipur, in previous assembly elections. In Dinhata, the BJP lost by 1.63 lakh votes. The same story was repeated in Gosaba, where the TMC won by 1.43 lakh votes. In Khardah and Shantipur, the margin of defeat was 93 thousand and 64 thousand votes respectively. In assembly elections, these are huge numbers.
Let’s not forget that till very recently, the BJP was hopeful of forming the government in that state with a big margin though it failed miserably; nonetheless, it had garnered 38 per cent votes which is respectable, pushing traditional parties like the Left and the Congress to the extreme margins. Even in the 2019 parliamentary elections, the BJP had approximately 40 per cent votes. So, the catastrophic drop in vote percentage is frightening.
Lagging in Rajasthan
Two, Rajasthan is another story. The state has a very entrenched two-party system, where the power rotates between the Congress and the BJP. No third party has succeeded in breaking this balance. But most surprisingly, in the two seats where elections were held, the BJP was not placed second. In Dhariawad and Vallabhnagar, its candidates stood third and fourth respectively.
One can argue that the Rajasthan BJP is faction-ridden and ignoring the regional strongwoman Vasundhara Raje Scindia proved detrimental to the party. But then the same applies to the Congress. Sachin Pilot’s rebellion is well known, and Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has not made any effort to accommodate the Pilot faction despite the high command’s repeated intervention.
Jolt in Himachal
Three, the BJP got the biggest jolt in Himachal Pradesh. They lost one parliamentary and three assembly seats. This is the state where the Congress had very recently lost its tallest leader, Vir Bhadra Singh. The party has been leaderless and organisationally in bad shape. Despite that, it won the Mandi seat, which is the home district of the chief minister, Jai Ram Singh. This was the seat that the BJP had earlier won by more than four lakh votes. It is apparent that the BJP could lose this seat because more than three lakh voters turned away from the BJP. The BJP lost its deposit in the Jubal Kothai seat.
Himachal is the biggest warning signal for the BJP. This state is demographically dominated by the upper caste. There is a huge number of government servants and Armymen. These are traditionally supporters of Hindutva and if the BJP is losing support in this section, then it should be very worrying. Himachal is very similar to Uttarakhand, where the BJP has changed the chief minister twice in the last six months.
Fourth, the BJP also lost the Raigaon seat in Madhya Pradesh, which it had not lost in the last 31 years. In Karnataka, Congress wrested the Hangal seat in CM Bommai’s home district. These are seats which the BJP should have won easily and if it is losing these, then it is a worrisome matter for the party.
Hindutva losing its aura
It appears that Hindutva is losing its aura and will continue to do so if price rise and unemployment are not addressed by the Modi government. The price of petrol, diesel, edible oil and gas cylinders have skyrocketed. The price rise in petroleum products has led to a general price escalation. It is no coincidence that as the results of the byelections were out, the Modi government cut the excise duty by Rs 5 and Rs 10 on petrol and diesel respectively and instructed its governments in states to reduce VAT. But the crude oil price is rising in the international market and if this continues, then it will be difficult for the government to keep the prices lower.
The BJP has to go to elections in five states by February. If the recent byelections are any signal, then the BJP can’t take things easy. It must take drastic measures. The economy is in dire straits despite having shown some signs of recovery. Inflation is high. It seems that the government does not have a solution for unemployment, which is at an all-time high. Inflation and unemployment have the potential to derail the march of Hindutva as they have done in the past. Indira Gandhi could not handle it and had to impose Emergency and was finally shown the door by the people in the 1977 elections. Is history moving in that direction? I don’t know. Maybe, but it is too early to say anything.
The writer is the author of Hindu Rashtra and Editor, Satyahindi.com
(If you have a story in and around Mumbai, you have our ears, be a citizen journalist and send us your story here. )