Perhaps populist measures like the Jan Dhan Yojana and Ujwala may not suffice.
Politicians and journalists are keen to simplify the political picture and therefore try to impose a common thread to connect the diverse strands. It may be a necessity for drawing up the map, but it cannot be taken for what it shows up. In Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the BJP lost the election, being removed from power after 15 years at the helm in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh and after just one term in Rajasthan. And the percentage of votes of the loser in the three states is substantially large, about 33 per cent to the Congress’ 42 per cent in Chhattisgarh, 41 per cent to Congress’ 41 per cent in Madhya Pradesh, and 38.7 per cent to the Congress’ 39.1 per cent in Rajasthan. The seat difference between the two parties in these three states is slightly different, larger in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan than in Madhya Pradesh. In Mizoram, where incumbent lost out to the Mizo National Front (MNF), still managed to secure 30.2 per cent of the vote with the winner garnering almost 37.6 per cent.
Is Telangana then an exception? On the face of it, it appears so. The Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) has cornered 47.1 per cent, which is huge. But it was an accident which was facilitated by an infelicitous alliance between the Congress and the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) because the TDP had opposed the formation of Telangana over four years ago.
Where does that leave Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the BJP’s much vaunted mascot, and Congress president Rahul Gandhi? Nowhere. Mr Modi and the BJP will have to rethink their 2019 strategy. Perhaps the image of Mr Modi will no longer suffice. Perhaps populist measures like the Jan Dhan Yojana and Ujwala may not suffice. The economic woes of the common man cannot be glossed over by pep talk and feel-good slogans. It cannot, however, be inferred that the BJP is set to lose the 2019 Lok Sabha election. Or anywhere close to that. But it does face a real fight, and the fight is not with a united or scattered Opposition but it is with the people and their daily economic problems. Mr Modi may have to learn to get away from his marketing spiel and discuss the problems that people face, accept the fact that the national economy is not any more in a sweet spot, and that there are hurdles to be crossed.
Rahul Gandhi’s simplistic attack on Mr Modi and the BJP that they are being communal and pro-rich and anti-poor may not suffice either. The Congress cannot hope to beguile people with the outdated rhetoric of socialism and secularism. It has to understand that the people do not trust the Congress any more as they did in the 1950s all through 1971. They have become discerning, and they demand more than hot air from political parties and their leaders. Mr Gandhi cannot speak the language of 1971 to the voter of the 21st century.
The other lesson for the Congress is that opportunistic alliances with incompatible partners like the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in Telangana, in the same way that the Congress allied with the Samajwadi Party (SP) in the 2017 Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, may not work or yield the desired outcome. The TDP was indeed an “outsider” in Telangana and chief minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao exploited it to the hilt. The fractious leadership of the Congress in Telangana, with its refusal to broaden the space at the top, had also sealed the fate of the party. The Congress had lost out in Uttar Pradesh because it could not allow a Yadav or a dalit leader in the party to emerge. In Telangana, it lost out because the Reddys, a dominant caste, continue to rule the roost in the party. The Congress is caught in its own coils.
Telangana needed a change and the Congress had failed to provide it, and it is a shame. Chief minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao’s munificence will land the state in a financial mess sooner than later. The outlying areas of the state remain backward and Hyderabad continues to grow. Andhra Pradesh chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu had boasted that he had developed Hyderabad without mentioning the fact
that he had neglected the rest of the then undivided state. Mr Chandrasekhar Rao’s populism for the rural populace will not be of any help if there is no real economic growth in the state.
The victories of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) and the Mizo National Front (MNF) should not be inferred to mean that in Assembly elections, regional parties trump national parties. It is not always the case. What the people vote for is a credible political party. The TRS and MNF have proved their credibility through the electoral victory. This does not preclude national parties from state politics. We have seen this with regional parties like the TDP in undivided Andhra Pradesh and the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) in Assam. No party, regional or national, has a monopoly over political power in the states.
The close ballot battle in Madhya Pradesh somehow raises eyebrows and it does sound too right, but we have to keep faith in the system in spite the problems. It is nice to believe that the Congress and the BJP have fought a pitched battle in Madhya Pradesh, where it was literally a hand-to-hand, vote-for-vote combat, but it is too good to believe. The close scores in Madhya Pradesh need to be scrutinised with a critical eye. This ideal near-perfect democratic battle is wonderful, but there is also a need for a certain amount of scepticism.