Shivraj, the Real Winner
Fighting anti-incumbency is the ultimate test
How does one view the results of the just concluded elections to the five states of Mizoram, Telengana, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan?
Two stereotypes that are now in circulation need to be dismissed at the very outset, in my considered view.
One stereotype is that it was a “semifinal” for the “final”, that is the general elections within six months time, in 2024. Since BJP has won handsomely in the crucial three Hindi-heartland states of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, the party has a clear advantage in the scheduled polls to the Lok Sabha, the “final”, it is said.
I am not contesting the view that the BJP led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi stands the best chance to get a third term in office. What I am opposed to is linking the results of the Assembly polls to that of the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls. Because, even if BJP had done poorly in the Assembly polls, that would not have necessarily adversely affected Modi’s prospects in 2024.
Assembly elections are not usually the barometers of finding out the outcome of the general or national elections to the Parliament. In the year 2003, the BJP swept the Assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. But when general elections were held a few months later, the party was overthrown at the centre, even though the veteran Atal Behari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister. But when the BJP retained these three states once again in 2013, the party swept to power with an absolute majority in 2014 and Modi became the Prime Minister.
However, what is more interesting to note is that in 2018, the BJP lost power in these three states to the Congress. But in the general elections in 2019, the BJP’s setback in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan assembly polls did not come in the way of Modi grabbing almost all the Lok Sabha seats from these three states. In fact, BJP also got almost all the Lok Sabha MPs from another state of Karnataka, where it had also lost badly to the Congress in the Assembly polls a year earlier.
What all this proves is the absence of a definite pattern in linking the Parliament and Assembly polls results. Issues relevant to the states are different from those pertaining to the Centre. Challenges are different. And then there is the new phenomenon of the Modi-factor that has been proved in the last two general elections.
Pollsters say that the Prime Minister’s popularity all over the country is such that when his own government at the centre seeks a mandate or he himself is in the electoral race, he gets at least five percent or so extra votes that the BJP otherwise would have got. And that was precisely what happened in 2019. Despite the setbacks in Karnataka and three Hindi heartland states a few months earlier, the 2019 performance of the BJP was superb. It got almost 99 percent of the MPs that these four states send to the Lok Sabha. The Modi factor was more than enough to compensate for the losses of the BJP in the states by less than five percent votes to the Congress in the Assembly-elections.
Thus, the just concluded Assembly polls were no way the “semi- final” to the “final” in 2024.
The second myth that is being propagated vigorously, and this is being done by all those who have pathological hatred for Modi, is that BJP’s loss in Telangana to the Congress does not bode well for the country’s unity and integrity as the Prime Minister and his BJP have been totally rejected by the people of South. For them Modi is essentially a leader of the North and the country should not be led by a person who is not acceptable in a vital part of the country.
Nothing can be more perverse than this. Which ruling party at the centre in recent years had governments all over the South? South Indian parties, be it Telugu Desam or the DMK or the AIADMK have been invariably parts of the coalition governments at the centre from time to time, whether it is led by the Congress or the BJP. In fact, there have been times when the Congress was leading a majority government, but it did not have a government in the South.
Undivided Andhra Pradesh and now Andhra Pradesh and Telangana after division of the state did not have any government led by any national party for a very long time; Congress assuming power now will be the first time a national party leading Telangana. Tamil Nadu has always been ruled by either DMK or the AIADMK. The point here is that these three states in the South have been invariably ruled by the regional parties; the national parties playing a minor role most of the time.
As regards two other states of Kerala and Karnataka, these have seen governments led by national parties. Kerala has been under the rule by the Congress and Communist parties. And Karnataka has been ruled alternately by both the Congress and the BJP.
In fact, at the moment, it is the BJP which has got almost all the MPS from the state to the Lok Sabha and given the above discussed Modi factor, the BJP may repeat the same performance of 2019 in 2024. Even otherwise, the BJP is the principal opposition party in Karnataka at present.
Besides, there is the union territory of Pondicherry where the BJP is a partner of the present government. And the BJP has four Lok Sabha MPs from Telangana and that followed the party getting only seven percent votes in the 2018 state elections. This time, BJP has got nearly 15 percent of votes in Telangana. So logically speaking and with the addition of the Modi factor, in all probability the party’s tally in the state will only go up in next year’s polls to the Lok Sabha.
Viewed overall, thus, it is sheer stupidity to say that the BJP does not exist in the South. But such stupid remarks dividing the country into North and South unnecessarily boost the morale of the divisive forces and India’s enemies outside.
Having dispelled these two myths, I would like to highlight one important phenomenon as far as the just concluded elections are concerned. And that is fighting the factor of anti-incumbency.
If the results of the state elections in the country over the last decades are to be seen, then it can be said that an incumbent government retaining power is a rare occurrence. Invariably, the incumbent government loses. There is a theory of pendulum that suggests that governmental power oscillates between two principal parties of a state in every election. Rajasthan has always seen this. Seen that way, BJP’s victory in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh cannot be said to be that remarkable.
Similarly, the Congress victory in Telangana does not need to be over-glorified. People there, in every probability, voted “against” the incumbent government led by a party (BRS) that was increasingly seen to be corrupt and arrogant over the last 10 years rather than “for” the Congress party, which happened to be the main opposition party there and under whose rule at the centre Telengana was carved out of Andhra Pradesh as a separate state.
Therefore, credit must be given to those parties and governments which retain power by defying anti-incumbency. If the last few decades are any indication, it is the regional parties which have done this successfully – Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in Odisha under chief minister Naveen Patnaik and Trinamul Congress in West Bengal under chief minister Mamata Bannerjee.
However, as a national party it is the BJP which has fought anti –incumbency successfully in many states in recent years. The BJP has retained power in Uttar Pradesh (chief minister Yogi Adityanath is the first chief minister in the state’s history to retain power), Uttarakhand, Assam, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, Haryana and Maharashtra (that the then ally Shiv Sena betrayed it to form a government with the Congress and NCP for nearly two years is a different matter).
Now Madhya Pradesh could be added to this list of states successfully defying anti-incumbency, a very difficult task. Therefore, for me Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan is the real winner in the latest round of state-elections.