India’s ruling far-right Bharatiya Janata Party suffered a major setback as it was thrown out of power in three States out of the five for which election results were announced on December. While many of the elections were fought on regional issues, the right-wing BJP government in India, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has suffered severely in a major anti-incumbency wave. Of the five states that went into election in the months of November and December 2018, BJP ruled three of them. With final results in, the BJP has lost its majority in all three of them and came in second in terms of seats. In the other two states, where the BJP is a very minor player, it failed to break new ground. This is a major set back to the Modi government as it prepares for the nationwide general elections barely a few months away. Experts have noted that with such losses, the government will be hard-pressed to clinch a second term for itself at the centre.
Five states went into election between November 12 and December 9. 2018, in different phases, viz., Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram, Rajasthan and Telangana. The five states put together have a sixth of India’s population and send 83 of the 543 MPs to the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the national parliament that forms the federal government. In two of these states, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, the BJP has consistently won a majority since 2003 and sent a major chunk of the party’s MPs, even when it was out of power at the centre from 2004 to 2014. In the 2014 parliamentary general election, the party had swept almost all the seats in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, giving it 62 out of 65 possible MPs and secured more than half the vote share in them. Certain regions in the three states are part of possibly among the poorest regions in the world, with very low human development indices, high poverty and malnutrition levels, and with a significant part of the population living with little to almost no access to basic amenities and utilities. Infrastructurally and economically, these states are also doing badly, despite being among the most resource rich part of India.
While Rajasthan is known to swing back and forth between the BJP and its national rival Indian National Congress (INC), Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh have been the bastions of right-wing party and Hindu nationalism for over 15 years. But in the last year or so, the discontent against their respective governments, especially among the poorer sections like the indigenous tribes or Adivasis, small farmers, oppressed caste groups, etc., has skyrocketed. The national capital of Delhi was rocked in November 29 and 30 by thousands of farmers marching to the Parliament, and earlier this year in September by a united front of farmers and workers from across the country. In both the cases large number of protesters came from these very states.
The fallout of these mobilizations was a wave of anti-incumbency that was capitalized by the INC, which although was not involved in any of it. They also convinced the people of being the only viable alternative. Although, the INC missed the majority mark in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh by very narrow margins, and failed to take most of the votes BJP had lost, it seems set to form governments in the two state with support from smaller like-minded parties, like the Bahujan Samaj Party. The BJP on the other lost anywhere between 13% to 16% of the vote share in the three large states, when compared to its performance in 2014.
In the two other states of Telangana and Mizoram, the two national parties BJP and INC failed miserably while standing against regional parties. While the INC maintained its core support base and remains a key player despite the losses, BJP which has been a minor player failed to gain any new grounds. In both these states BJP has been a junior partner to different regional parties to keep itself afloat, it was forced to stand alone, when its regional allies broke away from it earlier this year. In Telangana, and also the neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, BJP was aligned with the regional Telugu Desam Party until earlier this year, when it broke away from the alliance and later went to form one with INC. In Mizoram, the BJP was in alliance with the state-based Mizo National Front, which although is still in the pan-Indian National Democratic Alliance led by BJP, ditched BJP for the state elections and managed to win handsomely. In the two states, BJP was not able to hold on its own and was limited to merely one seats each in the state legislatures.
The BJP, not being able to deliver on its promises of economic and social progress, resorted to crass demagoguery, politics of anti-Muslim hate-mongering, and Hindu nationalism for political mileage. But if the votes are anything to go by, people clearly did not buy into their tactics, with more immediate and material needs gaining more priority. Experts have estimated that even if the opposition parties do not form an alliance by the upcoming parliamentary elections, BJP is set to lose around 31 seats in these states, if their performance does not improve. If the opposition forms a united front against BJP, the loss will possibly be even greater.