By Inderjit Badhwar
The most striking aspect of the recent elections in five states was the nine percent upward vote leap of the BJP defying a persistently anti-incumbency atmosphere in Madhya Pradesh (MP). Nine percent is too high a jump to go unnoticed on the ground by even the most casual observer! It is easy to blame the entire surge on a helpful pro-government bureaucracy or EVM tampering. But is manipulation on such a massive scale possible?
Actually, there was nothing wrong with the Congress messaging: OPS; farmers’ suffering and MSP; the scandalous Vyapam racket; the “hijacked” duly elected Kamal Nath state government; Agniveer and youth unemployment; Mama Shivraj Singh’s incumbent vulnerabilities; Rahul Gandhi setting the ideological agenda by linking plutocratic Adani-centric jobless economic “growth” with rural distress and loan forgiveness; the fundamental right to education and a welfare security net; Priyanka Gandhi’s powerful emotional connect at jam-packed rallies stressing local issues and de-Modi-fication of India’s politics; a mix of some good local leaders like Jitu Patwari; disaffection in Bundelkhand because of Uma Bharti’s alienation; Jyotiraditya Scindia’s alleged “gaddari”; Rahul’s espousal of a new vote bank through his support for an OBC/caste census…
All these factors were palpable and visible, including the popular resentment against Scindia in his own backyard for having led Congress deserters into the BJP and causing the downfall of a legitimately elected majority government.
Most analysts in the mainstream as well as alternative media appeared to be of the opinion that while the Congress fought this election politically, the BJP’s strategy was muscle, money, media-control, propaganda, Hindutva, fear and repression and, of course, Narendra Modi’s pervasive ubiquitousness.
I can think of three reasons for the Congress’s debacle: (1) Exclusively local factors, ie choice of bad candidates (who deserved to lose) by Digvijaya Singh; (2) Voters’ love for paternal authoritarianism; (3) Congress’s failure to use its strongest new political weapon vs BJP—the INDIA alliance in the campaign.
But how do you explain the nine percent jump? A plausible answer lies in the trenchant source-based analysis written exclusively for us by veteran journalist Neeraj Mishra. Read his report to find out why it’s the money, honey. Apparently, the wily “Mama” of MP had a card up his sleeve that was more attractive and powerful than the Modi factor or the Vyapam fallout. And he played it with calibrated finesse. But I won’t spoil the ending for you by spelling it out here.
One observation, though, at a macro-level: Win or lose these three states, it would have made, except in the psychological sense, no difference to the BJP’s stranglehold on its Lok Sabha numbers from this Hindi belt. The betting is that these hardcore Hindi belt parliamentary constituencies are likely to remain constant and can be counted as BJP’s unassailable jagir in the 2024 general elections as well.
The real battle for the Dilli Durbar in 2024 will be Bihar, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Punjab, Karnataka, Delhi, Odisha and the changing equations in the South because of the annexation of Telangana to the Congress fold.
This is where the INDIA alliance will count. (I’m ignoring UP here). Even a 20-30 seat loss for the BJP in these states could radically alter political equations.
Post Script: This brief analysis would be incomplete without reference to BJP’s superior cadre-based booth management and the ability to go door to door to get the vote out. Notwithstanding Bharat Jodo Yatra, the Congress failed to build its cadres to match this… except in Telangana and Karnataka where Revanth Reddy and DK Shivakumar have established powerful grassroots workers. The Congress’s traditional leaders should take a lesson from these emerging southern giants.