BJP failed to live up to the expectations in the bye-elections held in Bihar (10 assembly seats), Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka (3 seats each) and Punjab (2 seats) after its spectacular performance in the Lok Sabha elections this year.
It was an unacceptable 7 seats for the BJP. Its Punjab ally SAD won 1. Bihar, the biggest theatre this time with 10 seats in the election fray, and the centrestage of the debate on the ‘bye-elections being referendum on Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar-Lalu Yadav-Congress combine exercise’ certainly let down Narendra Modi and Bhartiya Janata Party because the BJP had performed exceeding well in these assembly segments in the Lok Sabha polls and had won 6 out of these 10 in the last assembly polls. And even these 4 wins are not convincing. The BJP could retain the Hajipur seat with a victory margin of just over 6000 votes while the winning vote margin in Banka was miserable 711 votes.
Even in other states, in Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka, the BJP lost its strongholds, Aagar in Madhya Pradesh and Bellary Rural in Karnataka.
Within three months of the May 16 jubilation, it is a pinching letdown, given a bigger bypoll is slated the next month and four major assembly polls are due in the subsequent months.
The May 16 outcome had given the BJP an overwhelming majority and, theoretically, it didn’t need support from any other ally of the alliance. Practically, it went with the alliance sharing the portfolios with the alliance partners in the council of ministers. Yes, but the ‘overwhelming majority’ reflected when it didn’t allow any bargain and parties like the Shiv Sena had to accept the portfolio allocated after initial protests and sulking.
The BJP thought though it needed the alliance partners for further elections, it could play the big brother.
The poll outcomes like this can effectively undermine that ‘big brother’ opportunity as the Shiv Sena reflected on it in the party’s mouthpiece Saamana a day after – “We have to accept that the RJD-JDU-Congress combine won 6 seats while the BJP could win only 4. People have shown that there is a difference between Lok Sabha and state Assembly elections. This difference should be taken very seriously. Seeing the bypoll results, it seems clear that the BJP-Shiv Sena led 'Mahayuti' has to pull up its socks and get to work for the upcoming elections inMaharashtra.”
The statement should be seen in with the row over seat-sharing talks between the BJP and the Shiv Sena and its experience during the portfolio allocation.
But, it came sooner than expected, like the reaction of the increasingly demanding Indian voter who is showing a much reduced reaction time. It’s always the gold standard for any democracy if the promises made by politicians start costing dearly in electoral battles.
The BJP strategists dismissed it as a ‘reaction to Narendra Modi’s governance’, much in the same way the Congress ‘stalwarts’ would defend Rahul Gandhi every time, when they needed to accept it.
Yes, Narendra Modi is a strong prime minister and BJP has a full majority on its own, but to govern effectively and to implement major policy decisions and changes, the NDA needs a comfortable position in the Rajya Sabha, the arithmetic of which depends on the state elections as states elect the Rajya Sabha members through their legislative benches.
And the political opposition is in majority in the Rajya Sabha and can effectively scuttle any policy-initiative of the government. It is still some years away before the NDA can get a comfortable position in the upper house and that too, if it wins the state assembly elections that are to be held in three years. And the bypoll results tell the BJP needs its allies to counter the uniting political opposition against in the assembly polls.
The BJP needs to perform on governance and needs to perform on electoral parameters like caste combinations and local issues. Apart from the negative developments like price-rise and other fumbling blocks like shunting an honest official or sacking or shuffling Governors or portfolio allocations or jumping to the issues almost irresolvable and communally sensitive in the very beginning when the priority was to be setting indicators on the delivery of governance - the votebank combine of the three parties in Bihar was the other major reason.
The BJP and Narendra Modi need to follow the line meticulously and honestly – if they have to keep their chances strong for the 2019 General Election – good governance with good electoral polices. They need to take it as a reaction to the fumbling blocks of a government that is seen as centrally pillared by Narendra Modi. They also need to see the Shiv Sena snub in the context of the Bihar alliance experiment because this experiment would certainly widen its net in the upcoming elections.
The public has reacted and it is a public snub and based on that, the Shiv Sena snub has come.
It is like gauging the mood. Number of seats the BJP won in the Lok Sabha polls, sweeping the states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, had this remarkable aspect of the voting pattern – the Hindu voted across the caste lines, something defying the caste-riddled tenets of the Indian politics – and it was not because of the BJP but it was because of the Narendra Modi appeal and it was because of the dreams the Narendra Modi appeal sold to the Indian masses reeling under the bad governance of the 10 years Congress rule.
And caste is the most resilient reality of Indian politics. If the voter doesn’t get the incentive for acting so, at least the indicators that the efforts are afoot to bring the ‘Achhe Din’ (the better days), a little coaxing would be enough to push him back to the traditional lines of voting – on caste, the major element, and on other ‘in the race, too’ elements like candidates and local issues, and not on the charisma of the prime minister of India – something that happened this time, in these bye-elections and is bound to happen in the coming elections – until the Union Government shows the signs, creates the indicators, that it is on the job fully to deliver the promises made – promises that have the potential to touch the lives of Indians across the states – the states where the BJP needs to grow in numbers, and it needs allies for that, to be able to change the Indian politics for good, the change that Narendra Modi has been talking about.
But, there is no time. The next round of bye-elections, the bigger one, with 33 assembly seats and 3 Lok Sabha seats is slated for September 13 only. And the four assembly polls are due, probably in November. Then there is another assembly election due as well, the Delhi polls that the BJP is trying to push away sensing the mood of the voters discontent with the Union Government.
And the fumbling blocks with the combined effect of the timing of the bypoll results probably pushed the Shiv Sena to react immediately, to send the message, to pressure the ‘big brother’ to concede more ground on the seat-sharing talks for the Maharashtra polls. Such voices will only grow if the assessment of the first three months of the government goes unnoticed.
The Modi government is completing the first 100 days in office. Yes, it has illogical to expect the ‘Achhe Din’ in this short period. But it has not been able do the minimum it was expected to do - to create the strong set of messages and indicators about seriousness and honestly of its intent, necessary to keep the people onboard.
Let’s see what Narendra Modi does to not getting punished in the next round of polls.