Telangana sentiment failed to help BRS. Is there is no link between winnability and regional aspirations that regional parties espouse?
As the trends firm up in the four states where counting for Assembly elections 2023 are underway, here are a few quick takeaways.
For one, the results of these Assembly elections are a wake-up call for Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. Clearly, the Congress can no longer bank on aged senior leaders in the states; it needs fresh faces.
The emerging fate of the BRS is a lesson for regional parties: Don’t take freebies/welfare schemes for granted. Even Telangana sentiment failed to help the BRS. There is no link between winnability and the regional aspirations that regional parties espouse.
“Freebies” work along with effective governance, not grandstanding, as the Telangana, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh examples show. More on this later.
For the BJP, the biggest lesson is other leaders now share the pedestal with its big vote-catcher Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Brand Chouhan is now a reality.
The “national” image of the two national parties, too, gets a wake-up call. The BJP appears consistent most in the Hindi heartland, while the Congress finds a new stronghold in the South.
It has a meaning for the 2024 general elections, though: Except in a few states, it seems to be a straight fight between the BJP and Congress in BJP-ruled states, while it is a straight fight between the regional parties and Congress in states ruled by regional parties.
In that sense, it is the Congress which is the challenger in largely all the states. The implications need a close study.
Overall, it is good news for the saffron party. It has come from behind to smash Congress hopes in the Assembly elections. The Congress is squarely beaten in Madhya Pradesh. It is trailing, though with a growing gap, the BJP in Rajasthan. And, surprisingly, the BJP is giving it a run for its money in Chhattisgarh, where the incumbent Congress looks harassed and on the brink already.
The Congress’ solace is in its big win in Telangana, but the cheer is dented by the fact that the Congress beat a regional party, the BRS, and not the BJP, which, in any case, is not a significant force either in the state or the South in general.
However, the positive trends for the BJP will kickstart a fight internally on who takes the credit. That is a major issue in Madhya Pradesh, where sections of the BJP and sections of the central leadership sought to undermine Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s credibility, saying it needs Brand Modi for the BJP to return.
Yet, Chouhan has managed to get the party back to power, and he may become chief minister for a record fifth time, consolidating, in the process, his stature in Madhya Pradesh and nationally as well. Thus, he becomes the second leader after Yogi Adityanath to have a national resonance, along with Modi.
Having said that, it must also be realised that large parts of Madhya Pradesh are original strongholds of the RSS and, later, Hindutva, and they only consolidated this grip this time.
The DMK’s Sanatana Dharma comments may have had a role to play in the polarisation, undoubtedly. It just goes to show that when it comes to the crunch, Hindutva remains a rallying call for the BJP that can subsume even a lack of development. Madhya Pradesh is a classic example, especially the BJP’s win in and around Indore.
Supporters of Narendra Modi will certainly claim that Brand Modi once again helped the party return to power in the two big Hindi states, even coming close to upsetting the Congress apple cart in Chhattisgarh.
However, the supporters also know that regional leadership in Madhya Pradesh had a more significant role to play in the party’s victory.
In Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, another reason for the Congress setback is definitely the in-fighting and one-upmanship of party leaders, which destroyed its prospects and the refusal of the party leadership to either resolve the differences or go for a new leadership.
The role of freebies makes for an interesting analysis in this round of Assembly elections. Freebies on their own mean nothing. They need to be complemented by a compelling sentiment playing a convincing role.
In Telangana, freebies did help a lot of people. But losing confidence in Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao because of failed promises and forgotten Telangana sentiment failed to inspire the beneficiaries to vote for the BRS en masse.
In Chattisgarh, the freebies hooked the entire population, no doubt. Neither was the Congress government particularly controversial. But the BJP saw the chink in its armour — the growing disenchantment among the tribals and the extreme hinterland, the pro-urban tilt of the government, and the fact that Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel was not entirely an inclusivist personality.
In Madhya Pradesh, the people were not impressed by Congress’s promise of freebies because, for the last 15 years, they have anyway been habituated to BJP’s free doles.
The Hindutva polarisation was the additional factor. The chief minister’s grandstanding and political management in Rajasthan could not take him past the post this time.