Gujarat, Himachal, Delhi polls

All winners and all losers
Representational Image
Representational Image Special arrangement

Every election sets some new trends, bares some new conventions, throws up some new line-ups, and, of course, there are victors and vanquished. The just held elections to Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh assemblies, and politically significant Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), were no exception in this regard.

What if there are victors alone? Sounds jarring! Yes, if there are victors someone has to be a loser. But this round of elections has turned out to be a please-all game with all victors and all losers, at one place or the other.

The BJP under the indomitable Mr Narendra Modi winning Gujarat with highest ever number of seats, got dethroned by the Congress in Himachal Pradesh. And also saw its (BJP) 15-year rule ending in the MCD after being upstaged by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) which had made lofty claims of ousting Prime Minister Mr Modi on his home turf.

So, politically speaking and from a future perspective, who are the actual gainers and losers in this round of election that became significant because of Gujarat-being the home state of both Mr Modi and Home Minister Mr Amit Shah? And Delhi under the current constitutional scheme of things directly under the Centre’s charge with MCD under the direct rule of BJP.

 Despite one impressive win and two significant losses, BJP (read Mr Modi) is decidedly the biggest beneficiary. This is, notwithstanding the fact, that for the first time in last eight years the spectacle of his authority being challenged was witnessed in Himachal Pradesh where despite his intervention many of the rebels were unrelenting and ultimately contributed to the party’s defeat.

From record breaking victory in Gujarat to whatever the BJP scored in Himachal Pradesh and Delhi civic elections, where not only was the party faced with strong anti-incumbency but also internal organizational bickering, the biggest factor proved to be brand Modi. Otherwise, the party’s tally in Himachal (25 seats) and Delhi MCD (104 wards) under his very nose, would have been worst.

If Gujarat has strengthened his authority, the loss at other two places has put a question mark on it. It is certainly not a serious challenge to ‘Brand Modi’ but an aberration currently. This can assume a serious dimension depending on how the organizational issues are dealt with particularly when the BJP has lost election in the party president, Mr J P Nadda’s home state, and how the opposition combine starts from here to face next round of assembly elections in half a dozen states followed by 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Will there be a demand for Mr Nadda’s replacement?

The serious factional rumblings and rebellion in Mr Nadda’s home state which became a big contributory factor to the party’s defeat, can put a challenge to the strong-arm tactics of the party high command in other states as well. Up till now any rebellion or view contrarian to what the top brass thought had been rendered ineffective, till Himachal Pradesh happened.

Despite being a gainer by clinching the prestigious MCD that would further strengthen the hold of chief minister and AAP supremo, Mr Arvind Kejriwal over Delhi, and having gained the status of a national party on the basis of votes and seats secured in Gujarat, in the overall context he has been the loser in broader terms. His lofty claims that he was privy to the Intelligence Bureau reports predicting AAP victory in the state and that his party would achieve a landslide victory in Delhi, not only came a cropper but exposed his brand of politics as well. On top of that the AAP’s sudden and mysterious disappearing act from Himachal Pradesh after initial hype, has not yet been explained.

It is rather ironic that Mr Kejriwal accompanied by Punjab chief minister, Mr Bhagwant Singh Mann highlighted the virtues of Delhi-Punjab model of governance in Gujarat. However, it all went missing when it came to neighbouring Himalayan state where the model could have more relevance than the far-off western state where Modi’s Gujarat model of governance had already taken a centrestage- politically and strategically.

This is inexplicable. The only plausible explanation about Mr Kejriwal’s greater focus and leading the party from the front in Gujarat is, perhaps, by challenging Mr Modi in his den, he was seeking to create a Modi versus Kejriwal line up for the Lok Sabha elections and by dint of it become the face of the opposition. The plan seems to have backfired for now.

The third player in the electoral arena, the Congress, was perhaps unsure about both its strategy and goals. With Mr Rahul Gandhi busy with his ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ and unwisely detaching himself from the electoral process, the local Gujarat unit with no strong leader was left to fend for itself. The ruination came for the party in the midst of false claims and fond hopes, due to ineffective campaigning and further hit by the presence of AAP and Mr Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen. Both cut into the Congress’s traditional vote base along with BJP which made inroads into tribal and Patidar voters who had last time supported Congress.

The party’s dismal performance in MCD polls has only added to the series of defeats that the Congress has been facing in the capital for the last decade. So, the net loss and morale nosediving.

Himachal Pradesh proved to be a silver lining and face-saver both, for the Congress. A better coordinated effort at all levels and properly exploiting the legacy of late state chief minister Mr Virbhadra Singh by keeping his family in the loop rather than sidelining them, as had happened in many such cases in other states, resulted in the Congress stopping the Modi juggernaut there. This could at best be termed as a consolation but a significant prize after series of defeats in the last four years.

The one take away for Congress from these elections has been that they should learn to deal with the challenge posed by the ilks of AAP and Mr Owaisi. This is a reality which the party will have to live with, and strategize to face effectively to check splitting of votes. One factor behind its poor performance in Gujarat was losing 14 per cent of its vote share- from 41 per cent in 2017 to 27 per cent now- with major chunk having been taken away by AAP and Owaisi’s outfit.

The Himachal Pradesh victory came as a bonus to the party which was more engrossed with the presidential election and the ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’. Lack of direction, wrong strategy and bad sense of timing harmed the party in Gujarat and Delhi.

Owing to this indifference, the party could not even think of rejoicing the Himachal Pradesh victory happening after many defeats. While Mr Modi, tactically, led a large victory rally at the BJP headquarters - despite having lost in Delhi and neighbouring Himachal Pradesh - to celebrate big Gujarat win and at the same time effectively divert attention from the two defeats, the AICC headquarters remained unmoved.

It is an irony that despite indifference and inaptitude, Congress also figures among the victors. The party should seriously think of building on Himachal Pradesh victory as organizational toning up, elections and ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ should go side by side.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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