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Tumbling in state elections, BJP's political game is challenged

  • Published at 10:36 pm November 30th, 2019
Infograph draws comparison on BJP's level of political dominance in 2017 and in 2019 Dhaka Tribune

People who were praising BJP President Amit Shah as a cunning politician for his role in forming the government in Maharashtra, are now trying to hide their faces as things reverse

After Uttar Pradesh, politically the second most important state is Maharashtra, where the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) just received a blow as its old ally Shiv Sena, broke ties and joined hands with  BJP rivals NCP (Nationalist Congress Party) and Indian National Congress, to form the government in the state. 

Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray was sworn in as chief minister on November 28. 

On November 26, BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis was sworn in as the chief minister of Maharashtra on November 23, and NCP leader Ajit Pawar was sworn in as the deputy chief minister.  They both resigned from their posts hours after the Supreme Court directed Fadnavis to prove majority during the floor test scheduled to be held on November 27. 

Meanwhile, people who were praising BJP President Amit Shah as a cunning politician for his role in forming the government in Maharashtra, are now trying to  hide their faces as things reverse.

 Amit Shah relied mostly on Ajit Pawar to execute the formation of a government, but the latter was back in family and became united ultimately with his uncle Sharad Pawar, the chief of NCP.

Now the question is: what impact can the BJP have in the short and long term in the face of the humiliation that the BJP has suffered in Maharashtra?

 BJP's undisputed leader and Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, returned to power with a thumping victory in the national election just six months back, but since then his party has been stumbling in the state elections. This compels many to feel that "Modi Magic" is no longer working at the state level.

Former Miss India, social activist, and Congress supporter, Nafisa Ali, posted an image on her Facebook wall which shows two maps of India (with statistics). The statistics show the BJP-led governance in the country's landmass has gone down from 71% in December 2017 to 40% in November 2019, justifying the inscription on the image, "BJP's shrinking foothold", meaning, the pro-Hindu party is gradually losing ground from under its feet. 

The lesson that BJP learnt in the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly election, that the abrogation of Article 370 of India's constitution that stripped Jammu and Kashmir of its semi-autonomy and statehood, creating two federal territories, was not enough to ensure a majority in the state, though the abrogation got huge support from across India. The party learnt another hard lesson in Haryana state where they had to forge an alliance with a minor regional party to form a government. 

Only the two states (Maharashtra and Haryana) have had elections after the controversial decision on Kashmir (August 5), demonstrating that the BJP is losing seats in the polls, along with people's support.

Delhi's senior journalist and political analyst Smita Gupta said every issue like Kashmir and Ram Mandir has a sell-by date. 

"Maharashtra and Haryana proved that only Kashmir issue cannot ensure win for BJP.

"After the Ram Mandir verdict, elections are going to be held in Jharkhand. As far as we know, BJP's condition is also unstable there," she said.

After the Ayodhya verdict, by-polls to three assembly seats in West Bengal were held. On November 28, the results showed Trinamool Congress defeated BJP in all the seats. 

However, all these are the short-term impact on BJP. People may put their confidence in the party again if BJP guarantees economic development and ensures work opportunities for them. But Indian observers and analysts think the Maharashtra incident will create a long-term impact on the party.    

Below are a few points to consider in this regard.

1) Prime Minister Narendra Modi's commitment against corruption has suffered a practically serious blow  after the Maharashtra drama. Modi came to power five and a half years back with the slogan "Na khaoonga, na khaane doonga" (Neither will I indulge in corruption nor allow anyone else to do so). But this slogan apparently seemed fake to Indians as they found BJP tried to buy MLAs (Member of the Legislative Assembly) of other parties with large amounts of money (Some MLAs said they were promised Rs300 crore each). Besides, halting a graft case against NCP leader Ajit Pawar for his support to form the state government also pointed to corruption committed by the BJP itself, people believe.         

Social activist Harsh Mander, a former bureaucrat, said:"BJP tried to form its government in Maharashtra with only money, as the party failed to secure majority there after Karnataka state.

"BJP claimed itself to be 'a party with a difference' and now it is very explicit that the party is like other parties in committing corruption."

2) In India, a myth was created that the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah pair can do the impossible. However, a crack has developed slowly in the myth now. There was speculation that only Modi can destroy militant hideouts in Pakistan, abrogate the special status of Kashmir, and form a government easily in any state. Even in this year's parliamentary election, BJP campaigned with the slogan that "Everything is possible if Modi is there."  

Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist) Liberation leader Dipankar Bhattacharya said:"The superman image of Modi established by BJP has received a blow. The Modi-Shah confidence reached such a height that they thought they would be able to form a government in Maharashtra very simply, even if the BJP failed to secure a majority. But I believe they learnt a good lesson that everything does not happen as they wish."

3) Building a "Congress-free" India was the priority of Amit Shah, soon after he became the president of BJP. Many started to believe that the plan was going to be a fact as the Indian National Congress got only 44 and 52 seats in  two consecutive national elections. 

Former BJP leader Sudheendra Kulkarni, also the former aide of BJP leaders Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani, believes that it is impossible to annihilate Congress from India. 

He told this correspondent:"The elections in Maharashtra and Haryana proved that the Congress cannot be wiped out from India. The results of the elections indicate that people can cast their ballots in favour of Congress if they become upset about the work of BJP.

"It will be no wonder if the two siblings, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi, return to take the helm of Congress after the humiliating defeat of BJP in Maharashtra," Sudheendra added.   

4) Many observers think the other allies of BJP have many things to learn from the way that the Shiv Sena, a 30-35 year ally of BJP, left the party in Maharashtra bringing allegations of falsehood and treachery. The condition of the alliance parties in different states has become unstable due to the absolute dominance of BJP there, while the party cares little for its alliance partners in taking important decisions after becoming a majority party in parliament. However, this situation may have a change now, observers believe. 

Columnist Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, author of "Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times", said: "Thirty years ago, since the tenure of VP Singh [Vishwanath Pratap Singh, a former Indian prime minister], there was a conception that the politics of alliance is the future of India, and that no party would be able to come to power on its own. 

"But, after the landslide victories in 2014 and 2019 elections, BJP began to believe that they do not need any allies. 

"I think the Maharashtra incident made them realize that their notion was actually a blunder," Nilanjan added.

On November 26, after the Supreme Court order to the Maharashtra government, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader and spokesperson Nawab Malik tweeted that the BJP game is over.

Although it cannot be said at the moment that the game for BJP is ending in the arena of politics, the game is getting rather difficult after the Maharashtra incident: that is very clear.