New Delhi: Five months before the 2019 general elections are due, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) got a rude shock on Tuesday, losing three key north Indian states to the Congress in a direct contest.

Members of the BJP said the assembly election results will lead to a shake-up in the organization and that the cadre will now be more motivated to ensure victory in the Lok Sabha polls.

BJP leaders also feel that the defeat will embolden certain sections, especially the affiliates of the hardline Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), to further press their demand for the construction of a Ram temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya where the Babri Masjid was pulled down in 1992.

Even though Rajasthan voters typically vote out the incumbent, the loss in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh are significant as the BJP had ruled the two states for 15 years.

Senior BJP leaders maintained that the defeats are not a direct verdict on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity, but more about state-specific issues. But they said the resentment expressed by BJP cadres has to be dealt with urgently.

“BJP cadres get motivated on three factors. First, human touch—the feeling of belonging or connecting with the party—ideological commitment and, third, that they should not be taken for granted. The time has come when we have to reach out to our cadres and motivate them to come out in support of the party for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, which will be crucial for the BJP," said a senior BJP leader, who was involved in the election strategy for the three states.

BJP members said while the party had taken a conscious decision of not announcing a farm loan waiver in Madhya Pradesh, which eventually affected the prospects of the party. In addition, leadership fatigue in both Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh also played a crucial part in the minds of voters. BJP leaders said the resentment of voters of Rajasthan was the most difficult to handle.

“We should not make the mistake of misreading the election verdict in the three states. The election was not a test of the popularity of PM Modi, but it was the responsibility of the state governments. There was popular unrest in the three states and it is only natural because BJP was in power for 15 years in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh," the senior BJP leader added.

Apart from the problems related to the functioning of chief ministers, party cadres were under the impression that they were being taken for granted by the senior leadership without meeting their aspirations and ambitions.

“When a party is in power for 15 years and is also ruling at the centre, it is possible that the aspirations of party workers rise. We cannot satisfy the aspirations of everyone, but the behaviour style of some chief ministers had become a problem as the cadres started feeling that they were not being heard or respected," the BJP leader said.

“BJP would see this election verdict as a setback, it would become clear to BJP that if they want to win 2019 general elections convincingly then they need a national narrative. One narrative that is getting mileage is the demand to build Ram temple in Ayodhya. BJP will need a national narrative to unite the people and not allow elections to be fought on state issues, local issues and regional issues because then BJP can be pushed to a corner," said Sanjay Kumar, a political analyst and director at the New Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS).

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