BJP sweeps three of four state assembly elections | Mint

BJP sweeps three of four state assembly elections

The extraordinary results place the BJP in a comfortable position as India enters the Lok Sabha election season. (PTI)
The extraordinary results place the BJP in a comfortable position as India enters the Lok Sabha election season. (PTI)

Summary

  • Congress wins Telangana; BJP retains MP, reclaims Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh; Mizoram results today

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) tightened its grip over India’s heartland with emphatic victories across three major states on Sunday, boosting the ruling party’s prospects of prevailing in next summer’s general election. The results also ring alarm bells for the Opposition, specifically the Congress party, which was outgunned and now faces uncomfortable seat-sharing talks with potential allies in the INDIA bloc.

The BJP staved off anti-incumbency to score a king-size victory in Madhya Pradesh, kept alive Rajasthan’s tradition of voting out the incumbent with a clear majority, and shocked the ruling Congress in Chhattisgarh by wresting back the tribal-dominated province with an impressive showing.

“Some people are already saying our hat-trick in the states is a guarantee of a hat-trick in the Lok Sabha polls in 2024," Prime Minister Narendra Modi told BJP workers in the evening in Delhi.

The only salve for the bruised Congress came south of the Vindhyas where the party defeated the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) in Telangana with a disciplined campaign that exploited the latter’s vulnerabilities, the first time in several decades that the party has triumphed against a regional force.

Still, the party’s near-wipeout from the Hindi heartland that holds around 230 of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha—the only state it rules on its own in north India is Himachal Pradesh, home to four parliamentary seats—spells trouble for its 2024 campaign.

Conversely, the saffron wave that marooned opponents will delight the BJP, which will attempt next year to become the first party in 40 years to secure a third consecutive term at the Centre.

“The results in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan indicate that the people of India are firmly with politics of good governance and development, which the BJP stands for. I thank the people of these states for their unwavering support and assure them that we will keep working tirelessly for their well-being," Modi posted on X.

The Congress’s dismal performance across the three states, on the other hand, will stoke a churn in the 28-party Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) that is likely to meet next on 6 December. Seat-sharing talks in the grouping were stalled in the run-up to the polls, drawing the public ire of other opposition parties. When they return to the negotiating table, the Congress will have significantly weakened bargaining power. The party will also worry about the erosion of support among tribespeople, once among its staunchest supporters.

“I thank the people of Telangana for the mandate we have received from them. I also thank all those who voted for us in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Our performance in these three states have no doubt been disappointing, but with determination, we reaffirm our strong resolve to rebuild and revive ourselves in these three states," said Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge on X.

The extraordinary results place the BJP in a comfortable position as India enters the Lok Sabha election season. Though state and national polls are not always congruous—the Congress won all three states in 2018, only to secure just three of the 65 Lok Sabha seats just six months later—the scale of the victory left little about which party held the edge in the thickly populated Hindi belt.

In Madhya Pradesh, a state the BJP has ruled for 18 of the last 20 years, the party scored the biggest victory in history in terms of vote share, winning 164 of the 230 assembly seats with 48.5% of the vote to leave the Congress far behind with just 65 seats and 40.41% vote share.

The BJP’s gambit of pushing collective leadership to fight the elections instead of projecting a chief ministerial face, its focus on effective disbursal of welfare schemes such as Ladli Behna, and relentless attacks on the Opposition by Modi appeared to have demolished the Congress challenge.

“There is a pro-incumbency wave in Madhya Pradesh. I thank the people and promise everyone that we will fulfil our guarantees," said chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.

The state’s northern neighbour Rajasthan stuck to its 25-year-old political tradition of voting out the incumbent as chief minister Ashok Gehlot’s attempts at stitching together a winning formula came unstuck in the face of corruption allegations, competitive welfare promises and Modi’s popularity. The BJP won 115 of the state’s 200 seats, a comfortable majority, while the Congress won 69.

“People have rejected the misgovernance of Congress and have elected the good governance of BJP," said former chief minister Vasundhara Raje.

Another big surprise in this round of elections came from the smaller state of Chhattisgarh, where the incumbent Congress was decisively trounced by the BJP, which overcame local factionalism, the lack of a pan-state face and a cogent narrative to craft a populist message and clobber the ruling party. Chief minister Bhupesh Baghel’s attempts at striking a pitch combining regional identity and backward caste mobilization appeared to have alienated big chunks of the tribal vote that overwhelmingly backed the BJP. The BJP won 54 of the state’s 90 seats, and the Congress just 35, a repudiation of a party that won a landslide just five years ago.

“The people have shown faith in Modi’s guarantees and not Baghel’s promises, which is evident in the trends," said former chief minister Raman Singh.

Some succour came for the Congress from Telangana, where the party overcame its historic susceptibility against strong regional forces to wrench the state from the BRS that attempted to counter anti-incumbency with welfare largesse and underlining chief minister K. Chandrashekar Rao’s emotional connection with the movement that led to the creation of India’s youngest state.

But the Congress, taking a leaf out of its successful campaign in neighbouring Karnataka earlier this year, crafted a robust campaign led by state unit chief A. Revanth Reddy, who hammered the BRS on corruption allegations and played on voter fatigue after 10 years of Rao’s rule. In the end, the Congress won 64 of the 119 seats, with the BRS at 39.

Voters in all four states delivered clear verdicts, though the vote share figures in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh indicated a fiercer fight than what the final seat tallies projected.

The results—the best possible outcome in this round for the BJP—will cast a long shadow on the Opposition’s ability to put up a credible fight against the party in elections next year, raise uncomfortable questions about the Congress’s dismal head-to-head record against the BJP in the Hindi belt, and effectively relegate it to southern India. The BJP will welcome the electorate’s ringing endorsement of its strategy to fight state polls under Modi, and focus on welfare outreach and ground presence. Clearly, the party was able to manage anti-incumbency a lot better than it was expected to (such as in Madhya Pradesh) and cash in on anti-incumbency (in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh).

This round of assembly elections was seen as a virtual semifinal to the 2024 elections, given that it was the last major electoral exercise before next year. In that case, the BJP goes into 2024 as the firm favourite.

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