New Delhi: The BJP’s annihilation of a divided opposition in Gujarat, as it wielded its planks of Hindutva, nationalism and development to power its electoral juggernaut to a record-breaking victory, has boosted its already high hopes of retaining power in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
However, its loss of power in Himachal Pradesh to the Congress, considered no match to the BJP in organisational heft, resource mobilisation, ideological resonance and star power, as the opposition party focussed on local issues and satraps to drive its campaign showed that the BJP is not an invincible force. Even the “Modi magic” was not powerful enough to override people’s discontent over simmering local issues like Old Pension Scheme and Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur’s indifferent image. For example, in Solan where BJP leaders hoped for a strong performance after a well-attended rally of the prime minister, their party lost all five seats.
The rise of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has also presented the ruling party and, more so, its main national rival Congress with a host of challenges as they prepare for a slew of state elections before the mega contest in 2024.
The BJP has, however, much more positives to draw from these results with party leaders believing that it is their “national” agenda which worked in Gujarat that will also come into play more and more as the next general election approaches. Even in a losing cause like Himachal, the party’s vote share was less than one per cent of the Congress.
The BJP won a record 156 seats in Gujarat with a staggering 52.5 per cent vote share, dwarfing the Opposition Congress and AAP, that got over 27 per cent and about 13 per cent vote share respectively. The Congress got just 17 seats while the AAP managed to bag five. Independents won three seats and the Samajwadi Party picked up one.
The poll results and the campaign showed that the brand Modi is intact and the prime minister remains the trump card for the BJP to woo voters, something that was reflected in the massive mandate in Gujarat and the close fight in Himachal, political analysts say.
“On the large issues of governance and ideology, people trust Modi and the BJP far more than any other party whatever their grievances may be about certain issues. We have seen that in many state polls, including in Uttar Pradesh, and now in Gujarat,” a party leader said, blaming the Himachal loss on local factors like the Old Pension Scheme, “poor” ticket distribution and the presence of several rebels.
As the country approaches the next Lok Sabha polls, the larger national issues and the ‘Modi factor’ will matter more and more, he said.
The BJP’s record-breaking win in Gujarat has come as a ringing endorsement for its narrative built around Hindutva, nationalism, development and Prime Minister Modi’s enduring appeal but the AAP’s noticeable show coupled with its loss of power in Himachal Pradesh to the Congress has also given the ruling party some food for fought as it gets ready for upcoming electoral challenges.
The BJP’s sweeping win in the saffron bastion of Gujarat has also strengthened the impression that it faces no serious challenge to its bid for power in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
“There is no doubt that the BJP remains the most dominant party and will be very difficult to beat in 2024,” Manindra Nath Thakur, who teaches political science in JNU, said.
However, the Congress’ win in Himachal does show that the BJP is not invincible but it remains the party to beat, he added.
The road to 2024 for its main rival Congress has gotten bumpier after having suffered its worst-ever defeat in Gujarat. Though its win in Himachal Pradesh had given it a glimmer of hope, it not only faces a rampaging BJP but an ambitious AAP vying for the leadership of the Opposition in the run up to 2024 general elections.
Political analysts believe the Gujarat debacle is bad news for the Congress not only in terms of the scale of loss but also in ceding space to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) that could challenge the grand old party in other two-party states such as Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh which go to polls next year. Eventually, that could have implications for 2024.
The dismal showing in Gujarat would impact the party’s bargaining power vis-a-vis other opposition parties. Also, losing Gujarat badly could also add to the exodus of leaders that the party has been facing.
Former Congress leader Sanjay Jha, who had also been a party spokesperson, said the Congress is paying a “spectacular price for its self-inflicted mammoth Punjab disaster where it gave away the state on a silver platter with golden ribbons to its nemesis, the AAP”.
Thakur termed the Gujarat loss a “disaster” for the Congress and said it could lend credence to the argument that the AAP may replace or challenge the grand old party in bi-party states.
“The Congress faces more danger from the AAP going towards 2024. The BJP is in a comfortable position and the AAP could swing the anti-BJP vote towards it if Congress does not rework its strategy. The AAP can put up a challenge for the Congress next in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh also,” he told PTI.
The repercussions of the Gujarat defeat were soon felt in the Congress as its Gujarat in-charge Raghu Sharma resigned, taking moral responsibility for the party’s defeat in the state assembly polls.
However, the Himachal win has given the leaders of the party something to cheer about. The party, currently in power on its own only in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, will add one more state, albeit a small one, to its kitty.
The Himachal victory is also significant for the party especially because its electoral clout in the north has been on a decline for more than a decade now.
In Himachal Pradesh, the Congress has won 40 seats and a vote share of 43 per cent. The BJP won 25 and on three seats independents were victorious.
A sterner test awaits the Congress with a slew of assembly polls next year including in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka.
The AAP has impressed in Gujarat but its dismal showing in Himachal where it got just one per cent vote share and drew a blank in terms of seats pulled it down. The Arvind Kejriwal-led party, however, remains on course to challenge the Congress for leadership of the Opposition camp on the road to 2024.
Set to be a national party after getting nearly 13 per cent votes in Gujarat, the AAP will also draw comfort from its win over the BJP in the high-profile Municipal Corporation of Delhi polls where its rival had brought out heavy hitters led by many chief ministers and Union ministers for campaign.
Though the BJP may have suffered loss in Himachal and also in the Delhi polls, the narrow margins of its defeat in both contests have demonstrated that even in defeat it continues to command strong support.
Its vote share difference with the Congress is less than one per cent in the hill state while it improved on its vote share in 2017 in the Delhi polls by fetching over 39 per cent votes but fell short of the AAP’s 42 per cent while facing anti-incumbency after 15 years of reign in the local body.
The stage is getting set with state polls for the final race to the enter the corridors of power in Delhi in 2024. Though the Congress, AAP and other Opposition parties may have high hopes and some positive takeaways to seize on, it is the BJP which has a big headstart and is firmly in the lead.