Is shrinking Lotus eclipsing BJP’s dream of ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’?
New Delhi: May 24, 2019 — was a day of jubilation at the BJP headquarters here with showers of fresh flowers, red carpets rolled out and ‘dhols’ going full blast after Modi 2.0 entered with a bang of an unprecedented mandate of 303 seats in the Lok Sabha.
But come December, and with the loss of Jharkhand on Monday, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s saffron hue appears to be on the wane.
The once blooming ‘Lotus’ has been shrinking at a steady pace across India. It all started last December when the BJP was wiped out in three states at one go — Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
Then Maharashtra too, slipped out of BJP’s hand in autumn.
With winter in full swing, BJP has now lost Jharkhand.
It’s a legitimate question then: Is the “Congress-mukt Bharat” an idea whose time never came? Here’s looking at the 12 states where the question hangs heavy.
It all started with:
1. Punjab: The state that the Akali-BJP combine lost after ruling two consecutive terms. Captain Amarinder Singh, the giant killer as he is often referred to within the Punjab Congress, was allowed to take charge replacing Rahul Gandhi’s protege Partap Singh Bajwa, and the BJP’s rout began.
After exit polls showed new entrant Aam Aadmi Party doing well, the BJP trained its guns on AAP more than the Congress, in spite of knowing their primary contender was Congress.
Many in hushed tones, during the Assembly polls, said that the state BJP IT Cell worked unilaterally against the AAP. The BJP was cut down to a single digit — two in the 117-member Assembly, which is worse than in Delhi.
2. Chhattisgarh: Last December, the BJP’s 15-year-rule came to an abrupt end when the Congress dethroned Raman Singh of BJP from the Naxal-affected state. The Congress swept to power with a three-fourths majority on 68 seats in the 90-member Assembly.
The BJP was reduced to just 15 in the state. In spite of a triangular fight with Congress, Ajit Jogi-led Janta Congress Chhattisgarh (JCC) and Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) combine in the fray, the BJP failed to get any benefit.
In the 2013 Assembly polls, the BJP had won 49 seats. Congress’ Bhupesh Baghel rose to power after handing out a crushing defeat to Singh.
3. Rajasthan: This has been an interesting state for the BJP. In 2014 general elections, it won all of 25 seats. In 2019 general elections, it had 58.47 per cent vote share in the state.
However, during the Assembly elections, the electorate decided for a change. With 107 MLAs in the 200-member Assembly, the Congress returned to power.
Soon after, in a press conference, a confident Rahul Gandhi had said, “It’s the time for change. A resurgent Congress and strongly united Opposition will make it very difficult for Modi and the BJP to win 2019 elections (to Lok Sabha).”
Although that dream of Rahul Gandhi wasn’t realised, Vasundhara Raje Scindia was replaced by Congress’s Ashok Gehlot.
4. Madhya Pradesh: The state took one of the longest times to count the final vote in the era of EVMs. The result left Shivraj Singh Chouhan disappointed. Unlike Raje, Chouhan was a very popular CM. But that wasn’t enough.
Congress’ Kamal Nath swept to power last December in spite of the intra-party contradictions. Like in Chhattisgarh, the Congress managed to form a government in the state after a long spell of 15 years, though with a wafer-thin majority.
Interestingly, again in 2019 general elections, which took place just a few months after the Assembly results, the BJP won 28 seats, including Guna, where senior Congressman Jyotiraditya Scindia lost by a big margin.
BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya, who hails from the state, credited Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s image for the comeback in the state in the general elections.
That though could not take away the fact that BJP lost one of its key states.
5. Maharashtra: After an embarrassing short stint of the BJP and a breakaway faction of the NCP, the Sena-led NCP-Congress-Shiv Sena claimed power at the financial capital. The new equation was also a political statement by the former NDA ally of BJP that “no one is untouchable in politics” and its hardline Hindutva doesn’t make it untouchable either to the Congress or the NCP.
The BJP-Sena alliance fell apart, resulting in a month-long political uncertainty in the state.
The Sena walked out of the nearly three-decade-old alliance with the saffron party early November. The apparent discord was over the 50:50 power-sharing formula as insisted upon by the Sena and a Sena CM for 2.5 years.
6. Jharkhand: The latest to join the bandwagon of non-BJP states is Jharkhand where five years of anti-incumbency and an unpopular Chief Minister proved costly for the “lotus”.
With a few rounds of counting still remaining, the JMM-Cong-RJD alliance appears comfortably set to cross the majority mark of 42.
In the last election in 2014, a brazen BJP put out a non-tribal CM in a tribal dominated state. That didn’t work out in 2019, when he seems all set to be defeated decisively by BJP rebel Saryu Roy who fought as an Independent from Jamshedpur East constituency.
One of the BJP’s slogans in the run-up to the 2014 general elections was making India “Congress-mukt” (Free of Congress). Riding high on the volley of corruption angle against then UPA-2 and its top ministers, the BJP had made “Congress mukt Bharat” a household slogan.
Five years down the lane, that dream appears far away.
Even in states like Haryana where the ‘Lotus’ has come back to power, it is only after taking support of the JJP and Independents.
In Bihar, Nitish Kumar’s JD-U is calling the shots. Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP, an NDA ally at the Centre, had decided to go it alone in Jharkhand. In most of the Northeastern states, it is the North Eastern Democratic Alliance (NEDA), an umbrella alliance, which is running the show.
Up ahead in 2020, with the start of a new decade, new challenges await the BJP.
Delhi: The party is not better placed in the national capital than in Punjab. The BJP has just one more MLA than it has in Punjab. In the 70-member House, the party has just 3 MLAs.
The ruling Aam Aadmi Party had boasted that it had “allowed” BJP’s Vijender Gupta to be the Leader of the Opposition (LoP). The state unit is faction-ridden.
West Bengal: If one state the BJP is desperate to get its claws into and dig deep is West Bengal. The ruling Trinamool Congress would not want to cede an inch. However, the ‘lotus’ has made successful inroads into the state since the violent panchayat elections when it swept Purulia district and consecutively in 2019 general elections, ate into the CPI-M votes.
However, there is still some time before the BJP can think of dislodging the Mamata Banerjee-led government in the next Assembly elections due in 2021.
Owing to increasing saffronisation, the BJP has found a growing acceptance in Bengal, where it has only 7 MLAs in the House.
Odisha: The BJP tasted power in Odisha along with the BJD in 2009. Ever since their divorce, the party has been unsuccessful to dislodge the Naveen Patnaik-led party in spite of propping up various faces from the states.
The state Assembly elections, which were held simultaneously with the 2019 general election, saw the BJP manage a tally of 23 seats while the BJD won 113 in the 147-member House.
The South: Apart from Karnataka, where the BJP came to power after certain MLAs of Congress and JD-S rebelled, there is not a single state where the BJP is in power.
The party’s consolation in Tamil Nadu is the ruling AIADMK, which is a part of the NDA. But there is not a single BJP MLA in the Tamil Nadu Assembly.
Puducherry: In the Union Territory, the only talking point is the frequent showdowns between Lieutenant Governor Kiran Bedi– a Central appointee — and Chief Minister Narayanasamy.
As recent as the beginning of November, a spat between the two came out in the open. Narayanasamy had used the term “demon” for Bedi, with whom he has been at loggerheads over governance for long. In a tweet, Bedi had hit back saying: “The expression is unparliamentary, uncalled for, uncivilised, uncouth and unacceptable.”
Sikkim: Sikkim has managed to stay out of the saffron handshake despite BJP’s Northeast man Himanta Biswa Sarma being very successful in saffronising the area. Sikkim has been the odd one out.
In fact, when Sonam Tsering Venchungpa won the Martam-Rumtek seat by defeating the Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) candidate Nuk Tsering Bhutia by 600 votes, it was BJP’s first ever MLA in the Himalayan state.
However, recently 10 SDF MLAs joined the BJP rank, making it the main opposition.
So where does BJP’s “Congress mukt Bharat” stand as 2019 comes to a close?
BJP’s Amit Malviya said, “Congress-mukt Bharat is Congress ideology-mukt Bharat. The ideology of nepotism, casteism and appeasement is being made redundant. Even if the Congress exists, it will have to exist without its DNA.”
But Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot begs to differ. Reacting sharply on Monday at the 24, Akbar Road Congress HQ on being asked about Jharkhand being the latest state to be taken by the lotus-eaters: “They fought on faux nationalism and we fought on issues. Actually, the result of Haryana and Maharashtra had set the tone.”
A month back, when Maharashtra was staring at a hung Assembly, the same Gehlot said something that does a fact check on the claim of “Congress-mukt Bharat”.
He had said, “The recent win in Rajasthan local body elections and Congress’s performance in Haryana and other places show that this country is ‘Congress yukt Bharat’ and BJP cannot erase Congress from the heart of common man.”