Modi’s re-election bid: Setback in Assembly elections may dent PM’s chances, force strategy rethink

The setback suffered by the BJP in the elections to five state assemblies will have a bearing on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s re-election bid in 2019.

PM Modi, Narendra Modi, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, assembly elections, BJP, Congress, re-election, re-election bid, elections 2018, india news
Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (Reuters)

The setback suffered by the BJP in the elections to five state assemblies will have a bearing on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s re-election bid in 2019. BJP is clearly a loser in these elections with the party losing in three states to the main opposition party Congress.

It was an unambiguous message sent by the voters of these states to the BJP leadership that it can no longer take them for granted and that they won’t be swayed by Hindutva plank or by Prime Minister Modi’s popular appeal. And by voting its arch rival Congress, the voters have also sent a clear message that BJP’s projection of Congress as a corrupt party is no longer working to its advantage.

Three of these five states – Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh – account for 65 Lok Sabha seats in the 545-member Lok Sabha. Madhya Pradesh sends 29, Rajasthan 25 and Chhattisgarh 11 members to the Lok Sabha and BJP had swept all three states in the 2014 elections in an unprecedented wave in favour of BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, giving the party 62 seats from these three states. In 2014, BJP’s arch rival Congress lost all seats in Rajasthan, got just two in Madhya Pradesh and one in Chhattisgarh.

BJP’s victory in Hindi heartland was complete as it won 73 out of 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state.

Things have taken a turn since then. Narendra Modi was then able to generate hope and optimism among the voters because of his track record as an administrator in Gujarat, but now he has to face anti-incumbency of five years as Prime Minister.

In 2014 elections, the Prime Minister was able to beat Congress candidates in those states where his party was in a direct contest with the Congress as he was able to turn the contest for 543 different parliamentary seats into some kind of direct poll between him and the Congress.

The opportunity presented by the interim budget

Prime Minister Modi’s team, led by his trusted ministerial colleague finance minister Arun Jaitley, has begun drafting the interim budget for 2019-20. This is one last chance for the government to announce some major schemes before the model code of conduct kicks in ahead of the general elections next year.

Prime Minister Modi has already announced a slew of schemes during the last four years, some of them aimed at the winning over the poor and marginalised sections of the society which has historically been neglected by consecutive governments.

Prime Minister’s Ujjawala Yojana, under which more than 5 crore domestic gas connections have been distributed, is still popular among the masses, so is the thrust on building toilets to fight open defecation. Now pressure will build on the Prime Minister to present a populist budget and announce sops for middle class and farmers.

Ram Temple Issue

BJP’s hardcore supporters are pressing the party to complete the construction of a grand Ram Temple in Ayodhya before the 2019 elections. There could be two logical explanations for this urgency, either the support base is not confident of PM Modi winning a second term or it is looking to polarise the polity ahead of the general elections by constructing the temple.

This lobby’s efforts to pave the way for the construction of a temple at Ayodhya through a court order has not been successful with the Supreme Court refusing an urgent hearing. Now, this lobby is pressing for an ordinance to construct the temple just ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.

Prime Minister Modi’s personal appeal

There are two possible scenarios, Prime Minister Modi might still be able to win more Lok Sabha seats in these states despite the party losing in assembly elections, as voters exhibit different voting patterns in different elections. However, if the voter preference reflected in three Hindi states is repeated across Hindi heartland in the Lok Sabha elections next year, then no party will have a clear majority in the next Lok Sabha.

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First published on: 11-12-2018 at 16:33 IST