Yearender 2018: The BJP's dream of wiping the Congress out suffered a rude shock when it lost three crucial assembly polls in the Hindi heartland states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan in late 2018. The losses in the three states have given credence to a debate on the prospects of the BJP returning to power about its 2019 prospects.
The year 2018 came as a wake-up call for the Bharatiya Janata Party. Ever since it stormed to power with a thumping mandate in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the party under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and its president Amit Shah managed to put up a good show in all state elections thereafter. Even though the saffron party faced drubbing in Delhi Assembly elections held in February 2015, it handed defeat to all regional and national parties including the Congress in every election, providing a mega push to its ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’ campaign.
However, the party’s dream of wiping the Congress out suffered a rude shock when it lost three crucial assembly polls in the Hindi heartland states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan in late 2018. The losses in the three states, two of which the saffron party had ruled for 15 years, have given credence to a debate on the prospects of the BJP returning to power about its 2019 prospects.
Riding high on the Modi wave after the win in the general elections, the BJP went on to dethrone the Congress in Maharashtra, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh. Other states where it gained power were Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Tripura, Jammu and Kashmir. In Bihar, the party remained seated in the opposition for almost two years before Janata Dal (United) of Nitish Kumar switched allegiance soon after dissolving the Grand Alliance of which arch-rival RJD was also part.
In Nagaland, the BJP stormed to the power with support from its partner NDPP. In Meghalaya where the BJP had won just two seats, it managed to get power with regional parties. By the end of 2017, the BJP was ruling in 22 states directly or through its partners. But unlike 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017, the year 2018 didn’t go down well for the BJP.
January: Judiciary vs BJP
The year started on a lower note for the BJP when four senior-most Supreme Court judges in an unprecedented press conference, attacked then CJI Dipak Misra and hinted at government interference in the functioning of the judiciary. The four judges who spoke to media questioning the style of functioning of the CJI were Kurian Joseph, J Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi and Madan Lokur. This gave the opposition much needed ammunition to train guns at the government and alleged meddling with the judicial system. The BJP, however, refuted all such charges.
January: Bypolls drubbings in Rajasthan, Bengal
The same month, the BJP lost the Alwar, Ajmer (both in Rajasthan) and Uluberia (West Bengal) parliamentary seats in the bypolls to the Congress and Trinamool Congress, respectively. Elections were held on 29 January al all the three seats to elect new MPs. In Rajasthan, both the BJP and Congress had fielded candidates but the Congress wrested control of the seats from the BJP. The Uluberia Lok Sabha seat that was held by Trinamool Congress MP Sultan Ahmed, was once again bagged by the Mamata Banerjee’s party in the bypoll. The TMC nominee Sajda Ahmed defeated BJP’s Anupam Mallick by a margin of over 4.74 lakh votes.
February: Tripura win
In February, the BJP had a reason to rejoice. The party won the Tripura Assembly polls, ending 25 years of uninterrupted rule of the Left. The party’s graph also saw a rising trend in other northeast states when it formed the government in Meghalaya with just 2 seats. In Nagaland too, the saffron party formed the government along with its ally NDPP.
February: BSP-SP bonhomie in UP
But post-assembly elections in Tripura, the trend of losing in parliamentary byelections continued for the BJP. In Uttar Pradesh, where the party had won 312 out of 403 seats in the 2017 assembly polls, lost its stronghold of Gorakhpur and Phulpur in the bypolls. The two seats were held by Yogi Adityanath and Keshav Prasad Maurya. Both the seats had fallen vacant following their elevation to the Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister posts in Uttar Pradesh.
The byelection also saw arch-rivals Mayawati of BSP and Akhilesh Yadav of Samajwadi Party coming together only to upset the BJP. In the 2014 polls, while the BSP had not won even one seat, the SP had won just seats 5. The two rival parties reached a consensus of fielding candidates together and rallied their cadre behind the nominees. In the same month of March, the RJD retained the Araria Lok Sabha seat in Bihar where byelection was held following the demise of incumbent RJD MP Mohammed Taslimuddin. The election was seen as a litmus test for Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar who had dissolved the Grand Alliance a few months ago and rejoined the BJP-led NDA. However, the JD(U) was not in a direct contest with the RJD instead the BJP had fielded Pradip Kumar against RJD’s Sarfaraz Alam.
April: Agitations over farmer issues, SC/ST Act
The government also faced farmers’ agitation from across the country. Several protests were held across the country over the agrarian crisis. In the meantime, the BJP also came under attack from the opposition when the Supreme Court in a judgment in February introduced a slew of preventing measures in the SC/ST Act. The provisions that were added to the stringent law included granting provision bail to the accused and a nod from the competent authority before arresting anyone. This triggered a countrywide protest. The Dalits groups observed Bharat Bandh, leaving over a dozen dead. The NDA faced ire from the opposition demanding the Supreme Court’s order be overturned. It also faced anger from its own ally. The LJP-led by Ram Vilas Paswan issued an ultimatum to the BJP. Paswan’s outfit threatened to protest of the government doesn’t bring a bill in the Parliament to overturn the Supreme Court’s order and restore the stringent provisions of the Act. The government introduced a bill at the fag end of the Monsoon Session and it was passed unanimously.
May: Karnataka Assembly polls
This losing streak continued when Assembly polls were held in Karnataka, where the Congress surprised the saffron party by joining ranks with Janata Dal (Secular), announcing unconditional support after a hung verdict. The outcome of the poll stumped the BJP. Although the BJP won the maximum number of seats – 104 in 224-member House, it failed to form the government. The party surrendered before the Congress’ and JD(S) post-poll pact. The JD(S) and Congress formed the government under the leadership of HD Kumaraswamy whose party was ranked a distant third. The Karnataka elections outcome was a big setback for the BJP as it was its first loss after the 2014 elections.
The Karnataka Assembly election also provided the perfect opportunity to showcase opposition unity when all parties came on one platform in a show of strength. A battery of opposition leaders including arch-rivals Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav shared the stage for the first time in public. The bonhomie between the opposition leaders was the much-talked news of the month.
May: Kairana loss
Later, the BJP lost three parliamentary bypolls — Kairana in Uttar Pradesh, Bhandara-Gondiya in Maharashtra and Nagalanad. The party only retained power in the Palgarh seat. The Kairana bypoll was keenly watched as it was seen as another opportunity for the opposition parties to show their unity. The SP-BSP-RLD jointly contested the elections against the BJP. The opposition’s strategy worked very well and the BJP was made to bite the dust. The outcome fuelled the talks of forging a united front to be pitted against the BJP in the Lok Sabha polls un 2019.
The BJP, however, maintained that the losses in the bypolls will have no impact in the next general elections. The opposition, on the other hand, claimed that there was anger among the people against poor policies of the Modi government. The Kairana result also forced the BJP to announce an immediate relief package of Rs 8,500 crore for sugarcane farmers. The opposition parties, in no time, took credit saying it was of their pressure that worked.
June: J&K political turmoil
In the meantime, the militancy-hit state of Jammu and Kashmir slumped into a political crisis when the BJP ended support to the PDP of Mehbooba Mufti, citing rise in militancy under her rule. The Governor’s rule was imposed in the state in June. Opposition parties termed it a tactic of the BJP to rule the state through proxy. The state, according to the government, saw a 70% jump in militancy this year. The regional parties in Jammu and Kashmir — PDP and NC surprised the BJP when they came together to form the government and to keep the BJP at bay. The Governor didn’t agree to their move and dissolved the Assembly. Regional parties claimed that it was a triumph of their strategy.
August: Vajpayee’s death
Then came August, the month India had attained its independence in 1947. A day after August 15 when India celebrated 72nd Independence Day, the country lost its beloved leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee who had successfully led an alliance government between 1998 and 2004. The BJP stalwart was 94 when he passed away at AIIMS in Delhi on August 16. His death brought leaders of all political parties together to bid adieu him.
September-October: Me Too
Then came the ‘Me Too’ movement that started from the Bollywood and struck the political landscape of the country. The BJP went through a state of uneasiness when several women journalists accused MoS for External Affairs MJ Akbar (now former) of sexually harassing them at the workplace in the early days of his career as a journalist. Akbar came in the line of fire as it was also reported that several Central ministers literally ran away when asked about the charges against their cabinet colleague. He quit from the post on October 18.
November: Ram Mandir and Assembly polls loss
In the first week of November, when byelections were held to the three parliamentary seat Karnataka, the BJP again faced with poor numbers. The party lost Bellary seat to the Congress whereas the two seats Mandya and Shimoga were retained by the JD(S) and BJP, respectively. The results didn’t go down well with the party and saw seers and right-wing creating pressure on the government to take a legal route for construction of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya.
The same month, assembly elections were held in three Hindi heartland states – Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. The BJP was ruling all the three states but when the results were declared, the BJP was made to vacate the CMs office. The Congress stormed to the power in all three states. The elections were seen as semifinals to the general elections as they were held just a few months ahead of the general election.
December: RLSP’s exit
The BJP suffered another blow in just a few days when its ally RLSP quit the alliance and the government. The RLSP’s exit prompted talks whether other parties will toe the similar line. The allies like LJP and Apna Dal utilised the twin opportunity — results of the assembly elections and RLSP and TDP’s exit (earlier this year), to mount pressure on the BJP. The Shiv Sena of Uddhav Thackeray was already at odds with the BJP and had been attacking the Prime Minister over a host of issues including Ram Mandir. The Ayodhya dispute has become another headache for the BJP as its ideological mentor RSS also took a firm stand on the issue, asking the government to enact a law in view of the pendency of the matter in the Supreme Court to start the construction of Ram Mandir.