Just the other day, Shri Amit Shah said that the BJP has come to stay for another 40-50 years and not merely 5. Instantly memories of a distant summer, 13 years ago to be exact flashed back to my mind. India was shining and poll after poll was predicting the Bharatiya Janata Party to improve on its tally in the previous election and Atal Ji to continue his stellar reign at the top. So confident was the BJP after its win in the states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, that it advanced the elections to the Lok Sabha by several months, expecting to milk the popularity of the Prime Minister. But come the 13th of May 2004, the day of the results, and all pundits are proven wrong and all polls prove to be way off the mark. The Sensex and fortunes of the nation both nosedived the next day and the rest is history.
In a nutshell, this article attempts to compare and contrast 2004 to 2019 with a note of caution for the party and its supporters that any complacency could mean having to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Why the BJP lost in 2004 despite a popular PM and a government which had delivered on many a fronts, remains an enigma till date, but for those interested here are some links which I found to be very informative (reading them before going further with this article would make it more interesting), with regards to the political realities and intricacies of the first past the post system:
- The untold story of how BJP lost 2004 elections
- Why did the Congress win in 2004 General Elections inspite of good governance by the Vajpayee Government?
- Modi Wave: Did voters really punish Congress in 2014?
Causes of Concern:
A recent survey showed that popularity of PM Modi is largely intact, he remains a head and shoulder above other contenders and the opposition is in a disarray.
But what the survey also shows is gradually creeping discomfort about some burning issues. The first and foremost being unemployment. While the Modi regime has done much to curb corruption and unleash a host of programmes and reforms, on the ground, schemes like Make in India, StartUp India etc are yet to show their effect. Moreover, for all their pros and cons, demonetisation, GST etc have in the short-term, undoubtedly disrupted the economy and caused a sense of upheaval. All the world’s ideology and sense of nationalism can’t help much on an empty belly.
So, one potential danger for the BJP and NDA in 2019 could be disenchantment amongst the unemployed youth. Same was the case in 2004, when the Congress pitted its Aam Aadmi slogans against India Shining and managed to capture the support of the poor and rural populations.
Another reason for the failure of the BJP in 2004 was the disastrous performance by its partners in AP, Tamil Nadu and even Maharashtra to some extent. BJP is stronger in Maharashtra today, but what would happen if the Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress are to join hands is anybody’s guess. In Andhra Pradesh, Congress is nowhere as strong as it were in 2004 and 2009, but the regional players continue to dominate in both daughter states. In Telangana, TRS is expected to keep going strong and in Andhra, much like the BJP lost nationally in 2004, Chandra Babu Naidu did at the state level. If his fortunes were to nosedive and those of Jagan Reddy to rise, then it could again be a tricky situation. While both Jagan and KCR presently siding with the BJP (as shown in the Presidential election), they would not be averse to doing business with the Congress either. Tamil Nadu is the biggest cause of concern as the AIADMK is in a state of disarray in the post Jayalalitha era and if DMK were to repeat a rout of the AIADMK like it did in 2004, then Congress can gain a strong partner.
In 2004, BJP also underperformed in Gujarat, UP etc. while Rajasthan was a disaster in 2009. Though BJP looks formidable in Gujarat at present, there are burning embers here as well- be it the Patidar agitation or the unease amongst a section of the Dailts. Though Vijay Rupani may have done a fairly satisfactory job over the past year, the fact remains that he is nowhere near Modi in terms of stature or charisma. And as the Rajya Sabha elections showed, Ahmed Patel can still spring a surprise from time to time. Rajasthan has a history of rotating doors with BJP and Congress taking the honours alternately. While the BJP swept the polls in 2013-14, if it were to lose out in 2019, the Congress can gain up to 15-20 seats here like it did in 2009. It was UP which catapulted the BJP to over the 282 mark in 2014. But repeating the 73/80 feat in 2019 is going to be huge challenge. Yogi may be doing his best, but as the Gorakhpur saga showed, there is simply too much to correct in UP.
Finally, I list out some other ‘X’ factors and threats:
- Fickle mindedness of the youth support which forms the backbone of the BJP’s victory
- Any misadventures by China or Pakistan
- Emergence of a new leader or sudden rise in popularity of anyone from the existing lot to challenge PM Modi. Remember people did not accord much importance to Sonia before 2004, same is the case with Rahul today
- Congressiastion of the BJP- the rate at which BJP is importing leaders from other parties, it would be difficult for anyone but Modi or Shah to keep them from showing their true colours
- Smear campaigns by the Lutyen’s media finally succeeding in denting Modi’s popularity (remember a lie becomes the truth if said a hundred times)
- Complacency of the urban middle class when it comes to hitting the polling booths (part of the reason BJP lost heavily even in urban areas of Mumbai and Delhi in 2004 and 2009)
- Reservation agitations like those by Patidars, Jats and Marathas leading to voting along caste lines rather than other issues (direct beneficiaries would be regional parties)
- Opposition uniting to take on the BJP (seems unlikely after Bihar)
- Vagaries of nature- a major earthquake or a drought could lead to massive public dissatisfaction
- Most importantly, the intricacies of the first past the post system make it entirely possible for seats to go in either direction with very small changes in votes polled.
In a nutshell, BJP is on a firm footing as of now for the 2019 election but it still does not warrant any complacency. One major cause of relief is the hunger and killer spirit shown by the Modi-Shah duo where not even the smallest of the states or seats is taken for granted. Here’s wishing them all the very best for an even better performance in 2019.