With the recent loss in Jharkhand election, one thing that emerged pretty clear is the presence of BJP is shrinking at the sub-national units. The much talked India Today graphic, which showed that the total area of the country with a BJP/NDA governed state has reduced from 71 percent in December 2017 to 35 percent in the same year of 2019, and the population under BJP/NDA governed territory has reduced from 68 to 43 percent in the same time period, is definitely a headache for the party.
Although, BJP emerged as the single largest party or the principal opposition in many states, it doesn’t change the reality that the party no longer controls the states. The primary reasons behind BJP’s losses and opposition’s gains are – the party’s inability to campaign on the local issues in the state, inability to create strong regional leadership, and opposition smartness.
Inability to campaign on local issues:
BJP won many states like Maharashtra, Haryana for the first time in 2014. In Haryana, the party had never been in power in the last five decades before 2014 while in Maharashtra, it was the junior player to Shiv Sena only for five years; in more than six decades of state’s existence. Even in Jharkhand, where it had been a major player since the creation of the state in 2000, the party never came to power in the state with full majority.
In these states, the party won 2014 election riding on the Modi wave. In Maharashtra and Haryana, the voters were fed up with 15 years of corrupt Congress rule, and were looking for a change. Therefore, they voted for BJP despite the fact that party had not announced CM candidates. The voters had shown faith in Modi and BJP; which resulted in victory of the party.
In Jharkhand, they were fed up with the short term CMs (in Jharkhand, the CM used to change in every one or two years before 2014) and therefore voted BJP; showing faith in Modi to give a stable an uncorrupt government.
But after five years, the party tried to seek re-election on the National issues like abolition of Article 370, the Supreme Court verdict on Ram Mandir, and CAA, NRC instead of banking on the performance of the state governments in the last five years.
But, the voters have immensely matured in the last few years. The information revolution, driven by the availability of cheap data, has helped the voters in making the informed choices. They are very much aware that the aforementioned issues are not concerned with the state chief ministers, and they had not voted on these issues in state elections.
The inability of the BJP chief ministers to appease the caste loyalties, which are central to voting preferences in state elections, have harmed the party. In Maharashtra, a state dominated by Marathas who constitute above 30 percent of the population, the party appointed a Brahmin chief minister, and this has led to backlash from Marathas. Similarly in Haryana and Jharkhand, where Jats and tribal respectively constitute above 25 percent population, the party appointed a Punjabi and OBC chief minister. This has led to backlash from the ‘dominant caste’ in these states.
Change of opposition strategy:
The opposition, which has learnt from its previous mistakes, had refrained from attacking PM Modi, who is still immensely popular among electorates. The attack on PM Modi is directly proportional to seat loss, and therefore, the opposition fought the election on ‘local issues’ and attacked the chief minister, instead of launching attack on central leadership of BJP.
The voting preference for Modi in the national election shows the maturity of Indian voters and their ability to differentiate between national issues and state issues. This ‘electoral maturity’ will help in the national development of India as people would make informed choices to lead them in 21st century.
Lack of state leaders:
PM Modi remains immensely popular among the electorates of the country. His popularity transcends regional, caste, and class divide. Under his leadership, BJP bagged votes of upper castes, OBCs, SC and ST electorates. His popularity also transcends class factor as middle class, upper class, and poor votes, although for different reasons. Under his leadership, BJP expanded in Northern, Southern, Eastern, and Western regions of the country.
But, the state leadership had been unable to show same charisma. And this resulted in loss in respective states. The only exception to this is Devendra Fadnavis, who managed a spectacular victory for the alliance in Maharashtra, but was backstabbed by the ally- Shiv Sena. Although Devendra Fadnavis managed to become a tall leader in Maharashtra, BJP never groomed anyone in the state. Similar is the case of Haryana, Although state CM Manohar Lal Khattar managed to come back to power, BJP did not manage to gain full majority. One of the reasons is BJP never groomed any Jat leader and instead banked on a Punjabi CM in a state like Haryana.
In Jharkhand, Raghubar Das not only lost his chair, but also failed to win in the election. In fact, one can easily point out that Raghubar Das lacked charisma and presence a state chief minister ought to have. He did a commendable job in the state but his message and appeal never reached the masses.
Take the case of another state, Assam. Sarbanada Sonowal is the chief minister, however, he hasn’t be as vocal and upfront as a state CM should be. For that matter, state minister Himanta Biswa Sarma is much more vocal and remains in the limelight.
In the Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh, the party lost for different reasons. Rajasthan had always elected BJP and Congress alternatively, and this remained true even this time, while in the two other states, the party and the chief minister was facing anti-incumbency of 15 years.
In the states where BJP is currently in power, the party needs to groom next generation leaders from now onwards so that when the time comes for handing over the baton in the states, BJP won’t need to bank on Modi and Shah solely every-time they go to polls.
Therefore, to win the elections on state level, the party has to manage its allies well, create strong and charismatic leadership in states, and fight the elections on the local issues. It also has to make sure that, the ‘dominant caste’ gets fair representation in each state, even if the member of their community is not appointed chief minister.