The BJP has lost Jharkhand. Unless the fortunes of the saffron party take a sharp turn, such that the JMM-Cong-RJD alliance tallies below at least 38 seats, there is no possibility of the BJP forming the government in the state. The BJP has been facing a series of state election defeats in recent times. What was seen as an invincible election machine post-2014, is today struggling to hold on even to its strongholds. In December 2018, BJP lost Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. Then, it lost Maharashtra, and had just a nose-saving victory in Haryana with the help of Dushyant Chautala’s JJP. And now, Jharkhand. Of course, between these defeats, the BJP also saw a magnanimous 303-seat victory in the Lok Sabha.
While a layman would attribute the state losses to anti-incumbency, we try to analyse the BJP’s electoral politics post 2014 in a more comprehensive manner. And we are convinced, BJP’s early departure from majoritarian politics is hurting the party’s fortunes hard. Traditional Indian politics reeked of majoritarianism, vote-banks, caste and identities. The BJP, in a noble effort, decided to discard these ‘pillars’ of politics. While it was indeed a commendable and gutsy effort, it was perhaps done too early. The BJP needed to consolidate its position in states more in order to initiate its ‘revolution’ in Indian politics. Non-majoritarianism and ignoring the local leadership’s suggestions on the CM face have certainly cost the BJP Jharkhand, a state where the tribal/non-tribal divide has always influenced elections.
Apart from non-majoritarianism, BJP’s indifference towards a post like that of a Deputy CM has also played to its disadvantage. Which again brings us to an important factor of politics which has been abandoned by the BJP – tokenism. The post of a Dy. CM is a mere token, yet, it goes on a long way to quell the opinions of those sections of people who think they are being ignored. While the BJP has set out on an idealistic path, the Congress and other opposition parties are least interested to play the game of moralities The Congress’ ability to form peculiar alliances, and also its desperation to unseat the BJP from every state has resulted in them giving up on the CM’s post in important states like Karnataka, Maharashtra and Jharkhand. For them, the win is not grabbing the Chief Minister’s chair, but rather dislodging the BJP from power.
Let us take a few states as examples.
In Haryana, the BJP simply refused to consolidate and win over the Jat community after 2014. It banked on other minority groups and communities. Manohar Lal Khattar, a Punjabi, was the first non-Jat to be made the Chief Minister, although Punjabis constitute only 8% of the total population in the state. Fully aware that the Jats will not vote in absolute favour of the BJP, the party should have ideally groomed a strong Jat leader amongst its ranks in the state, something which it did not do. 29% of the state’s population is Jat. It could have been a formidable vote-bank and all it would take to win over them would be a strong leader being given the post of a Deputy CM. Yet, they completely banked on Khattar and PM Modi to win the state. As a result, the party failed to cross the half-way mark. Had it not been for Dushyant Chautala’s JJP (Jat party), the BJP would not be in power in Haryana today.
Similar is the case in Maharashtra. A state where anyone could make a blind guess that the Marathas would be the majority vote swingers for any party, as they comprise around 30% of the population, the BJP again departed from playing the majority game. As a result, Devendra Fadnavis (a Brahmin) was made the Chief Minister, without any Deputy. While Fadnavis has done incredible work in the state and even consolidated a massive votebank that looked beyond caste, however, Indian democracy has perhaps not matured to vote only on the contours of development. Sharad Pawar, however, played the regional identity game to its fullest potential. Here too, the BJP banked on Fadnavis alone without giving rise to a mighty leader with a regional identity, in its state leadership so as to pose a formidable challenge to the parties playing the Maratha card. The presence of such a leader would have ensured that the BJP wins a comfortable majority without allying with Shiv Sena.
Coming to Jharkhand, the BJP heavily downplayed the impact of the tribal vote, which constitutes around 26.3% of the state’s population. A non-tribal Chief Minister such as Raghubar Das facing massive anti-incumbency in a state where tribals can be a deciding factor should have been a death knell for the party, which should have taken steps to address this impediment, by perhaps again making a Tribal Deputy CM and non-tribal CM, or vice-versa.
In Uttar Pradesh, however, Yogi Adityanath did not let such a policy factor in. Yogi, himself a Rajput, has two deputy Chief Ministers. All major communities and sections are fairly represented in his government, leaving no space for any section to be dissatisfied and influence elections in a substantial manner.
Finally, the BJP needs to understand that they cannot win state elections by harping on national issues. Undermining the impact of local and regional issues, and overplaying the PM Modi card is now proving to be detrimental to the poll prospects of the BJP. PM Modi was, and still remains a massive factor. However, to think that he can win all state elections would be an overestimation on the BJP’s part. Many lessons need to be learnt by the saffron party, as crucial Delhi and West Bengal elections await.