In what could be a precursor to political developments towards the end of 2018, when Rajasthan goes to polls along with Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the rout of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the three by-elections—the Lok Sabha seats of Alwar and Ajmer and the Mandalgarh Assembly segment—has certainly put the saffron brigade on the back-foot. Interestingly, in the 2014 Parliamentary polls, the BJP had won Alwar by over 2.80 lakh votes and was victorious in Ajmer by more than 1.75 lakh votes and the loss here denotes that the party’s vote share has plunged to a dismally low level, indicating its probable vulnerability.
Significantly, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh are among the few states where the Congress and the BJP are expected to face each other in straight fights. Therefore, if the BJP was to lose these three bastions—where it has enjoyed power for a considerable period—the ramifications would be experienced in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Thus it is imperative that the BJP puts its own house in order so that it can retain power at the Centre even after the next round of Parliamentary elections; the polls could be held earlier if the government chooses so.
The Rajasthan results have a clear cut message for the BJP—get your act together, if subsequently benefits have to be reaped. Energised by its victories, the Congress would be breathing down the ruling dispensation’s neck, and would therefore, pose a formidable challenge in any elections, state or national. The victory here demonstrates that there was a decisive negative sentiment against the saffron rule and political posturing over the release of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat has not helped in any manner to improve matters. In simple terms, the BJP has to fight the perception that it has failed to deliver on the ground.
While it is for the party bosses to figure out whether the mandate in the bypolls was against Vasundhara Raje’s regime in the state, or the disappointment with the promises made by the Central government, it is apparent that the BJP would have to think on its feet so as to make amends and retrieve in its favour the popular mood. It is pointless to play the blame-game since the remedy lies in living up to the expectations people have from those whom they have elected.
The BJP’s dilemma lies in the fact that on various occasions it has spoken about its ability to provide good governance so as to initiate development in states ruled by it. However, since the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, where the anti-Congress mood of the nation played the most pivotal role, the subsequent BJP triumphs have been achieved on the strength of the continued negative perception of the Congress, coupled with divisive politics propelled by Hindutva-centric propaganda.
Thus, the party has now to do something concrete so as to regain the confidence of the people that it has both the mandate and ability to govern and its programmes are not mere jumlas but well thought through nation building strategies, which can effectively be implemented via the existing government framework. There is no room for passion alone, unless it is accompanied both by good intent and a realistic approach.
In this context, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s observation on the Union Budget is most revealing. Singh said, “This budget is high on projecting the right picture, but how will that be sustained by fiscal arithmetic?” The bottom line is that the showcasing of sterling figures falls grossly insufficient. Implementation is most important and therefore a mismatch between a feasible proposal and its logical conclusion can only lead to a loss of credibility of the government. What ails the BJP is that it talks of “beyond the term objectives” and this is the reason for the gradual erosion of the people’s belief in its programmes.
The Congress, however, must not put too much stock in the outcome of the bypolls; introspection is the need of the hour. It was vividly unsure of its performance, which was evident from the fact that Sachin Pilot, who had been defeated in the 2014 polls, was noticeably reluctant to fight from Ajmer. Similarly, Bhanwar Jitendra Singh of the erstwhile Alwar royal family, and a close-aide of Rahul Gandhi, was equally hesitant to enter the fray. He opted to back Dr Karan Singh Yadav, the party nominee who finally won the bypoll. If the party victory would have been a foregone conclusion, both these gentlemen would have ensured that they were made the candidates and the choice would not have fallen on those who were hand-picked by former Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot—the shining star in the eyes of the Congress high command, especially after the Gujarat elections. In any case, one swallow does not make a summer, and the Congress has a long way to go for it to redeem itself in the eyes of the people. At present, it is solely banking on the anti-BJP vote to put itself back in harness.
At this point, the BJP must introspect to ascertain the reasons for things having gone askew. Its leaders must realise that people had trusted the party by providing it a clear majority of its own in the Lok Sabha. Therefore, if its government fails to live up to the expectations, a comeback for the BJP would be difficult. Between us.