Delhi is gone, West Bengal is going. Bihar looks uncertain, Punjab could be next.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s juggernaut has come to a halt, Amit Shah’s invincible army is staring at a year of tough battles and, perhaps, a few humiliating losses. The ground beneath BJP has started moving.
What Delhi thought a few months ago, Bengal thought earlier this week when its voters discarded the BJP in the civic polls, leaving its score-sheet blank. It was defeated in all the municipal boards, while bete noire and possible nemesis Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress almost doubled its tally—from 38 in 2010 to 71 (out of 92) this year.
During the Kolkata civic polls, Mamata had turned into a psephologist. “People’s notice is awaiting” the BJP, she had said, angry with the notices Mamata is getting from agencies probing the Saradha scam. “It has already got the people’s notice in Delhi and Orissa and it will get it in Bihar soon. In West Bengal, it will end with an empty box in the Kolkata municipal polls. People will serve on it the notice of rejection,” she said.
A part of her prophecy has come true.
According to the DNA, the BJP won just four percent of the state’s 2,090 wards, and suffered a huge setback in Kolkata. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP won a 17-per cent overall vote-share and two seats—the same as the CPM with its 23-per cent vote. It emerged as the Number Two party in Kolkata, winning in 26 wards with a 25-per cent vote-share. Now it has won just seven wards with an estimated 15-per cent share. Its appeal, always limited in Bengal, has faded as the Modi “novelty factor” has worn out. It’s unlikely to become the second largest party in 2016.
The opposition has alleged large-scale rigging in the local polls by Mamata’s cadre; some of the charges are supported by the scale of the victory and the margin of victory of TMC candidates. But this is unlikely to deflect attention from the fact that the BJP has been pushed to the bottom of the ladder, even the Congress has done better.
Enthused by the results, which have come as a shot in the arm for TMC after the Saradha scandal, Mamata is now contemplating early polls for the Vidhan Sabha, scheduled for mid-2016. If she goes ahead with the gamble, it would be a reliable indicator of the optimism in the TMC camp.
The BJP saw the silver lining—a paltry gain of three seats in Kolkata Municipal Corporation—as a sign of things to come. “The results have shown that only two parties have grown in terms of numbers. One is the TMC which has used muscle and money power to increase its votes and another is BJP which has increased its tally,” state BJP president Rahul Sinha said, declaring the results in Assembly polls would be different.
But the BJP’s enthusiasm appears misplaced. Its defeat has shown that the gains it had made in the Lok Sabha polls because of the euphoria around Modi are evaporating. Its poor show in elections outside Kolkata suggests the BJP doesn’t have workers out in the field, a factor that could be decisive in a battle against cadre-based parties like TMC and the Left.
Bihar, where elections are due this November, isn’t looking easy either. The merger of Lalu Yadav’s party with Nitish Kumar’s has consolidated the anti-BJP vote. The alliance has won most of the by elections in Bihar after the Lok Sabha elections, corroborating the belief that the united Janata Parivar can take on the Saffron Parivar.
A snap poll by ABP-Nielsen in February, soon after Nitish replaced Jeetan Ram Manjhi as chief minister, indicated a gap of almost 15 per cent (56 JD (U)-RJD and 41 BJP+) in the number of people likely to vote for the two coalitions. If this gap translates into votes on the polling day, the BJP is likely to be wiped out in Bihar.
In Punjab too, which is the next battleground in north, the BJP-Akali alliance is facing double anti-incumbency. If the trend in the Lok Sabha polls (BJP-SAD won just 6 out of 13) holds, Punjab might have a new government two years later.
Just a few months ago, Modi’s name was enough for filling up ballot boxes for the BJP. Shah’s strategies—of stitching alliances with small parties and having workers right down to the street-level—were considered game-changers. Now the BJP can’t rely just on ‘Modi turns up, Shah converts the numbers into votes’ strategy.
A year ago, people voted for Modi because of his promises. Now they will evaluate him on the basis of his performance and that of his rivals. If Modi’s performance—and Bihar and Bengal will be authentic indicators—is judged below par, if he is rejected, it could be the beginning of a major problem for the PM.
To win elections, Modi needs to fasttrack development, unleash his promised range of reforms. For all this, he needs the numbers in the Rajya Sabha. And for the numbers in the upper house, he needs to win Bihar, Bengal and a few other states.
Modi would love to solve this conundrum. But can he?