Now that the votes have been counted and the results announced, all that remains to be done is to analyse the relative vote share, exceptionally close contests and to speculate intelligently or otherwise about the implications for forthcoming elections in Karnataka and other large states next year. Even more exciting and hazardous is the sport of forecasting wildly what the likely impact can be on the Lok Sabha elections in 2019.
BJP has managed to scrape through with little more than the hair’s breadth to retain the right to rule the state for another five-year term. No mean achievement for a party that has been in power in Gujarat for an uninterrupted spell of 22 years—so much about anti-incumbency, TINA etc. The no holds barred high voltage campaign touched several lows and no side shied of trying any trick that could polarise voters in its favour. The stakes are high and we are likely to be treated to repeated replays of this sordid drama in days to come.
Only Smriti Irani in her characteristic manner can shrug away the reduction in number of seats cheerfully reminding her listeners, “Jo jeeta wohi Sikandar!” and puncture the ‘Moral Victory’ balloon that the Congress is trying to float. But there are others in the party who are apprehensive about what the voters have scribbled on the wall. The Congress hasn’t been washed out. On the contrary the rise in vote share and number of seats won have given Rahul Gandhi another chance to prove himself.
Those who swear by the dynasty as the last hope of secular democratic India can gloat for a while more at the Modi-Amit Shah Juggernaut having been checked. The need to introspect can’t be pushed under the carpet. How long can the charisma of an individual carry the day? Disenchantment of the rural voters particularly the youngsters isn’t confined to Saurashtra region of Gujarat. Let’s not forget that the state BJP has managed to retain the home base of both the PM and the party president. Celebrations are in order but these will have to be more modest and muted than expected.
The BJP may have snatched the tiny Himachal Pradesh from the jaws of the Congress but the ignominious defeat of its chief ministerial face has taken considerable sheen off this victory. Conspiracy theories are doing the rounds about factional fights and feuds that laid Dhumal low.
It is difficult to concede the claim that these results are an endorsement of the NDA’s economic policies—demonetisation, GST etc. It’s easy to brandish statistics but as the adage has it, the wearer knows where the shoe pinches. Prices are rising and millions of promised jobs remain to be created. Law and order situation is causing serious concern in many BJP-ruled states.
Skirmishes between the executive and judiciary continue to erode the credibility of institutions and constitutional authorities. Vigilantes continue to strike at will mocking the rule of law and only the visually impaired can insist that there has been no deterioration in the climate of tolerance. In the end it is the state of the economy that matters most. If the belly is full and the mind without fear then considerations of cast and creed cease to be significant as one enters the polling booth.
Time for media management or spinning is over. It’s not the ‘narrative’ but the ground reality that is going to decide the nation’s mood in the coming months. No one expects Mr Narendra Modi to perform miracles and deliver all that he had promised during the election campaign in 2014. But how long can the failures of economy be blamed on a timid RBI or an over-confident and inept Finance Minister?
The wo/man on the street doesn’t follow the thumbs-up or thumbs-down lead given by the stock market.
The spiralling prices of LPG and essential commodities haven’t found a place in headlines in recent months. There have been distractions enough from ‘historical’ films and ‘historic’ wins on cricket pitches to celebrity weddings and antics of billionaire fugitives.
The presentation of the Union Budget will no doubt offer some diversion but is not likely to provide much respite to the Central government or the BJP. The spectre of Opposition unity will continue to haunt both till a more decisive win can be registered in the forthcoming elections.
The real challenge for BJP is not to condemn the Congress to extinction but wrestle and vanquish the internal demons that continue to torment it. Only when it is perceived as a party promoting truly inclusive development and the effective guardian of Rule of Law can it claim to represent all the Bharatiya Janata.
Former professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University