THE opposition parties won 11 of the 14 Assembly/Lok Sabha seats in the recent by-elections, which should make the Bharatiya Janata Party leadership rethink their electoral strategy. One of the biggest setbacks to the BJP came in the Kairana Lok Sabha constituency, which was won by the party in 2014. Four years after the election, the Modi charm seems to be wearing off. The BJP earlier lost Gorakhpur and Phulpur Lok Sabha seats. Kairana came as the united opposition’s hat-trick, which should make the BJP reassess the political calibre of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. Doubts about his political appeal arose when he failed to deliver his very own constituency Gorakhpur to his party. Maybe, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah would need to replace Adityanath with a leader with wider social appeal in order to win more seats than a combined opposition might allow the party in the Lok Sabha elections next year. Uttar Pradesh is very crucial for the BJP in order to get a respectable number in the Lok Sabha.
The bypoll results have once again shown that a united opposition can halt the BJP’s march. They have proven as successful experiments in checking the impact of a broad anti-BJP alliance. They will give a big impetus to unity of opposition parties against the Modi juggernaut. The number of UP constituencies in the BJP’s bag has come down from 73 to 70. In other states too, the party has lost bypolls; thus its strength in the Lok Sabha has come down from 282 to 274. The BJP has lost some of its allies since 2014. The Shiv Sena, one of its main allies, has been critical of the ruling party’s functioning. The TDP broke its ties with the party. The Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) is threatening to come out of the NDA. How much the BJP would bend to keeping its meet the demands of its allies and keep them in good humour remains to be seen.
Despite having suffered losses the BJP leaders are confident that the Modi magic would see them through in the 2019 elections. Perhaps the party should not take voters for granted. The people vote on performance and a combination of other factors. Having won last parliamentary elections on the plank of development and bringing back black money stashed abroad, the BJP in public perception has not come up to their expectations. The successes in a series of Assembly elections made the BJP leaders think they could win every election and bypoll entirely on the Modi magic. However, the issues of agrarian distress, unemployment, adverse effects of demonetisation, rising fuel prices and slower economic development are affecting public perception, and in elections it is the perception that matters.
The BJP rode to power promising ‘Achche Din’ and ridding the system of corruption. However, the government failed to reduce corruption during the four years in power. The choice of B S Yeddyurappa as chief minister candidate in the Karnataka elections, and the active participation of the notorious Reddy brothers and the inclusion of corrupt party hoppers in the party in the state went to show that the party was not steadfast and sincere about removal of corruption. A large number of MPs and MLAs in the BJP today are not from the RSS or BJP backgrounds but defectors from other parties. The party has not adhered to any standards in accepting into its fold politicians who decided to leave their parties because they did not give them election tickets or positions of power and importance within the party. There is no ideological purity in the community of the BJP MPs and MLAs. The politicians who left other parties to join the BJP might leave the party to join other parties depending on where their interests are best served.
It could be said that a lot of mental and physical energy of the BJP leadership has been spent in the last four years in finding ways to weaken the other parties, primarily the Congress party. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been talking of a ‘Congress-mukt Bharat.’ Breaking other political parties has brought the party success in many states, which probably made the party leadership believe that only if the other political parties are weakened the party can rule the country by winning election after election as there would be no opposition. The Modi government paid less attention on delivery on promises, inebriated by the success of political engineering. However, voters are beginning to convey to the BJP that they have been evaluating the Modi government on its promises.