By Sunil Dang
Results of five assembly polls are out and the Congress Party has literally humbled the BJP in three of those; Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. Poetic Justice one may say, given the resentment among common masses in hinterland, on various issues, impacting their daily life.
While many analysts are busy giving credit to BJP’s misrule (demonetization, GST etc.) for this astonishing victory of the grand old party, nobody is ready to discuss the farmer’s apathy that was the prime focus of the Congress campaign in all five states that went to polls. Alas, the ruling dispensation both in the centre & in the states failed to see the writing on the wall, continuing to stay intoxicated with brazenness & a dishonest appreciation of agrarian crisis.
So much so that in Chhattisgarh, the paddy farmers had decided not to sell their crop to the Raman Singh government as they began anticipating better returns promised by the Congress Party in their manifesto. The ruling party paid a heavy price for utter neglect of the farmers issues & had to be content with few seats only, even though the victory margins were wafer thin in many a seat.
Assembly poll results may not be a verdict on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity but they certainly bring a clear lesson & message for the BJP: That it cannot rely solely on the Modi factor to win elections. It also establishes that the saffron party may look like an unstoppable juggernaut when it comes to building a narrative of hope and aspiration in opposition ruled states, but it looks equally vulnerable to anti-incumbency just like any other ruling party. That’s not heartening news for the ruling party ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha elections. While going through the poll results in three states of the Hindi heartland, it was surprising to see that the Congress Party wrested more than 30 percent seats from the BJP in these farmer dominated states. In Chhattisgarh, the number jumps to more than 50 percent. So, it’s not the caste that played its role this time, it was the critical issue of farmer distress which became the focal point in these elections. The BJP tried its level best to polarize the polls but the grand old party remained stuck to its issue-based farmer centric campaign that helped them change the outcome this time. One more thing that the congress party was able to do was to gage its motor-mouth leaders. This time, not a single irresponsible statement came from any of the opposition leaders. BJP desperately tried to milk the viral Kamal Nath video but they failed to gain traction among voters; Congress on the other hand continued to focus on its manifesto rather than losing sleep on the doctored video & many other shenanigans employed by the incumbent.
However, there is some lesson for the Congress party too. Theses state poll results are enough to indicate that public would buy those allegations which they feel connected to themselves. Issue based politics is still the galvanizing force & a welcome change from the predictable, rhetorical humbug of caste or religion. Attacking Modi in assembly polls had backfired in previous state elections and the Congress party this time consciously desisted from such a discourse & stratagem (if any), having learnt its lessons the hard way. With only few months left for next general elections, I am expecting a pan India pro-farmer campaign as farmers have responded strongly to the Congress Party’s loan waiver and hike in crop prices. So, BJP would also try to reach out to the famers with various sops.
Therefore, after winning elections and inception of the Congress led new government in all three states falling in Hindi heartland, the Congress Party has to make sure that all its poll promises related to the farmers are fulfilled in the time frame announced in their manifesto. Any delay would take the heat off BJP & make their job easier in the run up to 2019.