PM Modi suffers severe setback in state polls

Supporters carrying a cutout of Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi, for whom the result in the latest polls has been a major boost. He had been struggling to prove his mettle in politics, suffering repeated electoral defeats in previous state electio
Supporters carrying a cutout of Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi, for whom the result in the latest polls has been a major boost. He had been struggling to prove his mettle in politics, suffering repeated electoral defeats in previous state elections.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Supporters carrying a cutout of Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi, for whom the result in the latest polls has been a major boost. He had been struggling to prove his mettle in politics, suffering repeated electoral defeats in previous state electio
A poster of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (left) and Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah at BJP's headquarters. BJP, once touted as invincible, has had to deal with some electoral setbacks.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
As Congress supporters celebrate, one view is that PM Narendra Modi and the BJP will not necessarily lose the general election next year as state elections are fought on local issues and Mr Modi has overwhelming popularity.
As Congress supporters celebrate, one view is that PM Narendra Modi and the BJP will not necessarily lose the general election next year as state elections are fought on local issues and Mr Modi has overwhelming popularity.PHOTO: REUTERS

Opposition Congress set to win in two states, leading in a third - all former BJP strongholds

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) appeared yesterday to have suffered their worst electoral setback since storming into office in 2014.

The opposition Congress party looked set to win in two state elections and was leading in a third, all three of which were ruled by the BJP. The state polls were the last of a clutch ahead of a general election next year.

They were held in the rural states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, traditional BJP strongholds in central India. Regional parties were reported to be leading in two smaller states that also voted - Telangana in the south and Mizoram in the north-east.

Analysts said the results indicated that farmers' unrest and the issue of unemployment were starting to pinch the BJP even though Mr Modi remains a popular leader. The results also pointed to a possible resurgence of the Congress party.

In Rajasthan, Congress was leading in 102 of the 199 seats at stake and the BJP in 74 seats. In Chhattisgarh, Congress was ahead in 67 of the 90 seats in the state assembly and the BJP in 17.

The BJP also lost ground in Madhya Pradesh, a crucial state which has been ruled by local BJP politician Shivraj Singh Chauhan for the past 15 years. The result hung on a knife's edge with Congress leading in 111 of the 250 seats in play and the BJP trailing with 110.

"We've all voted for Congress this time and our candidate is winning here," Mr Bishnu Prasad Jalodia, a wheat farmer in Madhya Pradesh, was quoted as saying by Reuters.

THE SWING TO CONGRESS

We've all voted for Congress this time and our candidate is winning here. BJP ignored us farmers, they ignored those of us at the bottom of the pyramid.

MR BISHNU PRASAD JALODIA, a wheat farmer in Madhya Pradesh, on the possible reason for BJP's loss of support.


AGRARIAN CRISIS

It is now clear that rural unrest and the agrarian crisis have cost the BJP in all the three states. That is what the story is all about.

DR N. BHASKARA RAO, of the Centre for Media Studies, on the BJP losing its previous strongholds.


GANDHI'S TURNAROUND

In a single stroke, he (Rahul Gandhi) has become a leader in his own right. His mother, Sonia Gandhi, would be extremely relieved.

MR RASHEED KIDWAR, a fellow with the Observer Research Foundation, on Mr Rahul Gandhi's resurgence.

"BJP ignored us farmers, they ignored those of us at the bottom of the pyramid," he added.

More than half of India's 1.25 billion population is directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture, and farmers form an important voting bloc for parties.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power on the back of a landslide victory in 2014 and has enjoyed a winning streak since then, dominating in state elections.

The BJP went from being in power in five states to 15 states over the past five years.

But, this year, the party which was once touted as invincible has had to deal with some electoral setbacks.

An effort to expand its footprint beyond its traditional voter base to southern India floundered when it was unable to form government in the state of Karnataka following an election. The Congress party came into office by tying up with a smaller party.

The BJP also lost in by-elections in its stronghold of Uttar Pradesh

"It is now clear that rural unrest and the agrarian crisis have cost the BJP in all the three states.

"That is what the story is all about," said Dr N. Bhaskara Rao of the Centre for Media Studies.

Conversely, the result in the latest polls is a major boost for Congress and its leader, Mr Rahul Gandhi, who has been struggling to prove his mettle in politics, suffering repeated electoral defeats in previous state elections.

Congress has now gained greater leverage in negotiating with allies to build an opposition front against the BJP, said one analyst.

"In a single stroke, he (Mr Gandhi) has become a leader in his own right. His mother, Sonia Gandhi, would be extremely relieved," said Mr Rasheed Kidwar, a fellow with the Observer Research Foundation, a think-tank.

Congress leader Sachin Pilot noted that the win comes exactly a year after Mr Gandhi became Congress president, taking over from his mother.

"So this result is a gift for him," he told reporters.

Not everyone, however, is convinced that Mr Modi and the BJP will lose the general election to be held next year.

A Nomura India analysis said: "We would be wary of extrapolating the results of these state elections to national elections as these are fought on local issues and PM Modi maintains overwhelming popularity over his competitors."

But it warned of political uncertainty in the run-up to the general election.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 12, 2018, with the headline 'PM Modi suffers severe setback in state polls'. Print Edition | Subscribe