In January this year, when we had our first marathon group chat with all the team leads from different electoral geographies of the country in the run-up to the national elections, it was quite clear that BJP was facing an uphill task. The SP-BSP-RLD alliance (with the possibility of Congress joining it too) had become a formidable force in Uttar Pradesh. Congress party on the other hand was expecting to do well in 6 states – Punjab, Kerala, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh – accounting for 126 Parliamentary seats.
At the start of this year, it appeared as though BJP was on the back-foot and one was even hearing the familiar murmurs of the usual “anti-incumbency”. Just a month before that, Congress party had formed governments in 3 states and 2 of those were after a gap of 15 years. There was some hope among the BJP-RSS circles that the electorate in states like Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh would vote differently in a state assembly election as compared to a national election – it must also be stressed here that in both the states Congress had not won an outright mandate, and indeed, BJP had a better vote-share than Congress in MP. Yet, past electoral history was replete with examples of the party forming a government after assembly elections going on to sweep the following national elections within six months.
Karnataka also looked like a lost cause as the sheer arithmetic of the ruling Congress-JDS alliance was overpowering the saffron party in the only southern state it had a base. The combined INC-JDS vote-share stood at whopping 52% in the Lok Sabha elections and an even higher 57% in the assembly elections. The other two states, Kerala and Punjab, looked like a lost cause in any case as the BJP was a small and marginal player here. In all probability, 2019 looked like a repeat of 2004, with the return of a possible coalition government or khichdi Sarkar – the one key difference from then was that BJP was now still ruling half of India with strong state level organizations, whereas in 2004, once the Vajpayee government fell, the whole saffron ecosystem collapsed like a house of cards within weeks.
From that gloomy January till mid-March, the way BJP fought back, inch by inch and block by block and polling station by polling station is the stuff of legend. It will go down in India’s political history as perhaps one of the greatest comebacks and that too within such a short span of time. It is also a perfect example of a campaign taking back the initiative with flair and then gradually building momentum to finally peaking at the right time. The way Modi-Shah duo have orchestrated this pitch-perfect campaign can only be applauded from afar, for it has no parallel anywhere in the world. Of course, the Balakot airstrikes did help to an extent in building a positive macro narrative, this comeback was a lot more than merely military bravado. Inspiring the millions of party workers to forget the defeatism and march on to victory again was one of those reasons. Reacting quickly to feedback and implementing quick course correction at such a large scale through the PMKISAN package was another example. Burying egos to consolidate NDA through Sena, AGP, JDU and AIADMK was another masterstroke of realpolitik.
On the other hand, Congress party which looked like being a challenger in ascendancy mounting a battle from as many as 6 states only a few weeks ago is today afternoon fighting for survival in the two last remaining Gandhi family bastions of Uttar Pradesh. This Monday afternoon the Gandhis and the Congress party are staring at an abyss. Sonia Gandhi may still win Rae Bareli, but her son is struggling to cross the hurdle in Amethi. The whole party is struggling in Rajasthan where it had formed a government just 4 months ago. In fact, the Rajasthan position of the party is so vulnerable, it may end up repeating the 2014 feat of winning zero seats and thereby putting the state government in trouble too. The party is virtually non-existent in other states like Bihar and Bengal in this phase.
Meanwhile, BJP is showing tremendous gumption today. In the core Mamata didi heartland of Bengal, the party is putting up a brave fight. It has gained tremendous vote-share compared to the last time. Till post-noon, the party has shown gains to the tune of 22%, even as the Left has lost 20% of its vote-share. There seems to be a wholesale shift of the Left vote along with the cadre towards the saffron party. Indeed, BJP is the only party that is gaining here, as all others are seen to be leaking vote-share, including the TMC.
Even in Singur, the Karmabhoomi of Mamata’s 2011 agitation against the Tata Nano plant, from where she challenged the 3-decade long Left rule in the state, it is BJP that is making all the gains. It is actually a tragic story of left-wing politics of agitation that has now come back to haunt the people of Singur. After the agitation and political gain by Mamata, the 997 acres given to the Tatas was taken back by the government and handed back to the agitating farmers in 2016. After 3 years only about 240 acres of that land is cultivable, many small farmers have only 1 or 2 bighas out of their total land holding as cultivable land. The remaining land is just a concretized unfertile drab that the government never got cleaned. Meet those agitated farmers and they all rue the day they decided to fight against the Nano plant, many of them would have not only got a decent compensation but also jobs in the factory. Today, they neither have jobs nor the land to cultivate. Consequently, Locket Chatterjee has put up a strong fight today in Hooghly (of which Singur is an assembly segment).
Same is the story of Barrackpore where some 16 jute mills which would once employ about 40% of the populace here are all shutdown today. In 2009, Dinesh Trivedi was brought in by TMC and introduced to the voters as an “industrialist” who will bring back new jobs to the people here. He would famously claim in his speeches that he has the keys of all the jute mills in his pockets and will reopen them, the day he gets elected. Ten years later nothing has changed, so the frustrated voters were looking for a change. The local Bahubali, Arjun Singh left the TMC and is now the BJP candidate. He has been leading on our trackers since morning today and nothing has dented him so far.
TMC had swept all 7 seats last time in 2014, this time it is struggling in almost every seat. BJP has made deep inroads in this part of Bengal too and the momentum that it had gathered after the first three phases is pushing it further upwards. At the end of the day, BJP may well spring a surprise in 2 or 3 seats in this phase, thereby leading up to an exciting finale when the highly-urbanized Kolkata region goes to polls on the last day of voting along with Kashi where PM Modi is the candidate himself.
Post-noon live trackers of Rajasthan indicate the same kind of sweep as we saw in the previous phase, last Monday. Jaipur obviously has shown big leads to the BJP and even in the rural seat, the extremely popular Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore is easily leading against another Olympian Krishna Poonia, despite of all the talk about caste consolidation in her favour. We can safely state that Rathore as an MP and junior minister in the Modi government surpasses any caste calculation, he has built a solid connect with his voters and is here to stay for the long haul.
The other two keen contests in Bikaner and Nagaur too seem to be going the saffron way. In Bikaner, Arjun Ram Meghwal facing his own cousin has pulled a considerable gap by noon. The stories of Devi Singh Bhati, a former 7 time MLA who had quit the BJP recently denting the Rajput votes for Meghwal seem to be farfetched now. In the battle of the Jats of Nagaur too, Hanuman Singh Beniwal is easily ahead of Jyoti Mirdha who is fighting to save the Mirdha legacy here. Nagaur is one seat where BJP is sitting out in favor of Beniwal, but is behaving exactly like a lotus symbol seat.
In Uttar Pradesh and Bihar too, the trends are similar to what has been the undercurrent so far. At the end of the day, both these states should bring happy tidings for the saffron party. Of course, we will have more updates by late evening, especially on some of the VIP constituencies like Amethi, Rae Bareli and Lucknow too. This Monday afternoon though, belongs to Bengal for an unprecedented and unexpected saffron surge.