BJP Misread Public Mood; Pollsters Did Worse; Congress Must Apologise To Election Commission

R Jagannathan

Jun 04, 2024, 06:07 PM | Updated Jun 08, 2024, 04:24 PM IST

Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
  • The prime reason for the BJP’s poor show is the complete consolidation of minority votes against it, and a split in its rainbow coalition of Hindu castes.
  • Even though 2024 has not produced the same kind of unexpected outcome as in 2004, the non-victory this time will truly come as a shock to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

    Just two days ago, the party thought it was home and dry after the exit polls unanimously gave it a thumping win. It goes to show how exit polls can not only misread the underlying mood of the electorate, but read it badly.

    The big headline is that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has won, not the BJP, which does not any more have a majority of its own unlike 2014 and 2019.

    The second headline is that Brand Narendra Modi has not been able to deliver in crucial states like Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra.

    In fact, the BJP lost some voter traction in Gujarat, the PM’s bastion, and it is Shivraj Singh Chauhan’s old bastion, Madhya Pradesh, that has proven to be the party’s new fortress. The party won all 29 seats in the state. 

    The BJP’s real gains are on the eastern side, in Telangana and especially in Odisha, where it will replace the aging Naveen Patnaik in the state assembly as the majority party.

    In Andhra Pradesh and Bihar, its allies have brought home the numbers. Which gives us our third headline: Modi will have to run a coalition with strong regional players like Chandrababu Naidu and Nitish Kumar holding real leverage. Modi’s PMO will have less power than before. 

    As for the Congress, it was the real surprise package this time. Not only has it increased its seat count to over 90, but it even held its own in Uttar Pradesh, where its candidate Kishori Lal Sharma humbled Smriti Irani in Amethi — the seat from which she had defeated Rahul Gandhi in 2019. Amethi tells the real story of the state.

    The Congress can no longer be written off in the Hindi heartland, having gained seats in Rajasthan, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. In Parliament, it will have to be formally acknowledged as leader of the opposition.

    This election proves two things: that anti-incumbency is still a factor in Indian politics, which can humble even tall leaders, from Modi to Naveen Patnaik.

    In Telangana, the Bharat Rashtra Samiti, which had suddenly developed national ambitions last year, not only lost the state assembly elections in 2023 but is nowhere in the Lok Sabha sweepstakes today.

    In Andhra Pradesh, Jagan Mohan Reddy, once thought to be the undefeatable, has been handed down his worst defeat by Chandrababu Naidu. 

    Another point worth mentioning is the clear vote transfers that the opposition allies have been able to ensure among themselves. In Uttar Pradesh, while minority votes consolidated in favour of the Samajwadi Party and the Congress, there is some evidence that Scheduled Castes also voted in large numbers for this alliance.

    Whether this was because of the false propaganda that the BJP will end reservations in jobs or not one can’t say, but the steady collapse of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) suggests that Dalits are looking for alternatives. In the coming years, we will see how this plays out. It provides an opening for both national and regional parties.

    In Uttar Pradesh, the much famed double-engine sarkar failed to fire, coming in second behind SP and Congress, but insiders in the BJP suggest that this is less the failure of Yogi Adityanath, and more the result of central meddling in how he runs his government. Adityanath's reputation can still recover if he is given a freer hand to run the state as he thinks fit. The rumour is that many of his candidates were shot down by the BJP’s high command.

    For the BJP, the writing on the wall says that it is wrong to depend on only one tall leader to deliver victories time after time. As in the past, it must allow state leaders to rise and flourish on their own. The shift of Shivraj Singh to parliamentary politics has not impacted it so much, but the sidelining of Vasundhara Raje may have done it damage in Rajasthan.

    After this verdict, Modi himself will find that he has to make peace with internal dissenters even while accommodating allies. The decisions of Amit Shah, who has been the most influential this time in the choice of candidates and state-level strategy, will also come into question.

    The plus point from the economy’s point of view is that none of the BJP’s major allies, whether it is the Telugu Desam or the Janata Dal (U) or Shiv Sena or Lok Janshakti Party, is anti-growth or overly-welfarist.

    There is no need for any drastic change in policy stance, though concessions will have to be made for diverting central resources to Andhra Pradesh and Bihar.

    The big test will come not in Parliament, but in the state assembly elections to follow this year, in Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand, where the BJP and allies have suffered reverses. One should expect the Modi government to strengthen its coalitions once more, hopefully creating a combo with more coherence than now.

    But one thing stands out. The prime reason for the BJP’s poor show is the complete consolidation of minority votes against it, and a split in its rainbow coalition of Hindu castes. It must look for answers to its poor performance here.

    As for the Congress, it owes the Election Commission of India a big apology for doubting its credentials. The biggest apology needs to come from our pollsters, who clearly were clueless about the outcome, especially in Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, West Bengal and some regional pockets.

    Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.

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