Narendra Modi, India's prime minister, receives a garland at the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) headquarters in New Delhi, India, on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2023. India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party won three crucial state elections and unseated the opposition in two of them, strengthening Modi’s bid for a third term in office. Image Credit: Bloomberg

With barely six months to go for the general elections in India, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), with Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the colossal figure it projects as its electoral totem, has now gained wind beneath its wings.

It retained Madhya Pradesh and dethroned the Congress party from Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. As a consolation prize, the Congress party won Telangana from K. Chandrashekhar Rao and his Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS).

Currently, Modi resembles Batman, with the opposition, particularly Rahul Gandhi, the former Congress President, resembling the Joker, his opponent. Some significant takeaways from the big BJP victory: Modi now looks set to equal Jawaharlal Nehru’s record as a three-term PM with his solid lock on the North Indian vote.

Considering the BJP’s win in these three crucial North Indian states, which add up to nearly 83 Lok Sabha seats, and its hold on Uttar Pradesh with its 80 Lok Sabha seats, a Parliamentary majority doesn’t seem far away.

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Modi’s guarantees

With the trifecta of victory in these three states, the BJP will now also call the shots in the Maharashtra alliance with the Eknath Shinde Sena and the breakaway Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). The BJP will demand to contest the lion’s share of the 48 Maharashtra Lok Sabha seats and will likely get its way as it rewrites its political equation with its allies.

The trifecta effect is already evident, with some Congress MLAs seeking to join the BJP in Maharashtra, and the Sharad Pawar faction of the NCP feeling restive and seeking to join the flank that has switched over to ally with the BJP.

The other significant takeaway is the worsening state of the Congress Party and its new relationship status as the weakest link in the opposition INDIA alliance. The Congress collapses whenever it is in a direct contest with Rahul Gandhi squaring up against Modi.

This time around, the BJP decided to showcase Modi and pitched for “collective leadership” as its calling card in the states it has won. The BJP branded election promises as “Modi’s guarantees” and romped home. Both the Gandhi siblings, fresh off the Karnataka win three months ago, campaigned extensively yet to no avail.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi in conversation with Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan in Jabalpur Image Credit: ANI/File

Election-winning scheme

The individual takeaways from the trifecta are: In Madhya Pradesh, the biggest winner was incumbent Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who seems to be heading into a historic fifth term with MP joining Gujarat as a key BJP citadel.

Chouhan, initially ignored by Modi and Shah, saw his Ladli Behna Yojana as a key election-winning scheme and found huge endorsement.

In Rajasthan, the rivaaj (tradition) of the revolving-door government held, and the turf battle between Ashok Gehlot and in-house Young Turk Sachin Pilot affected the vote share, with the Gujjar (Pilot’s caste) angry at Pilot’s humiliation in East Rajasthan and voting for the BJP.

In Chhattisgarh, overconfidence on the part of Bhupesh Baghel, former Chief Minister, ensured that a sure-shot victory was converted into a loss. The BJP capitalised on an attack on “Sanatam Dharma” made by Udhayanidhi Stalin, son of M.K. Stalin, Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu.

The Congress remained mum on the comments without any damage control and allowed the BJP to go to town talking about the insult to the Hindu religion.

In acknowledgement of the damage done, Udhayanidhi Stalin said, “BJP twisted, magnified my words, and made the whole country talk about me” in reference to the row.

Kamal Nath
Top Congress leader Kamal Nath speaks to the media in Bhopal Image Credit: ANI/File

Congress flop

Mallikarjun Kharge, Congress President, and the Gandhi trio looked weak and helpless as Kamal Nath, Gehlot, and Baghel rejected central inputs and the services of Sunil Kanugolu, the chief Congress strategist who had worked in Karnataka.

The Gandhi family carries the can for the flop of the three regional leaders. Gandhi’s insistence on the caste census also seems to have found zero traction among voters.

Nitish Kumar, Bihar CM, has already publicly complained that the Congress party has no time for the opposition alliance now with the Congress non-existent in the north of India; political equations within the opposition will have to be redrawn.

Seat sharing looks like a very tough ask, as the Congress leaders like Kamal Nath repeatedly insulted Akhilesh Yadav, chief of the Samajwadi Party in public. Mamata Banerjee, Arvind Kejriwal, and Sharad Pawar have a common antipathy to Rahul Gandhi.

The BJP thinks it already has 2024 in the bag and is looking at the future with a delimitation exercise that will favour the north once it returns to power.

Currently, Modi holds India’s imagination even as the opposition seeks a leader to challenge him.