The results are in for 4 of the crucial state elections in India and it was a stunning day for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which won 3-1, sweeping the Hindi heartland while the Congress registered a significant victory in Telangana. Here are my five takeaways from these state polls:
First the big picture: the BJP is clearly in pole position for the 2024 general election which is only a few months away. The victory in Madhya Pradesh is particularly significant since the party has been in power there for nearly 20 years barring 18 months when the Congress was at the helm.
After Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh, it is now clear that Madhya Pradesh has become an RSS-BJP strong hold and holding on to seats in the Hindu belt is crucial for the party to retain power in parliament in 2024.
The results are a huge blow to the INDIA alliance and to the Congress, barring its performance in Telangana. The Congress appears to have been over confident and arrogant after its Karnataka win earlier this year.
They were dead sure of winning Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Ironically, as the results were coming in, Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge called up INDIA alliance leaders for a meeting of the bloc next week.
Modi machine in 2024
This is after virtual paralysis within the grouping for the last few months, with the Congress ignoring its allies and focusing on itself. So much so, that a rather ugly public spat played out with the Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav in Madhya Pradesh over seat sharing talks which broke down.
The language used by Congress leaders was beyond unbecoming. The Congress will no longer to be able to dictate terms within the INDIA bloc and needs to be more accommodating. Frankly, it will take a miracle for the opposition alliance to beat the Modi machine in 2024.
The north-south divide has been cemented by the results. The BJP has no major presence in the South, where the opposition is the dominant force, including the Congress in two states: Karnataka and now Telangana. The BJP, meanwhile, is clearly the formidable force in the north and the Hindi heartland and has much more work to do to expand in the South.
The BJP’s electoral machine and organisation is far superior to the Congress. The way the party micromanaged its campaigns especially in tough states like Madhya Pradesh is incredible.
Modi’s election to win
Initially, sensing a fatigue factor with Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the party did not project him as the Chief Ministerial face. He was even sidelined in campaign posters. That began to change as the campaign unfolded as the party realised that Chouhan and his women friendly welfare schemes were resonating with voters.
Home Minister Amit Shah was overseeing the MP strategy right down to the last detail. The fact is the BJP was willing to be more flexible in its election strategy as the elections neared. The Congress meanwhile snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, with Kamal Nath leading a Hindutva-lite campaign which did not work.
And in Chhattisgarh where the Congress did not really face any huge anti-incumbency going in to these polls, the party failed to effectively project a positive narrative about its schemes.
The demand for a caste census, repeated attacks on Adani, and the Hindutva-lite card did not work as issues in these elections for the Congress. Which means that for Lok Sabha 2024, they will have to go back to the drawing board. On the other hand, women and welfare schemes hold the key to who wins Parliament.
The Congress did that effectively in Karnataka and trumped the BJP but overall, the BJP has shown that it is far more effective in implementing these schemes and pushing a pro-incumbency narrative than the Congress.
Look at Madhya Pradesh where they won despite years and years of being in power. Shivraj Chouhan’s Ladli scheme for women, where married women get financial help each month, was a game-changer on the ground.
2024 is Modi’s election to win.