The Morning After: 15 Takeaways From the Four State Election Results

Of the four states for which we saw results on Sunday, three states threw out their governments.

1. In the three north Indian states where assembly elections were held, Rajasthan elects 25 MPs, Chhattisgarh 11 and Madhya Pradesh 29. Of the total of 65 MPs these add up to, all except one from Madhya Pradesh and three from Chhattisgarh – i.e., 61 MP seats – are held by the Bharatiya Janata Party since 2019. Any shock here in the just-concluded elections would have spelt trouble for the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The party may not have expanded its influence with governments beyond safe quarters since 2019 as it might have hoped to, having lost in Karnataka earlier this year and then in Telangana, but winning state elections here means its core is secure.

2. Of the four states for which we saw results on Sunday, three states threw out their governments. Two Congress chief ministers were unseated, and one of the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS). In fact, the Telangana chief minister, KCR, lost in Kamareddy, one of the two seats he contested. Anti-incumbency is a theme. BJP should celebrate that it came out on top. But should it also worry, as it shifts gears into 2024, which makes it a ten-year government at the Centre, that anti-incumbency is a thing?

3. With the BJP emerging as an impossible opponent to dislodge, is Madhya Pradesh the new Gujarat? The BJP has always won a higher vote share than the Congress this millennium (including 2018 when the Congress had more seats). This has been one of the first states to be ruled by the forebearers of the BJP, since 1977. So, what exactly makes them tick here needs introspection.

Also read: To Defeat BJP in an Increasingly Bipolar India, the Congress Would Need Much More Passion

4. The BJP, till as recently as in Karnataka in May, had used the term “double engine” to ask voters in assembly elections to vote for it, as it would make everything smoother – like hitching your wagon to a “double engine”. But this time, there was no talk of a “double engine”. Three Union ministers were asked to contest assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh and several MPs too were pushed into the fray in both Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, and a direct line was drawn to Delhi. The Modi-centric campaign effectively sidelined three once-powerful BJP chief ministers, Vasundhara Raje, Raman Singh and Shivraj Chouhan. Kaun Bangea Mukhya Mantri (Who will be chief minister) now, may offer clues about the next-gen BJP that is being envisaged.

5. Let’s play inside the BJP paradigm? ‘North India has gone Hindutva,’ so ‘let us go Hindutva too,’ seemed to be Kamal Nath and Bhupesh Baghel’s plan. But stealing playbooks has limited political appeal when such a dominant player is in your face, and established as the real thing. Hindutva-lite may actually serve to enhance Modi and the BJP’s appeal, as it works on accepting the rules set by the real thing. The Congress’s thinking on this may need a reboot. Kamal Nath’s politics may not be the answer to kamal (lotus).

6. Modi has ditched the double-engine sway he offered voters till the UP elections last year. Now, with the government putting out official ads terming it the ‘Modi government’ and ‘Modi guarantee’, the organisational structure may look spanking but it is under strain. Watch out for whether Shivraj Chouhan, also OBC and with a longer stay at the crease than Modi as chief minister, or Vasundhara Raje, the sidelined former chief minister of Rajasthan, will accept being pushed away.

Also read: Three Things BJP’s Definitive Victory in the Assembly Elections Tells Us

7. The Telangana win for the Congress, a decisive up from the 28.43% it had, though in alliance with the TDP in 2018, to 39.5% this time, must be savoured as it signals a return in at least one of the Telugu states for the Congress. A rare thing for the Congress to trump a powerful regional party and to recover in a state where its machinery had been rusting and defunct for ten years.

8. Telangana also signals that regional parties in the vicinity – Andhra Pradesh (TDP and YSRCP), Odisha (BJD) and West Bengal (TMC) – may be more wary of the Congress now. Could this make getting INDIA together trickier?

9. In Telangana, the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen – Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi’s party – and the Congress exchanged sharp words throughout the campaign and the Congress won the state in firm opposition to the party. Could this give pause to Owaisi’s plans to expand on to Congress or INDIA areas? Owaisi’s party has held its own in seven seats.

Also read: Why Congress Lost in Three States and Won in One

10. Would it have helped if the Congress had continued to march in sync with the INDIA tune in these elections, to just help create a different political mood and prevent erosion of votes in these tough fights? Should it have stitched up an alliance with the Samajwadi Party in Madhya Pradesh as well as the Left and the Bharatiya Adivasi Party in Rajasthan? The Congress maintained its vote-share, but that is cold comfort as the BJP added many more, like the Jogi Congress voters, in its fold in Chhattisgarh and ran away with the election.

11. Would a ‘humbled’ Congress be a better team leader for INDIA? Or have ties with allies like the Samajwadi Party and many others frayed irretrievably? Life is bound to get more interesting, not easier, for the opposition.

12. What is with welfare? The campaign has as much to offer as the results. ‘Competitive welfarism’ was in full swing. But so was the debate on the kind of welfare. Rajasthan offered a unique model of not just hand-outs but healthcare, social security, the old pension scheme and a model more close to Kerala’s, than other states in north India. Congress’s defeat in Rajasthan and the victory of the ladli behna school of welfare in Madhya Pradesh may suggest that governments conclude it is okay to privatise healthcare and education, as long as direct cash or hand-outs can be given. The ruling BJP may be encouraged to do that.

Also read: For BJP in Madhya Pradesh, a Leap in Seats, a Jump in Vote Share and a Reversal of 2018

13. It doesn’t always work well to jump parties. Several marquee candidates who defected, lost. Jyoti Mirdha, ex-Congress MP, lost in Rajasthan. Incidentally, her grandfather, Congressman Ram Niwas Mirdha was amongst the two only winners in north India for Indira Gandhi’s Congress in 1977. Another ex-Congress Union minister, Jyotiraditya Scindia, now a Union minister in NDA’s government, found 10 of his 16 supporters trailing. Five of these were ministers in Shivraj Chouhan’s government.

14. The caste census is coming under fire. Is it a political dud? Those opposing it or even those proposing it would do well to remember that it is no instant political fix. If indeed it is to be deployed politically, it needs to be powered by an expansive campaign, especially in states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, which are feudal plus lacking a dominant OBC group which could take the issue and run with it, like in neighbouring UP or Bihar. After all, in Telangana, the BJP promised it would make a “BC chief minister”, something it might not have said if the caste census would not have been made a talking point by the opposition. It is more social project than political slogan.

15. That a ‘Modi guarantee’ campaign came through would mean the Centre would feel super-charged the morning after. What might that mean for impunity, which we have already seen rise in ample measure? This year saw dismal shows in the V-Dem score, Freedom House report and World Press Freedom Index. Will the popular mandate in crucial states fuel more of the same?