To what extent are state Assembly elections being a predictor of general elections? This is the big question everyone has in their mind following with Congress’s superb performance in the recent Assembly elections in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. There is the past. In year 2003, the BJP won the state Assembly elections in these three states and yet lost the Lok Sabha poll in year 2004. Likewise, theCongress lost Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh in the year 2008 Assembly polls and yet they won the Lok Sabha poll.
Getting an answer to this question really rests on an assessment of why the BJP fared badly in the state Assembly polls. The common answer would be anti-incumbency. After all, across the democratic world, electors tire of leaders is of ten years. But Raman Singh had been CM for 15 years and Shivraj Chouhan for 13 years. But it would be churlish not to give credit to Congress leaders like Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot in Rajasthan, Kamal Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia in Madhya Pradesh, and in Chhattisgarh. Most important was the coming age of the party’s top leader, “young” Rahul Gandhi. His low-key, can-do approach made a significant difference. A third factor spoken about is “rural distress” the farmers were unhappy, as indicated by the party’s greater loss in the countryside.
A fourth factor which was highlighted by India Spend is that in Chhattisgarh, MP and Rajasthan, where 43, 36 and 30 per cent of the seats respectively are reserved for SCs and STs, the BJP did not done too well. Across these three states, they lost 120 or 66 per cent of the 180 reserved seats as against the 77 they had won in year 2013.
The fifth issue brought out by The Print is revealing that the party won only 46 per cent of the 80 urban seats and down from the 80 per cent they had won in year 2013.
While losses in the countryside could be put down to “rural distress” and the erosion in the urban areas which voted strongly for the party earlier is a danger signal. Demonetisation and the poor roll-out of the GST, as well as anti-incumbency seems to have dented the appeal of the party. In the recent Assembly poll in Gujarat, the BJP faced strong headwinds, but was able to triumph once again because of the solid support it got from its urban constituency.
Nationally, Modi had generated enormous support among the young and aspirational for his agenda of development and promotion of a range of transformational initiatives, like StartUP India, Skill India, Stand Up India,Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojna, Smart Cities mission, AMRUT and so on.
However, the outcomes in most of these initiatives have been indifferent and many schemes are yet to get off the ground. In the meantime, the economy has not been able to provide 10 million jobs per annum that Modi had talked of in his election campaign in year 2014. In fact, CMIE figures actually show that the number of formally employed Indians actually fell in the period 2017-2018. The government claimed that the figure at 1.8 million for 2017. Recent CMIE data shows that new investment projects went down by 38.4 per cent in the financial year 2018 and the completion of new ones fell by 26.8 per cent over the previous year. FDI declined by 15 per cent. An indicator shows how fraught the situation was is brought out by the fact that when the Indian Railways advertised for 90,000 jobs, they got 23 million applications. Things have not been too good and better in FY 2019 either.
All these issues will be in play in the year 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The period now and then is too short for the Congress Party to be expect to deliver on promises. This is perhaps is to its advantage because fulfilling some of those would not be easy. Most important outcome of this elections was that it gave a lifeline to the Congress, which was floundering in the face of repeated defeats.
Coming to power in three states will help congress in filling up its depleted coffers, something that will be very important when it faces the cash-rich BJP in the year 2019 contest. But far more important point is the sense of confidence and “can do” spirit that the state Assembly results would have given to Rahul Gandhi’s neophyte leadership and the Congress party.