Economic slowdown, job losses and rural distress may have begun to hurt the BJP as the results of the latest round of Assembly elections seem to indicate. Contrary to the landslide projections made by a majority of exit polls, it has, at best, been a mixed bag for the ruling party. The BJP, along with its ally Shiv Sena, is all set to form the government in Maharashtra for a second straight term, albeit with a reduced tally, but has suffered a setback in Haryana in the face of an unexpectedly resurgent Congress and the emergence of Dushyant Chautala’s Jannayak Janata Party (JJP) as the kingmaker in a photo finish. The NDA leadership must take the message from the voters as a wake-up call and realise that all elections cannot be fought on nationalist narrative and Narendra Modi’s personal image alone. In both the States, Modi and Amit Shah campaigned extensively and largely highlighted national issues. But, there are economic issues on the ground which are now becoming more prominent and the NDA government will have to address them sooner than later. There is a very clear rural-urban divide in the vote shares of the three main parties in Haryana, with the BJP doing much better in the urban and semi-urban areas while the JJP doing much better in the rural areas even as the Congress vote share is largely uniform. The poll verdict has exposed the chinks in the BJP’s armour, though the party is set to get a second term in Maharashtra and is in the reckoning for power in Haryana.
The voting pattern in both the States signals a growing disenchantment with the BJP over economic slowdown. It is a response to the Modi government’s denial about the state of the economy and rising unemployment. It also shows that the focus on issues such as Kashmir and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) has limitations. Its vote share has come down significantly in both the States. Haryana, in particular, provides a reality check: the BJP’s vote share has dipped from 58% in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections to around 36% now. This is not very different from what happened in the Assembly elections in the BJP-ruled Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. This suggests that the BJP State governments cannot take pro-incumbency for granted. In Maharashtra, the strong showing of the Sena and the reduction in the seats of the BJP has provided the Sena a greater heft in the alliance. The opposition, on the other hand, can take heart from the fact that despite a deluge of exodus from its ranks, the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance hasn’t managed to completely wipe them off.