India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has scored decisive victories in 3 out of 4 state assembly elections, tightening Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s grip on power ahead of national polls in 2024.
The BJP retained control in Gujarat and wrested power from rival parties in Himachal Pradesh and Haryana states. It also leads narrowly in Karnataka state.
BJP Dominates in Hindi Heartland States
The BJP and its allies have won or are leading in over 150 seats in Madhya Pradesh’s 230-member assembly, electoral data showed on Sunday. This is more than the 116 seats needed to retain power.
Outgoing Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said the overwhelming victory symbolizes that people’s welfare policies of PM Modi and the state government have won.
In Rajasthan, the BJP is set to end Congress’ bid to retain power by winning a predicted 130-160 seats. This is a huge jump from the 73 seats it held previously.
The elections are seen as a barometer for national elections due in 2024 which Modi’s BJP is expected to win for a third straight term.
Amit Shah, Home Minister and Modi’s right hand man, thanked the people and party workers for BJP’s "unprecedented victory".
Congress Routed, Left With Just Two States
The election results mark yet another devastating electoral loss for India’s main opposition Congress party which is set to retain power only in mountainous state Chhattisgarh.
The party has now lost nine straight state elections since defeating the BJP in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh in December 2018. Those three states account for 65 of India’s 543 elected parliamentary seats.
Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra – descendants of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru – both campaigned extensively but seemingly failed to dent the BJP’s dominance.
The party now rules only two of India’s 28 states – Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan.
Political analysts say the party faces an existential crisis with polls just 16 months away. There is expected to be an intense period of reflection on its leadership and strategy.
Key Factors in BJP’s Victories
The BJP’s victories can be attributed to several factors:
Modi’s enduring popularity: Despite facing criticism over issues like unemployment, Modi himself remains hugely popular across large swathes of Hindu-majority India. His humble roots as a tea seller still resonate strongly with millions of aspiring youths.
Welfare schemes: The Modi government’s push to provide free food grains to 800 million poor Indians during the COVID-19 pandemic is seen as a masterstroke. Similarly, the BJP government in Madhya Pradesh courted women voters through the Ladli Behna scheme offering cash incentives for higher education and marriage.
Hindutva push: The BJP has actively pushed issues like the Ram temple in Ayodhya and a Uniform Civil Code appealing to its Hindu base. After the recent victory, calls for replicating the UCC model across India have grown louder.
Lack of strong opposition: The Congress party lacks a inspirational pan-India leader to take on Modi. Infighting and existential crises have blunted its appeal. Regional parties like AAP show promise but their appeal remains limited.
What Next for National Politics?
The state election results set the tone for national elections in 2024 where Modi will bid for a third straight term.
Buoyed by the strong showings, top BJP leaders have already switched focus to prepare for "Mission 2024". The party machinery will now concentrate its resources on nearly 120 seats it considers winnable but lost in 2019.
For the opposition, the mountain to climb appears steeper than ever. Mamata Banerjee’s TMC, Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP and Tejashwi Yadav’s RJD are promising alternatives but their appeal remains limited outside their strongholds.
Meanwhile in Bihar, BJP’s coalition partner Nitish Kumar has said the election results send a "positive message" that could have an impact nationally. This may indicate a realignment of his JD(U) party towards the BJP for the 2024 polls after recently breaking their alliance.
The next big test on the election calendar will be the Karnataka state polls around April-May 2023 followed by the Lok Sabha elections in summer of 2024. The BJP will be aiming for a hat-trick of Lok Sabha victories to cement Modi’s place as the most dominant prime ministerial figure since Jawaharlal Nehru in newly independent India.
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