Editorial

Desert defeat: on Congress victory in Rajasthan

Byelections are not clear pointers to the direction of the political wind, even when they are held close to a general election. A host of local factors are often at play, and selection of candidates and civic grievances exercise as much influence on the voter’s mind as do livelihood concerns and governance issues. Even so, the results of the Rajasthan byelections would have jolted the ruling BJP. The Congress not only won the two Lok Sabha seats and the lone Assembly seat, but it did so with impressive margins. In the 2014 Lok Sabha election the BJP made a complete sweep of Rajasthan, winning all 25 seats. The Congress’s recovery of some of the lost ground reflects a general dissatisfaction with the Vasundhara Raje government. Ms. Raje seems to have paid the price for an imperious attitude that alienated large sections within her own party. True, Rajasthan voters have not given either the BJP or the Congress two consecutive terms since the BJP returned to power in 1993. But the Modi wave of 2014 was supposed to have changed the political narrative, with the BJP emerging as a pan-Indian party and the natural party of government. The BJP has lost some Assembly elections since 2014. However, Bihar 2015 was arguably a mere blip, more on account of a coming together of a motley mix of opposition parties than on account of any erosion in its base. Punjab 2017 was written off as the Akali Dal’s loss rather than the BJP’s own. But in Rajasthan, as in Gujarat where the BJP scraped through in late-2017, the two national parties will be in a straight contest. A defeat can mean only one thing: the BJP is slipping in approval ratings in the run-up to 2019.

 

A negative vote it may have been, but the verdict is also a vindication of the Congress tactic of letting a young Sachin Pilot be its public face. Many in the party blamed the inability to close the gap with the BJP in Gujarat on the failure to identify a youthful leader, and instead relying entirely on borrowed leaders such as Alpesh Thakor, Hardik Patel and Jignesh Mevani to free it of a jaded look. If it wants to beat the BJP, the Congress has to find a way to counter its strategy of turning every election into a presidential contest between Prime Minister Modi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi. The byelection results suggest the key to doing so lies in encouraging a youthful regional leadership to emerge in each State. But if the BJP is slipping in Rajasthan, it is gaining in West Bengal: the party finished second behind the Trinamool Congress in the Uluberia Lok Sabha and Noapara Assembly constituencies. With the collapse of the Left Front vote bank, it is the BJP that is emerging as a challenger. But a second-place finish in West Bengal is poor compensation. The BJP’s setback in Rajasthan has given the Congress a ray of electoral hope, as the State goes to the polls later this year.


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Printable version | Jan 20, 2022 2:12:27 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/desert-defeat/article22637695.ece

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