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Assembly election results 2018: Hand on heartland as Congress marches into Raipur, Jaipur, Bhopal

Votes were counted on Tuesday in five states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Mizoram, Chhattisgarh and Telangana in what has been billed as the semi-final before next year’s Lok Sabha election.

assembly-elections Updated: Dec 12, 2018 09:10 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Congress supporters celebrate party’s performance in the state assembly elections at the headquaters in New Delhi.
Congress supporters celebrate party’s performance in the state assembly elections at the headquaters in New Delhi.(Amal KS/HT PHOTO)
         

The Congress, which struggled to make electoral inroads since 2013, on Tuesday handed the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) its biggest defeat in three crucial heartland states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh, in a boost to the main opposition ahead of next year’s general election.

As he prepares to install his party’s chief ministers in Jaipur, Bhopal and Raipur, Congress president Rahul Gandhi will go into the 2019 Lok Sabha elections with renewed energy and morale, and with greatly enhanced bargaining power as he stitches together a ‘Mahagathbandhan’, or Grand Alliance, against the Narendra Modi-led BJP.

With only 15 seats, the BJP suffered a big defeat in Chhattisgarh. The Congress won in 68 seats in the house of 90.

Madhya Pradesh turned out to be a cliffhanger, and to the credit of chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the BJP, after 15 years in power, fell short of the majority mark by seven seats. The Congress won 114 seats in MP, which has 230 legislators with a halfway mark at 116.

In Rajasthan, the Congress won as was widely expected. It had 99 seats on its own and 100 along with its ally, Rashtriya Lok Dal, in the house of 200 legislators (election for one seat was postponed after the death of a candidate).

Claiming victory, Congress leader Kamal Nath wrote to Madhya Pradesh governor Anandiben Patel late in the evening, seeking an appointment to stake a claim for government formation. The Congress has “emerged the single largest party with majority support” and “all the independents have in addition assured support to the Congress party,” he said in a letter staking claim to form the next government. Four independents had either won or were leading at the time.

However, the governor’s office said “an appointment will be given only after the situation is made clear by the Election Commission”, news agency ANI reported.

The disturbing news for the Congress came from the south, where the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) cruised to a massive victory crushing the Maha Kootami stitched together by Gandhi and Andhra Pradesh chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu, and from the northeast, where it lost its only government in the region in Mizoram.

Read more| Congress gets 2 BJP states, stakes claim for third; Telangana picks KCR

But the big takeaway of the election was what appeared to be rising disillusionment with the BJP governments, both at the Centre and the state, for their economic performance.

This was especially true among farmers for inadequate prices and young voters over the lack of jobs. The party’s wide social coalition encompassing various castes also seems to have begun unravelling. Across these three states, the BJP has lost at least 175 seats compared to its tally in 2013.

The Congress was understandably jubilant. “The time has come for a change. We will also win in 2019. The central question is how does our country give jobs to millions and millions of the youth?” party president Gandhi said.

Late on Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted, “We accept the people’s mandate with humility. I thank the people of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan for giving us the opportunity to serve these states. The BJP Governments in these states worked tirelessly for the welfare of the people.”

Read more| Congress stakes claim to form government in Madhya Pradesh, writes to governor

He ‘saluted’ the family of BJP karyakartas for working day and night for the state elections. “Victory and defeat are an integral part of life. Today’s polls will further our resolve to serve people and work even harder for the development of India.”

BJP leaders said the mandate could not be extrapolated for the 2019 election where Modi would be in the fray. “The issues in state elections are entirely different. We won all these three states (Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh) in December 2003 and we lost the general elections in 2004. So, there is no automatic transfer,” said Union finance minister Arun Jaitley.

They also pointed to the party’s strong vote share in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan to suggest that their base remains formidable.

The Congress has not yet announced its CMs for the three states. It will do so for Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan on Wednesday and for Chhattisgarh on Thursday. The party has sent AK Antony as the central observer to Madhya Pradesh and KC Venugopal to Rajasthan. Senior leader Mallikarjun Kharge will go to Raipur.

Each state had its own dynamics.

Read more| ‘PM Modi taught me a lesson…’: Rahul Gandhi after Congress takes 2 states

Madhya Pradesh witnessed a spirited fight. Chouhan, despite 15 years of his party’s stint in power, displayed remarkable staying power. His welfare schemes, particularly rural housing, popularity with other backward classes (OBC) groups and women voters helped the party get 41.1% vote share — almost the same as Congress’s 41%.

Having put its house in order, dividing responsibilities between state unit chief Nath and campaign committee chief Jyotiraditya Scindia, the Congress won more seats as it capitalised on agrarian distress, unemployment and promised a loan waiver to farmers. The others won seven seats, with the Bahujan Samaj Party, which did not ally with Congress in the state, bagging two seats.

In Rajasthan, the Congress capitalised on the resentment against chief minister Vasundhara Raje, who was widely perceived as inaccessible and disconnected. It also appears to have won over groups like Rajputs and Jats who voted for the BJP last time around, besides its traditional constituencies of Dalits and tribals. But the BJP put up a strong performance, and PM Modi’s campaign blitz in the last week helped. The Congress secured 39.3% votes while the BJP won 38.8%.

Raje resigned in the evening and said, “I accept this mandate by the people. The BJP has worked a lot for them in these five years. I hope the next party takes those policies and work forward.”

Rajasthan Congress chief Sachin Pilot said, “The BJP’s policies and politics have been completely rejected and the people have chosen the Congress. It is a clear rejection of the kind of politics the BJP practices.”

Read more| Mizoram election result: Zoramthanga set to return as CM after decade, lists prohibition as topmost priority

In Chhattisgarh, the Congress — led by a trio of leaders T Sahu, TS Singh Deo and Bhupesh Baghel — got home with promises of farm loan waiver and higher minimum support price for paddy. Local anti-incumbency hurt the BJP, which secured 33% of the votes while the Congress received 43.2%. Contrary to expectations, the Ajit Jogi-Mayawati combine did not hurt the Congress, and the alliance only won seven seats.

Outgoing Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh said, “We need the blessings of the people; discussions would be held about the shortcomings. The party will take all issues into consideration. We will definitely make a comeback in the 2019 general elections.”

In Telangana, CM K Chandrashekhar Rao won riding on sub-nationalism — this is only the second election after the creation of the state, for which he is given wide credit — and a new politics of welfare. This included providing direct financial assistance to farmers, cash to women for their weddings, pensions to a range of needy groups, the supply of electricity, and promises of housing for the poor and provision of water to each household. The Opposition knew it had a difficult task and thus had come together. But the arithmetic of the alliance could not overwhelm the chemistry of KCR’s appeal.

Rao said, “In today’s results of assembly polls, Telangana has shown the way to the whole nation. Telangana stands (as) a non-Congress, non-BJP state.”

In Mizoram, the Congress’s last bastion in the northeast fell. The opposition Mizo National Front handed a crushing defeat to the ruling party. In the evening, MNF leader Zoramthanga met the governor at the Raj Bhavan and staked claim to form the government.

There is no direct correlation between the outcome of these state polls and the larger Lok Sabha verdict. In 1998, the BJP lost Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh but emerged as the single largest party in national polls in the subsequent year. In 2003, the BJP won Rajasthan, MP and Chhattisgarh and called national polls early, only to lose. In 2008, the Congress won Rajasthan but lost MP and Chhattisgarh, but won the Lok Sabha polls in 2009. In 2013, BJP won all three states and in the only case where there is a direct alignment, swept the Lok Sabha polls too.

But where there is a correlation is in terms of the seats from these states in the Lok Sabha. As an earlier HT analysis pointed out, the BJP won 62 of the 65 seats from these three states in 2014 — and it is often the case that a setback in these assembly polls will result in a setback in the Lok Sabha polls from these states.

The more intangible impact, however, is in terms of optics and morale. Buoyant after the results, the Congress will push an adjournment motion in Parliament on the controversial Rafale jet deal as early as on Wednesday. The Opposition will enter the 2019 battle with renewed confidence in its ability to take on the BJP machine. The Congress will now focus on getting state-specific alliances right, including in the battleground states of UP and Bihar. The result will also demoralise the saffron ranks, make allies reconsider their stance, and leave the government with limited time to make amends on the economic front.

Milan Vaishnav of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said: “This is an unambiguous victory for the Congress. The party had hoped to win two of three Hindi belt states, but to form governments in all three — which seems likely — is a significant triumph. This victory boosts the Congress cadre, the Congress president, and the Congress’ coalition potential.”

First Published: Dec 12, 2018 00:27 IST