Congress workers wave party flag to celebrate the party’s performance in Assembly elections in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. (Source: PTI)

Congress Rises In Heartland In A Challenge To Modi Ahead Of 2019

The Bharatiya Janata Party lost power in three key states of Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh in a setback to Prime Minister Narendra Modi ahead of the 2019 general election.

The Congress swept Chhattisgarh and ended one seat short of the halfway mark in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh each, according to results announced by the Election Commission.

In Madhya Pradesh, both the BJP and the Congress swapped leads through much of the counting that stretched for more than 22 hours. Late on Tuesday night the Congress sought an appointment with the governor to stake claim to form the government, citing the support of independents. Bahujan Samaj Party also decided to support the Congress on Wednesday morning.

The Rahul Gandhi-led party, however, lost power in Mizoram to the regional Mizo National Front and failed to put up a fight against the Telangana Rashtra Samiti in the southern state. Despite the two losses, three wins in the Hindi heartland underscores resurgence after the Congress was decimated in 2014.

“This is a clear message to the Prime Minister and BJP that the country is not happy with what they are doing,” Gandhi said addressing the media in New Delhi. “The country isn't happy with demonetisation, the country isn't happy with GST and the country is not happy with the lack of jobs.”

Narendra Modi faced a bouquet of challenges in the last year of his term after enjoying four years of low oil prices and spending his way to boost growth. He faces the risk of a fiscal slippage in the election year with volatile oil prices and a hostile global trade environment. Besides, he needs to manage farmers’ anger across the nation as falling prices mean they aren’t able to recover their production costs.

That means India goes into the next general election in 2019 with BJP slightly on the backfoot. “The next three months will be a thought process for BJP, because they have promised too much and now people will ask them to deliver,” political strategist Amitabh Tiwari told BloombergQuint.

When your graph goes up very high, there is a tendency to fall down. BJP has set the bar very high for itself. It was winning elections after election. What was different this time was that it was defending its own turf. Whenever it is in power, it has struggled.
Amitabh Tiwari, Political Strategist

Prime Minister Narendra Modi accepted defeat in the three states, which together account for 65 Lok Sabha seats, of which the BJP won 62 in the last election. “We accept the people’s mandate with humility,” he tweeted. “I thank the people of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan for giving us the opportunity to serve these states.”

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, however, said that today’s setback does not have a bearing on the Lok Sabha elections. “The issues in a state election are entirely different. We won all these states in 2003 state elections and lost all these states in the 2004 general elections. So therefore it doesn't get an automatic transmission,” Jaitley told news agency ANI. “The 2019 election will be an election around the performance of the central government and the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.”

Despite a jolt to the BJP, stock markets shrugged off any impact. After a wild day of swings from losses to gains, both the benchmarks Sensex and Nifty ended the day half a percentage point higher. “Markets have probably given a thumbs up to a formation of stable government in various states,” AK Prabahakar, head of research at IDBI Capital told BloombergQuint over phone.

All eyes are now on the campaigning for the general election. Congress President Rahul Gandhi said that he feels the time for change is here. “I’ve been saying it for some time. I think with a resurgent Congress party in these states and other states where BJP is ruling, along with the combined opposition, it is going to become very difficult for the Prime Minister and BJP to win the elections.”

The Electoral Math

Congress Rises In Heartland In A Challenge To Modi Ahead Of 2019
  • In Madhya Pradesh, the Congress won 114 seats out of 230. The BJP got 109.
  • In Rajasthan, the Congress secured 99 seats while the BJP won 73 of the 199 constituencies.
  • Chhattisgarh saw a landslide Congress win with the party getting 68 of the 90 sets.
  • Telangana saw K Chandrashekhar Rao's early election gamble pay off as they were leading in 88 seats out of 119.
  • Mizoram voted Congress out of power with the Mizo National Front winning 26 seats out of a possible 40.

BloombergQuint’s extrapolation of today’s results suggests that if the people of the state vote in the general election the same way as they did in the assembly polls, then instead of the 62 seats out of the 65 BJP had won in the three states—Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan—it would only win 31 seats.

Watch the full discussion here:

(The story was updated to incorporate the final tally for each state)