Taking their cue from the top, BJP candidates often began their speeches chanting ‘Bharat Ki Mata Jai’ and hailing the government’s “bold and decisive” move in Jammu & Kashmir.
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But politicians and social scientists say that it hasn’t worked, at least to the extent that BJP wanted.
“Voters weren’t moved by emotive issues such as abrogation of Article 370 which were not relevant to the polls. But it is also true that they weren’t moved much by non-emotive issues such as unemployment either,” says political scientist Imtiaz Ahmad.
Social scientist Yogendra Yadav, whose Swaraj India party also contested the polls, says one conclusion which can be drawn from the polls is that nationalism cannot be peddled in state elections. “BJP seemed to believe that you can distract the electorate with issues that had nothing to do with governance. That idea has been neutralised,” he says.
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Yadav also recounted his own experience. “Haryana is a state full of Armymen. I travelled there for one month and addressed about 100 election meetings. Nobody got up to ask me about Article 370. There is undoubtedly popular support for the abrogation, but it was not a relevant election issue,” he said.
Sociologist Shakuntala Nandal feels that BJP’s focus on these issues went against the party. “BJP ignored local grievances such as unemployment, women’s safety, farmer’s woes,” says Nandal, who works in Desh Bandhu Govt College, Panipat.
Speaking off the record, a BJP functionary admitted that the outcome in Haryana showed that the “micro issues” played a role in the party’s below-par performance. He also felt the wide margin between the party’s vote share in the Lok Sabha elections and these assembly elections show that voters are driven by different factors in different elections, and BJP’s effort to frame every contest around issues like nationalism to subsume local bread and butter issues may not always work.
Another party leader, who did not wish to be named, said that agrarian issues and large-scale defection of opposition leaders to BJP may have worked against the party’s interests in Maharashtra. But he also wondered whether the outcome would have been worse if the party had not focused on emotive issues such as Kashmir.
According to Yadav, the poll outcome suggested a continuity of the state elections held in MP, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan last year and Haryana and Maharashtra now.
“In all these elections, the governments were reprimanded for non-performance in different degrees on matters of economy, largely in rural areas. The Lok Sabha poll was different where national issues, including national security, dominated.”
He further said, “In political science, we talk about self-correcting mechanisms of democracy. The market tends to correct itself, so does democracy. At the national level, the verdict brings some relief to many. BJP and Shiv Sena have come back to power in Maharashtra and they still might form the Haryana government. But the big message is that the BJP is not invincible.”
Yadav also said, “I was among those who believed that governance record and electoral outcome have been delinked. Fortunately, there seems to be a link. Manohar Lal Khattar government’s performance was less than mediocre. Haryana had a huge public debt. It more than doubled in these five years…BJP had promised elimination of unemployment. Haryana is No 1 in terms of unemployment in the country. The government did not even look after law and order. The state saw three major meltdowns: the Baba Rampal confrontation, the Jat agitation and the Dera Sacha Sauda agitation. BJP has been punished for misgovernance.”