The Lok Sabha elections of 2019 are just about a year away. Quite obviously there will be considerable speculation on how the ruling party at the Centre is likely to fare in next year’s general elections. In the Lok Sabha elections of 2014, the BJP had a comfortable majority of its own that was better than all its earlier performances. By contrast, the Congress had just 44 seats in the Lok Sabha—a performance calculated to cause great shock and astonishment within the party. After all, the Congress had won very comfortable majorities in the Lok Sabha over the years. For the leading political party of India it was doubtless a humiliating experience to be stuck with just 44 seats in the Lok Sabha. Some aspects of the BJP’s success in 2014 have doubtless caused greater euphoria within the party than anything else. For instance, in Uttar Pradesh the Congress had won just two seats—those of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. In the key States of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Maharashtra (which account for 168 seats), the BJP and its partners had won 145 seats (86.3 per cent). It had been a truly magnificent performance for the BJP and its partners in 2014.
There seems to be serious doubts all over the country whether the BJP and its partners can at least repeat the performance of 2014, even if any possibilities of doing better are ruled out. This is mainly because the people of India had regarded the BJP as a viable alternative to the Congress that deserved an opportunity be in power and to demonstrate that it could do much better than a dynastic political party like the Congress. However, things do not seem to have gone the way people might have expected when they looked for an alternative in 2014. One of the outstanding reasons for this is that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has failed to demonstrate that he was a better choice as Prime Minister than those who went before him. Not only has he often failed to take swift decisions on vital issues, he has also failed to let the people know what his thoughts and decisions are on crucial issues that are of concern to the entire nation. But that apart, the BJP has failed to prove conclusively that it can make a substantial difference to the governance of the country if it remains in power. Any political party that is out to demonstrate that it is more efficient than the ruling parties that went before it, has also to demonstrate what it can do in a matter of four or five years. It cannot afford to take it for granted that it will be given a second term of five years to prove its worth. The recent by-elections to the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies have confirmed the general impression that the BJP does not have the same kind of support today that it did in 2014. It is significant that of the 4 Lok Sabha and 8 Assembly seats in which bye-elections were held recently, the BJP was able to win only one Lok Sabha seat (Palghar in Maharashtra) and the Noorpur Assembly seat in Uttar Pradesh. What is considered a major loss is the Kairana Lok Sabha seat in UP which the combined opposition candidate Ms Tabassum Begum of the Rashtriya Lok Dal won by a margin of about 50,000 votes.
These developments have compelled the BJP to descend from its high horse and to look at some of its drawbacks and weak points more dispassionately and with greater pragmatism. For instance, the BJP leadership has begun to accept that Yogi Adityanath was perhaps not a happy choice as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. The backward classes of Uttar Pradesh are angry that Yogi Adityanath was appointed Chief Minister instead of Keshav Prasad Maurya. In fact, some of the bye-election defeats of Uttar Pradesh are being attributed to this anger of the backward classes. It is significant that BJP president Amit Shah has had to concede that the BJP’s dependence on its allies will increase in Uttar Pradesh. “In 2019 our dependence on allies will increase in Uttar Pradesh: we cannot face the Samajwadi-BSP alliance alone,” a BJP politician said recently. So far, no one is talking about the kind of electoral support that the BJP can expect. But what seems only too evident is that the mass support to the BJP is in the process of dwindling quite a bit. And mere cosmetic measures are unlikely to make much of a difference.