Yogi Adityanath took oath as the chief minister of UP on 19 March along with two deputies and 46 ministers. The BJP’s stunning performance in UP has led Opposition leaders like Omar Abdullah to declare the 2019 Lok Sabha polls a done deal for the party. He tweeted that the Opposition could hope to make a comeback, if any, only in 2024.
Is 2019 a Done Deal for the BJP?
The theory is not unfounded.
1) The BJP has formed a government in four of five states which went to the polls and now rules over 60 percent of India’s population.
2) The Congress rules over only Karnataka and Punjab (out of states sending more than 10 MPs to Parliament).
3) Rahul Gandhi’s leadership doesn’t inspire even the party’s hardcore supporters.
4) In UP, the Congress won seven seats, that too in alliance with the Samajwadi Party. What would have happened had Akhilesh Yadav not extended an olive branch to the Congress?
5) The population (740.1 million) of NDA-ruled states is now nearly seven times of that ruled by the Congress and its allies (107.2 million), according to a report in The Indian Express.
Vajpayee’s Defeat in 2004
Modi’s soaring popularity, clean image and his crusade against black money through demonetisation has placed him in the league of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, if his supporters are to be believed. So a sweep in 2019 can’t be ruled out.
However, politics has its own ways and nothing is impossible in this game. In 2004, Vajpayee suffered a shocking defeat. At that time, there was no prime ministerial candidate the opposition could offer, so he enjoyed the highest leadership ratings. Yet the people voted him out. The Congress had no hopes of a comeback then. This brings us to another important theory in politics: Voters don’t always vote on logic, emotions play an important role.
UP Victory, a Double-Edged Sword
One should consider two historic facts. One, when we analysed previous election results, we found a small correlation between the Assembly and the subsequent Lok Sabha elections.
Two, central governments that have delivered, did well when they contested for re-election (e.g. Manmohan Singh-led UPA government in 2009).
The UP win is a double-edged sword for the BJP. Modi needs to turn around the so-called ulta pradesh or at least show some visible development in the next two years. If conditions on the ground do not improve, there could be problems for the BJP in the form of double anti-incumbency.
The people may not listen to any excuses because of the same government at the Centre and in the state. Uttar Pradesh will be very critical for the BJP to have another innings at the Centre in 2019. Winning 71 seats of 80 may not be that easy.
However, the problem is not in UP alone. The BJP peaked in UP in 2014 and there is no scope for further growth there. Questions on repeating the 2014 performance in 2019 will continue to haunt the BJP.
Replicating the 2014 Magic
The BJP did very well in states like Bihar (31/40), Rajasthan (25), Gujarat (26), Maharashtra (44/48), Madhya Pradesh (27/29) and Chhattisgarh (10/11). These together constitute 163 of the 281 seats won by the BJP. While it is not impossible to replicate the 2014 performance, it is likely that there will be some losses. Our estimate is that 20-30 seats could be lost in these states.
A loss at the upper end of 30 cannot be compensated by UP. It will then have to look at West Bengal, Odisha, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Its foray into the North-East, though spectacular, may not help much as there are very few seats up for grabs in the general elections.
Monsoon Can Play the Spoilsport
In the end it may well boil down to two key factors – (i) likely monsoon conditions in 2017-2018 and (ii) job creation over the next two years.
Deficient rainfall and drought conditions have had a profound impact on the outcome of general elections in India. Bad monsoon leads to low agricultural production which in turn results in high inflation. Incumbent governments have had to bear farmers’ wrath in such cases as seen below.
The Indian Meteorological Department had to downgrade its earlier forecast of “above normal” monsoon to “normal” this year due to a delay in La Nina weather pattern. The European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, one of the world’s topmost climate bodies, has forecast the return of the El Nino weather pattern in the second half of 2017.
We pray for a bumper monsoon in 2017 and 2018. However, any deficiency could play a major role in the 2019 elections.
Challenges for Modi & Co.
Job growth would be another big challenge for Modi and his team. About a million Indians reach employment age every month. Unemployment rate in India shot up to a five-year high of 5 percent in 2015-16.
About 77 percent of households do not have regular wage earning/salaried person. Youngsters who voted for Modi in 2014 were attracted by his development and pro-business/pro-investment image. Due to global slowdown, a section of supporters are already up in arms, with no tangible benefits being visible on the ground.
To sum up, the brilliant performance in UP in many ways solidifies the BJP’s position for 2019. A weakened Congress further bolsters its chances. However, the government has to do a lot of work to retain this vote, minimise its losses in 10 states and acquire new seats in non-traditional (not ruled by BJP) states. A victory margin below 260 seats will make it hostage to the various regional parties who might support it from outside. Will Modi meet Vajpayee’s fate or that of Manmohan remains to be seen.
(This article has been co-authored by Amitabh Tiwari and Subhash Chandra. They are independent political commentators and can be reached at @politicalbaaba and @schandra_100 respectively. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)