After the results of the Assembly polls in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, one conclusion can be drawn: that the juggernaut of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah is not unstoppable. The second conclusion one can draw is the Congress president Rahul Gandhi has finally delivered.
BJP leaders are blaming, and will blame, local factors for defeat in the three Hindi-speaking states, though it will cut little ice with political analysts and the general public. In Chhattisgarh, it was more than a defeat; with the grand old party bagging over two-thirds of seats, it was a veritable rout. The saffron party can derive some solace from the fact that it didn't suffer a similar fate in the desert state, but then that is more to the political acumen of the outgoing Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje rather than the magic of Modi, the political astuteness of Shah, or even the role of the RSS. For it is a well-known fact that the Parivar is not enamored with Raje.
Similarly, in Madhya Pradesh, where the BJP did better than it did in Rajasthan, it was the incumbent Shivraj Singh Chouhan's doggedness and some good work, especially in road-making, that stood him in good steed.
The biggest upshot of the results in the three states is that the Modi-Shah duo is not invincible. The concoction of the Prime Minister's rhetorical flourishes and the BJP president's organizational skills was a heady stuff for the electorate. But even the most potent intoxicant has an effect for a certain period of time. In their context, the effect could have only been sustained over a longer period by solid results on the ground. That, unfortunately, didn't happen.
All the tall promises that Modi and the BJP made in the run-up to the 2014 general election were observed in the breach. Bringing back ill-gotten wealth stashed in overseas accounts? Well, that was just a jumla, as Shah said. Abrogation of Article 370? The ruling dispensation doesn't even talk about it these days? Uniform civil code? Nothing more than court-supported action against triple-talaq.Acche din? What's that!
The creation of crores of jobs? The government doesn't even have any authentic data on employment, forget its creation. Worse, millions of jobs were lost because of demonetization. The situation was further worsened by the gauche implementation of the goods and services tax (GST) regime. And, on top of everything, the Modi government simply forgot the interests of its core constituency—the middle class. There were no substantial income-tax benefits for the salaried class, notwithstanding some tinkering effected by Finance Ministry babus.
The law and order situation and general administration leave a lot to be desired, thanks to the lack of police, administrative, and judicial reforms. And then there are saffron cowboys, making the lives of Muslims and Dalits miserable.
On the external front, too, the Modi regime's performance has been below average. Pakistan continues to export jihad to India. China persists with its encirclement policy.
It is against this backdrop that the BJP's defeat in the three states should be viewed.
While Rahul has been able to keep his bickering satraps in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan on a leash, with good results, he is yet to spell out an alternative, viable agenda for the nation. He and other Congress leaders will do their party and the country a disservice by preparing the next year's general polls on negativity. Some of the alternatives that the grand old party has offered are old hat—farm loan waivers and more welfare schemes, for instance.
The GOP has to remember that despite all his government's shortcomings, Modi remains the most popular leader at the national level. It has won the semi-finals; it will take more than Modi-bashing to win the finals.