NEW DELHI—The Narendra Modi government’s decision to scrap the special status granted to the state of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 failed to yield the expected results for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) despite its aggressive campaigns during the Haryana and Maharashtra assembly elections as several local issues and factors in both states were more important for voters, pollsters who analysed the recent assembly election results told HuffPost India on Friday.
While the Jat community’s mobilisation in Haryana went against the BJP, the agrarian crisis, farm distress and high unemployment also weighed heavily on voters’ minds and influenced results in the two states, said the long-time election watchers.
“There was an overemphasis on Article 370 and emotional issues,” said Kushal Pal who works at the Dyal Singh college in Karnal. Pal has surveyed voters during multiple elections, including the 2019 Lok Sabha election, for the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS).
“The Modi factor’ worked very well for the BJP in the general election, but in state election, local, regional and personal issues are more important than national issues”, he said.
Prof Pal specifically mentioned a few issues which were on top of voters’ minds. “Unemployment and crime are high in Haryana. Agrarian crisis and rural distress are worsening. Also, identity politics worked against the BJP. They couldn’t factor in these things,” he noted.
Sanjay Kumar, director of the CSDS, elaborated on Pal’s observations with his own analysis. “What dominated the minds of the voters and their voting preference was more the issue of their livelihood compared to the issue of nationalism, national identity,” he said.
Kumar then went to explain at some length why he felt, in this election, identity politics was at its “peak” in Haryana.
After the 2019 general election, there has been talk that there is no space for identity politics now, there is only politics of development. But if you look at the verdict of Haryana, identity politics was at its peak in this election.Sanjay Kumar, Director, Centre For The Study of Developing Societies
“After the 2019 general election, there has been talk that there is no space for identity politics now, there is only politics of development. But if you look at the verdict of Haryana, identity politics was at its peak in this election,” he observed.
“With every minister losing election, when the counting was happening yesterday, there was so much jubilation between INLD and JJP leaders, they were taking the pleasure that they have dealt the BJP a lesson. So identity politics was at its peak in Haryana in this election. If you look at how Jats have voted, they have voted in a very big way for the JJP and Congress. It’s not that their votes were scattered; in some districts their votes were with the JJP and in other districts, where the Congress was strong, Rohtak and Sirsa for instance, the Jat vote went with Congress,” the veteran election analyst stated.
The Jat community is the dominant caste in Haryana. Typically, the post of Chief Minister is occupied by a person from the Jat community. However, when the BJP won the state in the 2014 poll, it appointed a non-Jat person, Manohar Lal Khattar, as the CM. This caused resentment among people from the dominant community, Kumar explained.
Understanding the Maharashtra verdict
But in the case of Maharashtra, it wasn’t so much identity but regional politics and local factors and concerns that appear to have played a decisive role in influencing the electoral verdict, the CSDS director said.
“In Maharashtra, it was about various local issues. In the verdict for Maharashtra, you don’t see a uniform pattern across the state, you have to see it across different regions. Here, it was more about the local issues more than Haryana. Local issues dominated the election. Different regions had slightly different issues,” he also noted.
In a detailed ground report, based on interviews with several voters, analysts and politicians in the cities of Kolhapur and Pune, HuffPost India has reported how issues such as floods and farm distress, though they were of immediate concern for voters, were dislodged from the assembly election campaign this time in Maharashtra, thanks to the BJP’s aggressive emphasis on Article 370 and Kashmir as campaign issues.
According to pollster and political analyst Rajeshwari Deshpande of the Savitribai Phule Pune University, the results clearly show that the way in which the BJP was conducting its politics after the victory in the 2019 general election—by “considering that state elections will be similar to the Lok Sabha elections”—was not logical.
In a previous interview, Deshpande had explained how Article 370 and Kashmir being the BJP’s preferred campaign issues was consistent with the politics of “centralisation” that is being followed for the past five years under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah.
Speaking a day after the poll results were announced, she said this had not really worked as the political party system in Maharashtra involved multiple parties which have their influences in select regions.
“In 2014, the Sena and BJP fought independently but they had to come together because that has been the nature of the political system in Maharashtra after the decline of Congress,” she noted.
Deshpande also added that no party, including the Shiv Sena and BJP, have been able to completely replace the Congress.
The party organisation for all political parties, including the BJP, has remained somewhat weak in Maharashtra. That then gives way to local-level contestation becoming important in assembly election.Prof Rajeshwari Deshpande, Savitribai Phule Pune University
“And so it is not exactly one party that people give their opinion about in Vidhan Sabha election. But it is more a configuration of various factors essentially at local-regional level. Like, this time, if you see, in western Maharashtra, NCP has performed well but in Vidarbha again, the BJP has done fairly ok although it has had certain kinds of setbacks there as well. Or in Konkan, it’s the Shiv Sena so that regional configuration is also there.”
She summed up her analysis by saying that, “The party organisation for all political parties, including the BJP, has remained somewhat weak in Maharashtra. That then gives way to local-level contestation becoming important in assembly election.”
As the election results declared on Thursday show, it is this local level contestation itself that proved to be the BJP’s Achilles Heel.