Where does BJP’s ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’ stand today?

The shrinking Lotus across India. (IANS Infographics)

New Delhi (IANS): May 24 this year was a day of jubilation at the BJP headquarters here with flowers being sprinkled, red carpet being rolled out and with ‘dhols’ at full blast. After all, the Modi 2.0 was back with a bang with an unprecedented mandate of 303 seats in the Lok Sabha.

But if one looks state-wise, the once blooming ‘Lotus’ is shrinking with a steady pace across India. It all started last December when the BJP was wiped out in 3 states at one go — Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Is the “Congress-mukt Bharat” an idea whose time never came? Here’s looking at 11 states where the question hangs heavy:

1. Chhattisgarh: Last December, the BJP’s 15-year-rule came to a sudden end when the Congress dethroned the ‘Lotus’ from the naxal-affected state. The Congress swept to power with a three-fourth majority of 68 seats in the 90-member Assembly. The BJP was reduced to just 15 in the state. In spite of a triangular fight with Congress, Ajit Jogi-led Janta Congress Chhattisgarh (JCC) and Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) combine in the fray, the BJP failed to get any benefit. In the 2013 assembly elections, the BJP had won 49 assembly seats. In 2018, BJP’s Raman Singh era came to an abrupt end as Congress’s Bhupesh Baghel rose to power.

2. Rajasthan: This has been an interesting state for the BJP. In 2014 general election, it won all of 25 seats. In 2019, general election, it had the 58.47% vote share in the state. But during the assembly elections, the electorate decided for change. With 107 MLAs in the 200-member Assembly, the Congress bounced back to power. Soon after, in a press conference a confident Rahul Gandhi had said, “It’s the time of change. A resurgent Congress and strongly united Opposition will make it very difficult for Modi and the BJP to win 2019 elections (to Lok Sabha).” Though that dream of Gandhi wasn’t realized, Vasundhara Raje Scindia was replaced by Congress’s Ashok Gehlot.

3. Madhya Pradesh: The state took one of the longest times to count the final vote in the era of EVMs. The result left Shivraj Singh Chouhan disappointed. Unlike Raje, Chouhan was avery popular CM. But that wasn’t enough: Congress’ Kamal Nath swept to power last December in spite of the intra-party contradictions. Like in Chhattisgarh, the Congress managed to form a government in the state after a long spell of 15 years, though with a wafer-thin majority. Interestingly, again in 2019 general election, which took place just a few months after the Assembly results, the BJP won 28 seats, including Guna, where senior Congressman Jyotiraditya Scindia lost by a big margin.

BJP General Secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya, who hails from the state, credits Prime Minister Modi’s image for the comeback in the state in the general election. But that does not take away the fact that BJP lost one of its key states.

4. Punjab: It was a state that the Akali-BJP combine lost after ruling two consecutive terms. After Captain Amarinder Singh, the giant killer as he is often referred to within the Punjab Congress, was allowed to take charge replacing Rahul Gandhi’s protege Partap Singh Bajwa, the BJP’s rout was imminent.

After exit polls showed new entrant Aam Aadmi Party doing well, the BJP trained its guns on AAP more than the Congress, in spite of knowing their primary contender was Congress. Many in hushed tones, during the assembly polls said that the state BJP IT Cell worked unilaterally against the AAP. The BJP was cut down to a single digit – two in the 117-member Assembly, which is worse than in Delhi.

5. Delhi: The party is not better placed in the national capital than in Punjab. The BJP has just one more MLA than it has in Punjab. In the 70-member House, the party has just 3 MLAs. The ruling Aam Aadmi Party had boasted that it had “allowed” BJP’s Vijender Gupta to be the Leader of the Opposition (LoP). The state unit is faction-ridden.

6. Maharashtra: Though the government formation is yet to take place, the NCP-Congress-Shiv Sena are set to stake their claim to form government any day in the state where President’s rule was imposed as no political formation was able to either come up with the numbers. The BJP-Sena alliance fell apart, resulting the BJP to stay away from attempting to form the government. The Sena walked out of the nearly three-decade-old alliance with the ‘Lotus’ early this month. The apparent discord was over the 50:50 power-sharing formula as insisted upon by the Sena.

As Sena, Congress, NCP pitch for Uddhav Thackeray as CM, the BJP seems to be left out of one of the key states of India.

7. West Bengal: If one state the BJP is desperate to get in and the ruling TMC is not letting an inch to cede is West Bengal. The ‘Lotus’ has made successful inroads into the state since the violent panchayat elections when it swept Purulia district and consecutively in 2019 general election, ate into the CPI-M votes. But there is still some time before the BJP can think of dislodging the TMC as the next Assembly elections are due in 2021. Owing to increasing saffronisation, the BJP has found growing acceptance in Bengal, where it has only 7 MLAs in the House.

8. Odisha: The BJP had tasted power in Odisha along with the BJD in 2009. Ever since their divorce, the party has been unsuccessful to dislodge the BJD in spite of propping up various faces from the states. The state Assembly elections which were held almost simultaneously with the 2019 general election, the BJP managed a tally of 23 seats while the BJD won 113 in the 146-member House.

9. The South: Apart from Karnataka, where the BJP came to power after certain MLAs of Congress and JD-S rebelled, there is not a single state where the BJP is in power. The party’s consolation in Tamil Nadu is the ruling AIADMK, which is a part of the NDA. But there is not a single BJP MLA in the Tamil Nadu Assembly.

10. Puducherry: In the Union Territory, the only talking point is the frequent showdowns between Lieutenant Governor Kiran Bedi– a Central appointee — and Chief Minister Narayanasamy.

As recent as the beginning of this month, a spat between the two came out in the open. Narayanasamy had used the term “demon” for Bedi, with whom he has been at loggerheads over governance for long. In a tweet, Bedi hit back saying: “The expression is unparliamentary, uncalled for, uncivilised, uncouth and unacceptable.”

11. Sikkim: Even in Sikkim, where the BJP’s North-East man Himanta Biswa Sarma has been very successful in saffronising the area, Sikkim has been the odd one out. In fact, when Sonam Tsering Venchungpa won the Martam-Rumtek seat by defeating the Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) candidate Nuk Tsering Bhutia by 600 votes, it was BJP’s first ever MLA in the Himalayan state. However, recently 10 SDF MLAs joined the BJP rank, making it the main opposition.

One of the BJP’s slogans in the run-up to the 2014 general election was making India “Congress-mukt” (Free of Congress). Riding high on the volley of corruption angle against then UPA-2 and its top ministers, the BJP made “Congress mukt Bharat” a household slogan.

Five years down the lane, it is far away from reality. Even in states like Haryana where the ‘Lotus’ has come back to power, it is by taking support of JJP and independents. In Bihar, Nitish Kumar’s JD-U is calling the shots and has dared the BJP to go solo in neighbouring Jharkhand. Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP, an NDA ally at the Centre, has decided to go it alone in Jharkhand where polls are due to begin from November 30. In most of the north-eastern states, its the North Eastern Democratic Alliance (NEDA), an umbrella alliance that is running the show, not the BJP.

So where is “Congress mukt Bharat? BJP’s Amit Malviya told IANS, “Congress-mukt Bharat is Congress ideology-mukt Bharat. The ideology of nepotism, casteism and appeasement is being made redundant. Even if the Congress exists, it will have to exist without its DNA”.

You ask Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and he will smile back to say, “The recent win in Rajasthan local body elections and Congress’s performance in Haryana and other places show that this country is ‘Congress yukt Bharat’ and BJP cannot erase Congress from the heart of common man.”

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