The fortunes of BJP have always been linked with its performance in the Hindi belt and it faces the strongest challenge in there in coming elections to Lok Sabha in 2019. The States of U.P, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Utatrakhand, Chhatisgarh and Jharkhand, helped gave a clear majority to BJP in Lok Sabha in 2014. In many of these States Congress will be involved in a direct contest with BJP.
In States like Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Chhatisgarh, the ruling party BJP is facing a strong anti- incumbency factor. It will find it difficult to retain its present strength in the states. Its prospects will be further dented if the opposition parties are able to come to an understanding and avoid division of the votes among them. In 2014 polls there was a virtual wave in favour of Mr Narendra Modi and most of the seats in the Hindi belt were won by him, defeating the Congress party.
But 2019 will be different, as shown in the by-elections held in U.P, Rajasthan, and Bihar. The losses suffered in the Hindi belt will not be easy to make up in other States. Agreed that BJP has made fresh gains in the North-East and some other States like Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Bihar, but they will not be enough. In such a situation the importance of allies or regional parties can not be overemphasised. On this count BJP has not been doing well as they ignored them in the last four years as they enjoyed a clear majority in Lok Sabha.
The oldest ally of BJP, Shiv Sena, has been inching towards a separate and identity has given several signals like abstaining during vote of no confidence debate in Lok Sabha and contesting electons on their own. Other allies like Akali Dal, Janata Dal (U) of Nitish Kumar have also shown their discomfort with BJP from time to time for ignoring the aspirations of the allies. BJP has also not gained any new allies during its current term. Under the circumstances one wonders if the Prime Minister will be able to carry on single-handed the burden of winning the elections in States where the local leadership has failed to perform.
The other disadvantage is the indifferent performance on the economic front. Rising prices of petroleum products, inability to create jobs and disruption caused by demonetization and hasty introduction of GST have created economic stress. Another sector which is causing concern is the unhappy farmers continue to commit suicides as they are not getting a remunerative price for their produce. Lack of jobs in the rural sector has led to demand for reservations in States like Gujarat for Patels, In Maharashtra for Marathas, in Haryana and Rajasthan for the Jats.
All these agitations basically are symbolic of stress in the rural areas where the farmer community is looking for alternative avenues of employment as division of farm land and poor returns from agriculture making it difficult for their families to survive on farming alone. They find it difficult to compete in open market for jobs. This will pose a serious challenge as they had hoped BJP will be able to provide some relief by faster growth, which has not happened.
BJP is also under attack for failure to provide corruption free governance. The bank scams by Nirav Modi and the manner in which Dr Vijay Mallya managed to flee the country after cheating State owned banks of thousands of crores of rupees has raised questions about the ability of the BJP Government to check corruption. The biggest scandal to hit the present Government is purchase of Rafale aircraft from France.
The purchase is under question as the price paid is far in excess of what had been paid for the same aircraft by Egypt and other countries. It is also more than what was negotiated by the UPA Government for 126 aircraft. The argument given is that the price has risen because of India specific changes and weapons which the planes will carry. It is difficult to accept this argument as the Government is not prepared to disclose the actual price to be paid.
The purchase has become even more controversial as the job of assembling the planes has been handed over to a firm owned by Anil Ambani, who has no previous experience in this line instead of the State owned Hindustan Aeronautics, a public sector undertaking which has been doing such jobs for several decades. It looks this scandal will continue to haunt India for decades like the Bofors gun. In the process what could have been a force multiplier will become a Gordian knot around the neck for times to come like the Bofors gun.>
(Brij Bhardwaj is a veteran journalist and commentator)