Team Modi mauled in Hindu heartland, their star campaigners had toured with all their might.
NEW DELHI: The ruling party of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi Tuesday suffered a major setback just a few months before a general election, trailing the rival Congress party in three key state polls.
In the last set of state elections before the whole country goes to the ballot box in the spring, preliminary results showed bad defeats for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, and the vote hanging in the balance in Madhya Pradesh.
All three are big, populous states that handed dozens of seats to the BJP as Modi swept to victory in the last general election in 2014. And as much as the results were a blow to the ruling party, they will provide a big boost to the image of both Congress and its leader Rahul Gandhi, who has come under particularly vicious attack from supporters of the present government. As counting continued, Mr. Gandhi addressed the media to claim victory in all three of the big states.
“The election results are out, and I congratulate Congress workers and the people. It’s the people’s win, the youth’s win,” he said.
He said the BJP had lost the vote in the mostly rural states because he “refused to listen” to what farmers and young people living outside cities had to say. Hundreds of thousands of people have joined farmers’ protests in the capital Delhi in recent months, demanding the government put in place higher minimum pricing for their goods.
At the same time, Modi has been accused of failing to meet his promise of providing a jobs boon in rural economies. “He refused to listen to the heartbeat of the country. A certain amount of arrogance came in,” Mr. Gandhi said.In the central state of Chhattisgarh ruled by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for 15 years, chief minister Raman Singh conceded defeat after early results showed the BJP trailing Congress by some 50 seats in the 90-seat state assembly.
In neighbouring Madhya Pradesh the BJP also suffered from voter fatigue after 15 years in office, with Congress set to be three seats short of a majority and four ahead of the BJP. Television footage showed jubilant Congress workers bursting firecrackers and dancing at regional party offices in both states. In two other smaller states also releasing results Tuesday, Telangana in the south and remote Mizoram in the northeast, regional parties looked to be leading.
Congress’s five-time Mizoram chief minister Lal Thanhawla was routed by the regional Mizo National Front, a BJP ally. In Telangana the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi won handsomely — at the expense of Congress.
But it was Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madyha Pradesh that mattered most for the Hindu nationalist BJP, which swept to power nationally under Modi in 2014. They form part of the “Hindi Belt” or “Cow Belt” region of around 475 million people — more than the United States, Canada and Mexico combined — where the right-wing BJP has its core support base.
Currently, the BJP rules 19 out of 29 Indian states either outright or in alliance with local parties. Congress rules just two states, including one in partnership. But the latest results are a blow to the image of Modi as an invincible vote-winner, and puts the 68-year-old on the back foot months before he seeks a second term in office.