Five points to note, even before the last vote is counted for analysis

Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Rajasthan are three States where the Congress and the BJP are face to face.

Trends continue to fluctuate in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, into the afternoon on the counting day, but one thing is clear — Amarinder Singh, the leader of the lean club of Congress chief ministers will have some new members joining. It is not yet clear, how many.

Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan are three States where the Congress and the BJP are face to face, like Gujarat. In Telangana and Mizoram,the Congress is up against regional parties.

There are five points to be noted even before the results are complete

First, the BJP’s strongholds are under challenge. Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, surrounding the Gujarat laboratory, are critical to Hindutva politics. The BJP has been in power since 2013 in MP and Chhattisgarh. The party sought to overcome anti-incumbency and corruption charges in these States by a high dose of Hindutva, generously deploying Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath for campaigning. Perhaps that strategy worked to some extent and prevented a complete collapse of the party, though not enough to secure a comfortable win anywhere. What lesson will the BJP learn from this, for its 2019 campaign? A likely scenario will be that it will go for a mix of fresh populist government schemes and a sharp escalation of its Hindutva rhetoric. The mandir slogan is dusted and ready, for relaunch any time. We can’t be sure of its outcome.

Second point to be noted is the impact of the results on Mr. Modi’s individual standing. It can be argued that it was Mr. Modi’s personal appeal that prevented a complete rout of the BJP in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. It is possible that when the 2019 election will be framed as a verdict on Mr. Modi and his politics, the scenario could be different from what we see today. But the news scenario of a weakened BJP at the state level in critical regions will force Modi to place himself at the centre of the campaign as he had done in 2014 too. The difference now is that he is no longer a challenger to the regime. He is the regime. He will double down on attempts to contrast himself with Rahul Gandhi. And that strategy as we know by now, can cut both ways. That strategy will require a progressive degeneration of his vocabulary and could turn off at least some sections of the electorate. Moreover, Mr. Modi has to now outsmart Mr. Yogi in the Hindutva game. A more detailed analysis of how the Modi factor worked in comparison with the Yogi factor in these core regions of Hindutva is likely to be done by the RSS. The internal dynamics of Hindutva politics will now play out less subtly in the coming months.

Thirdly, this election proves that there is limit to cleverness. In Chhattisgarh, the BJP talked up the Ajit Jogi-Mayawati alliance as a third force and its government tacitly supported it. At the end of the day, the new formation took down the BJP that finished third in Bilaspur and surrounding region. Far from harming the Congress, Mr. Jogi’s exit turned out to be boon for the Congress and his new party and the coalition contributed to the BJP’s downfall.

Fourth point is about Congress. This election puts the Congress party, and more specifically its president Rahul Gandhi, as the central character of opposition politics nationally. How the Congress will process its new status, how it will try to project that into other states where it is not the principal opponent of the BJP such as U.P and negotiate with regional partners are critical factors to track as India shifts gear to the campaign for the 17th general election next year.

Fifth point is how will the regional parties process the new status of the Congress as they are themselves wary of any improvement in the fortunes of India’s Grand Old Party. For their continuing prominence in their respective regions, they need the BJP as an enemy more than they need Congress as a friend. In 2004, this apparent contradiction was overcome by the genius and authority of Harkishan Singh Surjeet, then general secretary of the CPI (M). The CPI(M)’s own standing as a national party, without any claim for itself helped. In the absence of such a figure amongst them, can non-Congress parties forge an understanding that will bring them together around a Congress nucleus to form a national anti-BJP coalition? That question remains open today.

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