On 12 December, the Congress party found its way back into the Hindi heartland by winning assembly elections in three states that were previously ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party—Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. The results are a major setback for the BJP ahead of the 2019 general elections. They also dent Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP national president Amit Shah’s stated goal of a “Congress-mukt Bharat”—an India free of the Congress party.
While the Congress gears up to form governments in these states, the BJP will be introspecting on its defeat. P Muralidhar Rao is a national general secretary of the BJP and the party’s poll in-charge for the Rajasthan elections. On 13 December, Tushar Dhara, a reporting fellow at The Caravan, spoke to Rao about what the election results mean for his party and its prospects for the 2019 general elections, and whether the Modi-Shah duo should be assigned responsibility for the defeat. “The kind of communication which should have been there between the people and the government [in Rajasthan], it was lacking,” Rao said. “A sense of alienation was there.”
Tushar Dhara: Were the results in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh along expected lines?
Muralidhar Rao: All states are different. You cannot put them into one category. In MP, you were having government for the last three terms under Shivraj Singh Chouhan and before that [the BJP leader and former chief minister] Uma Bharti, and in Chhattisgarh under Raman Singh. Sometimes people would like to have change for the sake of change also, and when you continue to rule for 15 years, you certain times take decisions that affect certain persons or groups, so all these things get accumulated over a period of time. So that kind of problem was there in Chhattisgarh and MP.
TD: What were those decisions and who were the groups affected?
MR: Government employees, sometimes they get affected. For example, I give a ticket to somebody, I don’t give a ticket to somebody, after a period of time it gets accumulated. These things are normal not just for my party, [but] for any party. Despite all these things, under Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s leadership, the party in MP has given a very good fight and our cadres have worked very hard. In Rajasthan, the state government has functioned very effectively. [There are] beneficiaries in huge numbers in Rajasthan, development has also taken place very rapidly. I feel the kind of communication which should have been there between the people and the government, it was lacking. Leaders in the government, they felt we are doing a good job—somehow the same spirit was not carried to the people. A sense of alienation was there—even polling management people were thinking there will be a rout in Rajasthan. We also got these kinds of reports. In the last six–seven months, the organisation geared up everything. I give credit to the entire organisation in MP and Rajasthan, and the leadership of [former Rajasthan Chief Minister] Vasundharaji and Shivrajji, and Modiji and Amit Shah. All political analysts were thinking there will be a rout in MP and Rajasthan. But the situation today is completely different. In Rajasthan, it is only 0.5 percent difference between Congress and BJP. In MP, though there was a decline in vote share, compared to the Congress even today we are having more.
TD: Why did the BJP lose in Rajasthan and MP?
MR: There are plenty of reasons. But how can I say now, within 24 hours? I am a party general secretary and unless I get a detailed feedback point-by-point, constituency-by-constituency, how can I tell you?
TD: Are the state units responsible for the defeats or Modi and Shah?
MR: BJP does not function like this. My party is not a family party. My party is not a one-leader party. So how can I say this man is responsible for the defeat and success? [The former Chhattisgarh Chief Minister] Raman Singh is responsible for the successes of 15 years, and today if there is any fault he’s also responsible, and he has taken it. Shivraj Singh Chouhan, as the leader of the party has taken responsibility. And our party, we function in a very collective way. We know it is collective leadership and collective thinking. Definitely, as leader of the party, Narendra Modi has responsibility, but how can you judge Narendra Modi in the context of Madhya Pradesh, and tell him he is the responsible man? It will not be fair.
TD: What about Adityanath’s impact? He addressed over 70 public meetings for the elections.
MR: Do you think public meetings give results? They are one of the factors. We have hundreds—house-to-house contact programme also we have done.
TD: What do the results mean for the 2019 general elections?
MR: Nothing. Maybe a fraction. Ultimately, out of 543 seats, MP, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan constitute something. How can I say they do not have an impact? But you cannot say this will be the thing through which you can predict the parliament elections. It is not possible. When Atal [Bihari Vajpayee] ji was PM, we won all three states and lost [the 2004 general elections].