New Delhi: The big picture message from the just-concluded series of by-polls across states and the crucial Bihar elections suggest in electoral management that there is no major competitor to the BJP and that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's popularity remains intact.
"These election results show the dynamic presence of Prime Minister Modi at the national level across states," rightly remarked BJP national vice president Baijayant Jay Panda.
In the first mass electoral fray after Covid19, more than once referred to as a referendum on the performance of the central government in handling the pandemic-related challenges, the BJP has thrived.
"Tejashwi calls Rahul Gandhi & says Mahagathbandhan = Mar Gaye Bhai!! And I am saying it very seriously, yes all puns are very much intended," tweeted Union Minister Babul Supriyo from West Bengal. Of course, next round of fierce electoral battle will be in Mamata Banerjee-ruled West Bengal itself.
Besides retaining Bihar along with its alliance partner Janata Dal (United), the BJP won in UP, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh and other states including Telangana and Manipur.
In PM Modi's native state of Gujarat, the saffron party won all the eight Assembly seats for which by-elections were held. It also won six out of seven seats in Uttar Pradesh and 19 out of 28 seats in Madhya Pradesh, where the adverse by-polls outcome could have brought down the Shivraj Singh Chouhan ministry. It won four out of five seats in Manipur - a state where there is the presence of a significant number of Christian voters.
Moreover, winning Bihar was not easy as Nitish Kumar faced a strong anti-incumbency wave of 15 years (three terms) and the state was hit with recent floods, the Covid19 pandemic and was one of the worst-hit Indian states by the woes of migrant workers during national lockdown enforced to combat coronavirus pandemic.
In contrast, let us shift the gear to the opposition camp, the nail-biting finish shows the BJP did put up a winning and commendable performance while the Congress chiefly suffered a major setback.
The RJD - of course - seems to retain its grip and picked up 75 seats to become the single largest party. The Congress could win only 19 seats out of 70 seats it contested finally impacting the opposition alliance figures. As usually happens with the Congress leaders, they did not show humility in accepting the mandate and started blaming the EVMs and tried to look for other excuses for rejection by voters across India including Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat.
Many also think the Congress did not have solid ground to contest 70 seats as the party does not have much of organisational presence nor good candidates. Some of the blame for RJD-Congress poorer show also goes to the arrogance of Tejashwi Yadav, son of Lalu Prasad Yadav- cooling heels behind bars.
The smaller parties could have easily added to the strength of the Grand Alliance. The Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP), the Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular) and the Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP) parted ways at the last moment giving a strategic and significant advantage to the NDA.
One notable factor in this year's polls has been LJP - now led by Late Ram Vilas Paswan's son Chirag - which has directly damaged JD(U) prospects in as many as 23-25 seats.
AIMIM of Asaduddin Owaisi was another major player which damaged opposition parties.
The Hyderabad-based party picked up five seats and showed that it had made sizable penetration in Kochadhaman, Kishanganj, Amour, Bahadurganj, Thakurganj and Jokihat areas in Seemanchal region. During the campaign also, Owaisi's party chiefly attacked the RJD-Congress combine for neglecting Muslims' interest and the Seemanchal region.
In terms of statistics, the BJP won 74 seats with over 60 per cent strike-rate out of 110 seats it contested while Janata Dal-United won 43 seats. Two other smaller partners VIP and HAM contributed eight seats more for the alliance.
The opposition alliance formed by RJD and the Congress could manage only 110 seats though in a spirited fight RJD emerged the single largest party with 75 seats in its tally. RJD had contested 144 seats.
Rahul Gandhi visited Bihar during the campaign trail four days and addressed a number of rallies. But the key factor in winning seats remains a far cry now for many years. The Congress joining hands with Akhilesh Yadav-ruled Samajwadi Party in 2017 in Uttar Pradesh too had not gone well with the voters.
As for the Left parties, CPI-M was given four seats, the CPI six and the CPI (ML), 19. The left parties put up a good strike rate winning 16 seats all together with CPI (ML) showing its strong hold over the electorate in development starved Bihar.
India's next round of election battle will shift to communists-ruled Kerala, another southern state of Tamil Nadu and two other eastern states of Assam and West Bengal. These states go to the polls by April-May 2021.UP and Gujarat will go to the polls in March and November 2022.
The opposition parties need new ideas, and one or two new faces. If RJD led by a youngster Tejashwi Yadav can win 75 seats and provide a challenge to the NDA, the opposition parties can certainly sweat it out more in other states. At the national level, the onus is on Congress to rediscover its vote-winning capacities.
A dissenting group of 23 leaders within the Congress had recently written to interim Congress chief Sonia Gandhi pressing for sweeping reforms in the party.
"If Congress is reconciled to the fact that it wants to live divorced from reality, it is for the Congress to decide," mocked Jyotiraditya Scindia, a former Congress leader who joined BJP last year.
The opposition parties, including the Left and the Congress, have been extremely critical of the Modi government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic and steps taken to stall the economic crisis. Still, the BJP is proving to be much more efficient in politics of electoral management and winning people's confidence. Congress leader Udit Raj said: "The EVMs should go even if Congress wins. If one can control satellites on Moon and Mars from the ground, then what is EVM in front of them? During recent Haryana polls, few boys were caught hacking EVMs through Bluetooth. I am saying it for all polls, not just Bihar".
But another Congress leader and lawmaker Karti Chidambaram contradicted him. "I stand by it. There have been doubters of the EVM from across political parties, particularly when the results don't go in their favour. Till now no has demonstrated their claims scientifically," he said.
The BJP leaders too as expected, dismissed these charges against abuse of EVM as a defeatists' saga and losers blaming the machines. "I have heard, EVMs are now the face of betrayal in love tales," tweeted BJP youth leader Amit Kumar Pandey in Hindi -- "Suna hae EVM bewafa ho gaya".