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For Modi’s BJP, wins in 3 Hindi heartland states a major boost before 2024 battle

The victory would convince the BJP that it is still a potent force in the Hindi heartland as it goes into next year’s big battle.

Supporters of prime minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party offer sweets to his portrait as they celebrate the party’s win in the assembly elections in three Indian states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh in Kolkata in the eastern state of West Bengal on Sunday, December 3, 2023. (ANI Photo)

By: Shubham Ghosh

THE victory of prime minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in three of the four key states in India ahead of next year’s general elections marked a significant boost to the two-time PM’s chances of accomplishing a hat-trick of victory in another few months.

The BJP on Sunday (3) won three states in India’s Hindi heartland, known to be happy hunting grounds for the Hindu nationalists, wresting two of them from opposition Indian National Congress and killing anti-incumbency in another.

These elections were seen as a precursor to the general elections of 2024 with more than 160 million people casting ballots. Another state also went to polls with the four mentioned above and it is Mizoram in north-east India, which is ruled by the Mizo National Front, a troubled ally of Modi’s party.

Read: After poll debacle, Indian opposition Congress calls alliance meeting 

The Congress had one state in their kitty on Sunday and it was Telangana in south India. It was ruled by a regional party — Bharat Rashtra Samithi and the BJP remains a fringe player there.

It is not that outcomes of state elections in India will automatically show what a national election would look like. In 2018, the Congress had won all the three states that the BJP did on Sunday but yet Modi’s BJP-led National Democratic Alliance swept the national elections in early 2019. State elections are fought over state or region-specific concerns while general elections are more related to national-level issues and leaders.

Read: KC Rao, leader who projected himself as Modi’s alternative, loses own state poll

Yet, the latest wins would serve as a major booster dose for the BJP which has fallen short in some state polls. The saffron party, which enjoys a brutal majority in the parliament, governed 15 of India’s 28 states at the moment and only nine directly. In the rest, it is in coalition with smaller partners.

The BJP lost two states — Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka — in the last 12 months to the Congress and would not want to lose more to the Congress ahead of next year’s national elections. Often, state-level feuds have hurt the BJP’s prospects and even a leader of the stature of Modi could not save them from facing a defeat. Sunday’s wins would convince the BJP that it is still a potent force in the Hindi heartland as it goes into next year’s big battle. Ten states in India’s Hindi-speaking belt send 225 members to the parliament and in 2019, the BJP won 177 of those seats.

For the Congress which is desperately seeking to reverse its electoral fortunes, these elections were crucial. The party is a part of the new alliance called INDIA (Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance) which has vowed to dethrone Modi next year but is still struggling to cement its own unity. A good show in these elections would have given the party and its leader Rahul Gandhi a solid opportunity to claim themselves as the natural leaders of the alliance. But it was not to be and the Congress will have to face some serious questioning within INDIA.

Questions have already been raised in favour of Nitish Kumar, a veteran leader and chief minister of the eastern state of Bihar and supremo of the Janata Dal (United) to lead the alliance.

The Congress’s biggest take in these elections is that it could wrest Telangana from the BRS and add one more state in south India to its kitty after Karnataka which it won in May.

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