BJP off to a bad start?

By Ashwin Tombat
21 April 2019 20:45 IST

Goa’s BJP chief minister Dr Pramod Sawant told a BJP booth workers’ sammelan in Fatorda on Friday 12 April that Goa’s BJP-led government will survive only if Prime Minister Narendra Modi comes back to power at the centre. Otherwise, he said, Goa’s coalition government will collapse. His exact words: “Kendrant amche sorkar askpak jai, he khup mahatvache. Kendrant jor Modiji aslo jalear hanga BJP astoli. Ani jor nasad nhoi, tor ami osche na." Unfortunately, there’s bad news for our chief minister. Things do not seem to be going so well for Mr Modi at the centre. Two of India’s most prominent polling agencies — Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) and C-Voter — have scaled down their predictions for the BJP after the first phase of polling on 11 April. The CSDS pre-poll survey had predicted Mr Modi’s National Democratic Alliance (NDA) either getting a slender majority or stopping just short of the half-way mark. In an article in The Asian Age written on Saturday 6 April, CSDS director Dr Sanjay Kumar had said the electoral scenario was “advantage BJP”. But in another article just a week later on 13 April titled ‘Is It Disadvantage BJP After First Phase of Polling?’ Dr Kumar says that on the basis of voter turnout analysis, the BJP seems to have the advantage in only two of the eight Lok Sabha seats that went to the polls in UP in the first round. It had won all eight seats in 2014. C-Voter in its latest survey, says the approval rating of the Narendra Modi government has fallen by 19 points in just over a month, from 62.06 per cent on 7 March to 43.25 per cent on 12 April. It had peaked after the Balakot strike on 26 February. C-Voter says the Modi government’s approval rating is now at “pre-Pulwama” levels, and the party could perform worse than surveys predict. The CSDS pre-poll survey covered 10,010 voters in 101 assembly constituencies from 101 parliamentary constituencies across 19 states of India (Goa, regrettably, was not one of them). It predicted that the NDA would win 260-280 seats (272 constitutes a majority). But if the C-Voter tracker and Dr Sanjay Kumar’s latest observations come true, the final tally may be much lower. The CSDS pre-poll survey had predicted that the BJP could win 32 to 40 of UP’s 80 seats. But if the trend Dr Kumar predicts in his 13 April article persists, the BJP’s UP tally could be just 20 to 25 seats. In Bihar and Maharashtra, he says, the BJP had a massive advantage earlier but now has a “seat-to-seat” battle on its hands. I don’t know much about Bihar, but in Maharashtra, one man may have played a major role in changing the voters’ mood. Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) leader Raj Thackeray has not fielded a single candidate for this Lok Sabha election, but his rallies are giving a huge headache to the ruling BJP-Shiv Sena alliance. Mr Thackeray uses a remarkable new technique. During his rallies, a massive digital screen shows PM Modi’s promises in the 2014 election that remain unfulfilled. It also shows video clips of what Mr Modi said about issues such as Aadhaar, GST and other policies before he became prime minister, and how his stance turned 180 degrees after he came to power. Videos of ground reports expose the government’s claims, like India’s first allegedly ‘digital village’, Harisal, in Maharashtra: "No internet, no ATM cards, no ATM card swipe machines. Nothing has changed," Raj Thackeray declares, as the video shows the facts on the ground. His target is PM Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah. Raj Thackeray plans to address 10 public meetings in Maharashtra, and says his goal is a "Modi-mukt Bharat". Alleging that the BJP government has muzzled the media, he directly compares PM Modi with Adolf Hitler. This election, he says, is a choice between dictatorship (if Mr Modi wins) and democracy (if he loses). He shows a video clip of opposition leader Modi asking then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh about terrorist bomb blasts: “The borders are protected by the Army. How did explosives come to India?” He then says Prime Minister Modi should now answer this very question about Pathankot, Uri, Pulwama and other terrorist strikes during his tenure. On the Balakot air strike, Amit Shah said 250 people were killed. “Was he the co-pilot?” Mr Thackeray mockingly asks. “The IAF [Indian Air Force] says they don't have figures, so how did the BJP get them?" Mr Thackeray comes up with uncomfortable questions; that opposition leaders should be asking but aren’t. He openly calls Mr Modi a “liar”, and condemns the PM’s “shameless misuse” of the sacrifices of India’s soldiers as his “sole election issue” of 2019. Massive crowds throng every rally. Raj Thackeray draws bigger audiences than even PM Modi in Maharashtra. But the crowds are not the whole story. Each of his speeches is telecast live by all Marathi news channels, as they get massive viewership (TRPs). This increases the reach of each speech by a factor of 100. Video clips of his rallies are being circulated extensively on social media, creating a gigantic multiplier effect. Anybody — even you — can watch his speeches on YouTube; the app is pre-installed on most mobile phones. All you have to do is open the app and search for ‘Raj Thackeray’. BJP leaders demanded that the expenditure on Raj’s rallies should be added to the accounts of the Congress-NCP candidates in whose constituencies he holds rallies. But Mr Thackeray does not campaign for any party. He only appeals that voters should “place a stone on their chests” while voting to ensure that the Modi-Shah duo is removed from India’s political landscape. Maharashtra is the state with the second-most seats in the Lok Sabha after UP. A bad start in both doesn’t augur well for the BJP. But crowds do not necessarily mean votes. Besides, as CSDS director Dr Sanjay Kumar says in his article: “For a marathon runner, a good start is crucial to the outcome… At the same time, like in a marathon, it is possible for the runner to perform well even after a bad start.” These are initial indications. We will get to know only on 23 May, as the votes are counted, whether Dr Pramod Sawant’s government will survive or not.
Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

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Ashwin Tombat

Ashwin Tombat has been the Editor of Gomantak Times and Herald. Worked as an Associate Editor of national magazine Gentleman in Mumbai, before shifting to Goa. Loves sailing, also participates in Marathons. Has worked as an activist in students's union and trade unions in Maharashtra. Also an artist of Street Theatre during student days.

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