The heart of India’s Hindi heartland continues to beat for the Bharatiya Janata Party. The results of the assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh convey this message unambiguously. Rajasthan may have stuck to the script by voting out yet another incumbent government. But what would sweeten the mood in the BJP is its spectacular triumph in Madhya Pradesh as well as its performance in Chhattisgarh. Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who has had an unbroken stint in power for years, delivered a commendable performance, defying the spectres of corruption and anti-incumbency. In a shock to the Congress, which was believed to be well-entrenched in neighbouring Chhattisgarh, the BJP had the state returned to the saffron fold. It appears that a combination of factors has led to the lotus’s bloom in the region. Agriculture has not been adversely affected under Mr Chouhan’s watch; his welfare packages, especially those targeted at women, also yielded benefits. In Chhattisgarh, the BJP’s allegations of corruption against the Congress’s populist measures seem to have had takers. Not to put too fine a point on it, Narendra Modi’s enduring popularity — the BJP had not projected a chief ministerial face in the three states it won — and his ‘guarantees’ provided the additional impetus. Then, there were the usual dividends from a subterranean, polarising rhetoric that has been perfected by
Mr Modi and his party as a political weapon. The BJP would like to believe that the outcome of these elections is, in essence, an indicator of which way the political winds would blow in the general elections. It is possible that the party would march into the national elections by relying on its potent combination of welfareism — rewdis do deliver — and majoritarian triumphalism. With the heartland in its pocket, it would also have the confidence to not only raise its numbers in the Lok Sabha but also to reclaim lost land — especially in the South.
It would be interesting to see how the BJP goes about choosing its chief ministerial candidates in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Would Mr Chouhan and Vasundhara Raje, the principal contenders under ordinary circumstances, remain automatic choices, given their equations with the party’s central leadership? It would be difficult to dislodge Mr Chouhan. But caste equations as well as a balancing act among state and Central leaders could lead to interesting outcomes. The saffron parivar has reasons to be delighted with the heartland’s verdict. But political triumphs need not make it an undivided family.