Modi magic wanes in Himachal and Rajasthan

Despite BJP’s ‘sweep‘ in the two States, there has been a significant erosion in its vote share.

Published : Jun 06, 2024 18:28 IST - 4 MINS READ

BJP’s Suresh Kumar Kashyap along with party supporters after his victory in Shimla, June 4.

BJP’s Suresh Kumar Kashyap along with party supporters after his victory in Shimla, June 4. | Photo Credit: ANI

While Uttar Pradesh (UP) has been the standout State in the 2024 election, indicating the waning of the Modi ‘magic’ in the Hindi heartland, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan have also reflected the same trend in varying degrees. Both are States that have had a pattern of alternating between the Congress and the BJP at the Assembly level, but in the Lok Sabha elections they have stood solidly for Modi in 2014 and 2019.

In Himachal, the Congress is currently holding the reins of government. The BJP has achieved a clean sweep of the State’s four Lok Sabha seats, Hamirpur, Kangra, Shimla and Mandi, as it did in 2014 and 2019. For Anurag Thakur, this was the fifth consecutive win from Hamirpur and for Suresh Kashyap, this was a second successive win from Shimla. In Kangra, former Union Minister Anand Sharma (Congress) was defeated by almost two and a half lakh votes by debutant Rajiv Bhardwaj (BJP). In Mandi, which was a hotly contested seat, actor Kangana Ranaut defeated Vikramaditya Singh, Congress MLA from Shimla (rural), with a margin of around 74,000 votes, the lowest victory margin among all four seats. The average turn-out in the State was 70 per cent, 10 percentage points lower than in 2019.

Even though the BJP retained all the four seats, the number of votes secured by its candidates has declined in absolute terms by over 4 lakhs compared with 2019, and its vote share has declined from 69.71 per cent in 2019 to 56.44 per cent in 2024. The Congress on the other hand secured the support of 41.67 per cent of the electorate, significantly higher than 27.53 per cent it secured in 2019. Therefore, it is clear that changes that go against the BJP’s favour are under way in the State but have not gone far enough yet to change the political colour of its representatives to the Lok Sabha.

Also Read | BJP faces uphill battle in Himachal Pradesh as local issues eclipse national sentiments

In a conversation with Frontline before voting on June 1, Sukhu expressed confidence of winning all four Lok Sabha seats and the six seats to the Assembly where by-polls were being held. “It is only the State issues that matter here. People here also do not like horse-trading and bringing down governments,” he said. When asked whether the final outcome would be a referendum on the performance of his government, he said that people voted differently for the State Assembly and the Lok Sabha.

Even though it lost all four Lok Sabha seats, the Congress managed to retain comfortably four of the six Assembly seats in the State where bye-elections were necessitated by the disqualification of its MLAs due to their cross voting in the Rajya Sabha elections and their subsequent defection to the BJP. By-polls were held on the seats of Dharamsala, Lahaul-Spiti, Sujanpur, Barsar, Gagret and Kutlehar on June 1 simultaneously with the Parliamentary election.

The Congress now has 38 MLAs in the 68-member Assembly and the BJP 27, apart from three independents. As the independents had also joined the BJP, they submitted their resignations to the Speaker. Another round of by-elections will take place on the three seats. The crisis facing the one-and-a-half year-old Sukhvinder Sukhu government seems to have tided over for now though the setback of the Lok Sabha results due to possible intra-party dissension, and the wrong choice of candidates, will need to be addressed.

Parallels with Rajasthan

In Rajasthan, the BJP had won the Assembly elections in November 2023, ousting the Ashok Gehlot-led Congress. Yet, let alone repeating the 2019 performance in the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP has not been able to even achieve what it had in 2014. In terms of seats, the BJP secured only 14 in the State in 2024, as against the 25 and 24 it won in 2014 and 2019 respectively. In terms of vote share too, a significant decline is observable in relation to the previous two Lok Sabha elections: in 2024 the BJP received 49.24 per cent of the votes cast in the State, almost 10 percentage points lower than the 59.07 per cent it secured in 2019. The Congress-led INDIA bloc secured 41.68 per cent of the vote in 2024.

Also Read | ‘Anger, not polarisation behind Congress show in Rajasthan’: Govind Singh Dotasra

This means that this time the Congress managed to carry the votes that it tends to get in Assembly elections to its Lok Sabha performance. It had not been anywhere close to managing this in the previous two Lok Sabha elections where its vote shares were below 35 per cent, less than the roughly 40 per cent it secured in the 2018 and 2023 Assembly elections.

The results in both Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan therefore indicate that despite the ‘sweep’ by the BJP, the erosion in its vote share shows that cultural nationalism alone may not be sufficient to retain its hold on the electorate in the years ahead.

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