‘Humbled’ Modi suffers defeats ahead of 2019 India polls

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NEW DELHI, Dec 11, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – India’s ruling party suffered stinging
election defeats in at least two stronghold states, results showed Tuesday,
in a big blow to Prime Minister Narendra Modi before national polls in 2019.

The votes held earlier this month and in November were seen as a dress
rehearsal for next year when Modi will likely go head-to-head with a
emboldened Rahul Gandhi of the Congress party for a second term.

“We accept the people’s mandate with humility,” Modi said late Tuesday on
Twitter.

“I thank the people of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan for
giving us the opportunity to serve these states. The BJP Governments in these
states worked tirelessly for the welfare of the people.”

“We defeated the BJP today, we will defeat them in 2019 too,” Indian media
quoted Gandhi as saying. “Mr Modi sold a vision to the country five years
ago. India had the patience to give them five years. But they have failed.”

In both the central state of Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan in the west, the
chief ministers from Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) conceded defeat,
while in Madhya Pradesh the outcome was on a knife-edge.

In Chhattisgarh, ruled by the BJP for 15 years, initial results showed the
BJP winning just 16 seats, down from 49 in the outgoing parliament, trailing
Congress on 68 in the 90-seat state parliament.

Congress also trounced the BJP in Rajasthan, governed since 2013 by the
BJP’s Vasundhara Raje, an unpopular local princess, winning 99 seats ahead of
the BJP on 73 — 89 fewer than in the last election.

Television footage showed jubilant Congress workers bursting firecrackers
and dancing at regional party offices in both states.

In neighbouring Madhya Pradesh the BJP also suffered from voter fatigue
after 15 years in office, with Congress set to be two seats short of a
majority and five ahead of the BJP.

In two other smaller states also releasing results Tuesday, Telangana in
the south and remote Mizoram in the northeast, regional parties looked to be
leading.

Congress’s five-time Mizoram chief minister Lal Thanhawla was routed by the
regional Mizo National Front, a BJP ally. In Telangana the ruling Telangana
Rashtra Samithi won handsomely — at the expense of Congress.

– Cow Belt –

But it was Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh that mattered most
for the Hindu nationalist BJP, which swept to power nationally under Modi in
2014.

They form part of the “Hindi Belt” or “Cow Belt” region of around 475
million people — more than the United States, Canada and Mexico combined —
where the right-wing BJP has its core support base.

Before the recent five elections, the BJP ruled 19 out of 29 Indian states
either outright or in alliance with local parties. Congress rules just two
states, including one in partnership.

But the latest results are a blow to the image of Modi as an invincible
vote-winner, and puts the 68-year-old on the back foot months before he seeks
a second term in office.

It also strengthen 48-year-old Gandhi — scion of the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty
— with Congress having lost more than a dozen states to the BJP since Modi
took office in 2014.

The results could also help his party cobble together a grand alliance of
smaller parties to take on the BJP next year, with Gandhi at its head.

“The message (from voters) is very clear. (Modi) needs to address the main
issues of employment, corruption, and damage to economic structures,” Gandhi
said on Tuesday.

Analysts have linked the BJP’s apparent dwindling support to growing rural
distress and unemployment.

Nearly 55 percent of India’s 1.25-billion population is directly or
indirectly dependent on agriculture, and farmers form an important voting
bloc for parties.

“The verdict is the cumulative result of the issues faced by people in
these states,” Gurpreet Mahajan, a political scientist at Delhi’s Jawaharlal
Nehru University told AFP.

“Victory and defeat are an integral part of life,” Modi said in a second
tweet.

“Today’s results will further our resolve to serve people and work even
harder for the development of India.”