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2019 – a watershed year for BJP as it achieves highest-ever tally in Lok Sabha Elections, but new challenges emerge

In terms of the upcoming electoral challenges, the new year is likely to pose some tough question to the saffron war machine as it prepares for the assembly polls in Delhi and Bihar. (Reuters)

The year 2019 will go down as a watershed in the BJP’s journey as the party not only achieved its highest ever tally in Lok Sabha but also realised its decades-long ideological planks with the Modi government pushing the saffron agenda with renewed vigour in its second term. However, it was not altogether a smooth run for the BJP as regional satraps in alliance with the Congress succeeded in dethroning it in Maharashtra and Jharkhand while nationwide protests against the citizenship law and the concept of National Register for Citizens pushed it on the defensive.

The scale of protests prompted its top leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah, to decouple the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) with the NRC, and it remains uncertain as to how the saffron party will push on with its ideological agenda in the face of mounting challenges. All debated and done, party leaders are likely to look back at 2019 with more than a touch of satisfaction as the year saw nullification of Article 370, criminalisation of triple talaq, enactment of CAA and a Supreme Court order paving the way for Ram temple construction in Ayodhya, issues which have agitated Hindutva cadres for decades.

If the results of the April-May general election underscored the BJP’s preeminence in national politics with the party winning 303 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha, its footprint in state governments was reduced to a mere 35 per cent of the country’s landmass from the peak of 71 per cent in 2017. If the outgoing year again highlighted the appeal of ‘brand Modi’, it also brought to light the BJP’s vulnerability in state elections when the prime minister and national issues are not driving factors for the common voter’s choice.

The year also saw the rise and rise of Shah as he after being inducted as the home minister in the second Modi government was the face of the central dispensation in pushing its major decisions with distinct ideological hues. Whether it was the nullification of Article 370, bifurcation of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories, strengthening of anti-terror laws or the passage of the amended citizenship bill, Shah spearheaded the government’s agenda and took on the opposition with his usual mix of combative articulation and ideological clarity.

Even when he focussed his energies on leading the party during the first term of the Modi government, there was never a doubt on who is the real number two in the organisation after Modi. And it was no coincidence that Shah was at the helm of the government’s drive to carry out the BJP’s central Hindutva planks in the second stint of the government.

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A Supreme Court in the favour of building a Ram temple in Ayodhya has came as a boost to the party. The BJP organisation is expected to undergo a shake-up in the new year as Shah is likely to make way for its working president J P Nadda at the top. When the ongoing organisational elections end, expected in January, the party may have some new faces in its structure but is unlikely to change its course much from the path laid down by Shah in more than five and an half years of his term.

In terms of the upcoming electoral challenges, the new year is likely to pose some tough question to the saffron war machine as it prepares for the assembly polls in Delhi and Bihar. Arvind Kejriwal-led Aap Aadmi Party had defied the pro-BJP sentiments in the 2015 polls and handed the main rival its worst drubbing in the national capital by winning 67 seats in the 70-member assembly and reducing it to three.

BJP leadership has been working overtime to come back to power in the city which handed it all seven Lok Sabha seats in the general election, as was the case in the 2014 polls too, but is hamstrung by the lack of a face to take on Kejriwal, who is backing on his populist schemes to retain power. The Election Commission is likely to announce the dates for Delhi polls soon. In Bihar, many observers believe the BJP in the alliance with Chief Minister Nitish Kumar-led JD(U) and Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP is better placed against the rival RJD-Congress combine after winning all but one of its 40 Lok Sabha seats.

However, there is also a view that the chemistry between Kumar and the BJP is far from perfect and differences may crop up between them over sharing of seats in the assembly elections. JD(U) leaders have indicated that they want their party to fight on more seats than the BJP in the politically crucial state. Amid rancour in their ties after some BJP leaders sniped at Kumar, Shah had walked the extra mile earlier to bring the alliance back on track by asserting that the JD(U) president will again lead the NDA in the state assembly polls, which are due later this year.

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Source: Financial Express