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It is fair to say that the past week has been more election-heavy than we expected. Last week this time on the Political Fix, we were examining why Bharatiya Janata Party victories in the states of Maharashtra and Haryana seemed like foregone conclusions.

On Friday, however, we had to send you a special mid-week edition of the Political Fix, because the results turned out to be more interesting than expected (even if the BJP looks likely to form government in both states).

The few days after got even more interesting.

  • Instead of going with the independents in Haryana, the BJP instead worked out an alliance with the Jannayak Janata Party – even though its campaign plank was essentially attacking the saffron party’s political formula in the state.
  • Meanwhile, government formation is yet to be confirmed in Maharashtra, despite the comfortable victory of the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance (albeit, with the BJP getting dented). The Sena is taking the opportunity to extract a pound of flesh from the BJP. Will it work?

We considered a somewhat novel aspect of the BJP’s regional politics approach last week as we were looking at the two elections. Let’s return to two aspects of this strategy:

  • Does the non-dominant political approach with brand new chief ministerial faces work?
    Both Haryana’s Manohar Lal Khattar and Maharashtra’s Devendra Fadnavis come from non-dominant castes and, to differing extents, pursue political platforms that seek to drive this home (i.e. taking on Jats in Haryana and Marathas in Maharashtra).
    In general, the verdict among analysts has been that these results have revealed the weakness of this formula. That may certainly be the case in Haryana, where the BJP wasn’t able to win a majority and has tied up with a Jat-led party, which will force it to alter its political approach to some extent.
    But let us not forget, in Maharashtra, Fadnavis is the first chief minister to complete a full term in 40 years and seems on course for another five. The limits of the political approach may be apparent, but this doesn’t mean the policy was debilitating. Just that it may not be successful forever.
  • Mini-Modis or Modi’s minions?
    Both Fadnavis and Khattar rely heavily on situating themselves within the Modi system as part of their plants. Campaign slogans alone convey this: Devendra and Narendra in Maharashtra, as well as Mano with Namo in Haryana. The results may have revealed the limits of this approach, which includes leaning on national issues as well.
    Even though the elections came not long after the BJP’s huge Lok Sabha victory and in the aftermath of the big move to alter Article 370, voters in the state don’t seem to have rewarded the saffron party (in part by not even turning out to vote).
    Will the party change tack in the states? Will it rely more on Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath-style politics, that involves building a leader’s own constituency?

Look at this differently. The BJP actually has a somewhat middling performance in major state elections starting about mid-way through Modi’s first tenure:

  • Uttar Pradesh 2017: Huge win for BJP.
  • Gujarat 2017: Narrow win for BJP.
  • Karnataka 2018: BJP is single-largest party, but initially couldn’t form government.
  • Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh 2018: BJP loses all three states to Congress.
  • Haryana, Maharashtra 2019: BJP is single-largest party but relies on others to form government.

What’s up next?

  • Jharkhand by December 2019.
  • Delhi, around March 2020.
  • Bihar, around October 2020.

Each of these presents different challenges for the BJP, although it is still likely to be front-runner in all three polls. Can it weather anti-incumbency in Jharkhand? Will the lack of a face again bring it down in Delhi? Will the mid-term BJP-Janata Dal (United) alliance be rewarded by the people of Bihar?

The overall impression of the BJP after these two elections is that its state leaders have been cut down to size. There’s also the matter of BJP President Amit Shah putting more time into his role as home minister, with JP Nadda set to take over the party reins fully in December.

With the party set to remain in power in both states, however, the question is, will these results be just a stumbling block for the BJP or a sign that upcoming state-level elections are going to be even tougher challenges?


Supreme Court Justice Arun Mishra concluded that Justice Arun Mishra did not have to be recused from hearing a case examining an earlier verdict passed by Justice Arun Mishra, that was then referred to a bigger bench by Justice Arun Mishra. Read a take by Gautam Bhatia, who also tweeted this out, here.

Two Congress leaders, P Chidambaram and DK Shivakumar, were granted bail in different cases. Chidambaram is still behind bars in another case but got the benefit of some strong words from the Supreme Court against the agencies, while Shivakumar got a hero’s welcome.

West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee said there would be no NRC in her state… and so did the BJP government in Karnataka. Banerjee said such a move would create division between people, while Karnataka plans to just compile a list of foreigners who overstay their visas.

Police took away three chairs, a cupboard and a mattress while seizing the “properties” of rights activist Stan Swamy. The activist had been accused of sedition after questioning state excesses in Jharkhand, but did not turn up in court. Read an interview with Swamy from a month earlier, in which he said his life “hangs by a thread”.

Telangana CM K Chandrasekhar Rao continues to dig in. Rao said that transport workers who committed suicide during a strike were not his responsibility.

We know who is going to redesign key bits of New Delhi: A Gujarat-based company that had earlier done part of Ahmedabad’s Sabarmati Riverfront redevelopment.

Poll toon

Last week on

  • Jammu and Kashmir held Block Development Council elections with 98% turnout of electors in the electoral college. Ipsita Chakravarty explains why.
  • The Centre put October 31 as the deadline to sign a deal with Naga insurgents, but as that date approaches, the situation remains on edge, writes Arunabh Saikia.
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi posted a photo with former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, with an adulatory message. What does this bonhomie with an ardent India-hater tell us? Shoaib Daniyal has thoughts.
  • Nithya Subramanian breaks down the new section of the delayed-by-nearly-two years national crime report: offences by ‘anti-national elements.’
  • How do we deal with blatantly bigoted anti-Muslim hashtags that are trending on Twitter? Read my piece.

Reports and Op-Eds

The Bombay High Court gave us the rare opportunity to be somewhat optimistic. In a judgment that put fetters on government surveillance, it also ordered the state to delete illegally obtained evidence, writes Gautam Bhatia on the IndConLaw blog.

Far from thinking we’ve hit the bottom of the economic barrel, we need to prepare for worse. Or at least, so says Niranjan Rajadhyaksha in Mint after looking at credit and banking data.

Hopes that this would be a clean-up year with better results for banks have disappeared. Ira Dugal on BloombergQuint points to all the problematic developments and offers a small suggestion about what ought to be done.

India is suppressing Kashmiri journalism and commentary on social media. Avi Asher-Schapiro and Ahmed Zidan document what has been happening for the Committee to Protect Journalists.

“Photos with Modi don’t produce results on Capitol Hill.” Seema Sirohi asks whether the pro-Modi diaspora and India’s policymakers have the muscle to actually move the needle in Washington DC.

Can’t make this up

I was going to write about a family in Sirsa, Haryana that had to wait for a bull’s bowel movements after they realised that it had accidentally swallowed some rather precious gold jewellry.

But since it is the day after Diwali, here’s a more heartwarming link instead: Come discover the Nepali festival of Tihar. On the second day of this five-day celebration is Kukur Tihar, on which dogs are adorned with flowers, a tikka (a red mark applied to their forehead) and offered food.

More pictures here.

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