India PM Modi's Hindu nationalist BJP loses key elections in 3 states

Prime Minister Narendra Modi faces a setback in Madhya Pradesh which the BJP has ruled for 15 years

Prime Minister Narendra Modi faces a setback in Madhya Pradesh which the BJP has ruled for 15 years Credit Reuters

Prior to the Tuesday elections, Congress had been suffering defeat after defeat since 2014.

Poll analysts cautioned that with the counting in preliminary stages, it was still too early to predict the outcome of state races involving millions of voters. Momentum matters: A year ago, political pundits in India would have said the BJP was near-certain to win re-election in 2019, with the margin of victory the only uncertainty. The BSP, possibly the most critical ally for in any opposition coalition, had walked out of a Congress alliance in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

"We are going to provide the states with a vision and a government they can be proud of", Gandhi told reporters at a press conference in New Delhi.

In Rajasthan, it was a close contest with Congress getting 95 and BJP retaining 81 seats, but leaving enough room for Congress to cobble up an alliance with the other parties that hold the remaining 24 seats.

The see-saw battle of the ballot ended on Wednesday morning, with the Congress emerging as the single-largest party, with 114 seats. At the time of writing this article, Congress has been maintaining a steady lead. Up until last Tuesday, the BJP would have looked forward to such an unequal fight, in its view, between Pappu and the party's hero with his macho image. Unemployment also remains a problem despite high economic growth. BJP was decimated to 15 seats from 49 in 2013.

In 2014, Mr Modi swept to power in what was an overwhelming verdict for change.

"We've all voted for Congress this time and our candidate is winning here", said Bishnu Prasad Jalodia, a wheat grower in Madhya Pradesh, where it appears as if Congress might have to woo smaller parties to keep out Modi's party. His critics believe he has largely frittered away that vote.

The party has also stoked renewed calls to build a temple on the flashpoint Indian religious site of Ayodhya, where a 16th Century mosque was demolished by Hindu mobs in 1992.

A day before the results were due in fact, the central bank governor Urjit Patel, unexpectedly resigned.

Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje announced in February 2018 that debts up to Rs 50,000 would be waived, but farmers demanded a full waiver, which the Congress promised. "It is laughable that Congress is putting up posters and making a cabinet, these are claims and will remain so". Sena joined the government only in December that year.

In the end, says Pratap Bhanu Mehta, vice-chancellor of Ashoka University, the elections don't feel like the "buoyant narrative of a young nation marching into the future". The numbers can go up and down the but public's mandate is in the favour of Congress.

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