On a cold Tuesday, as four states in North and Northeast India saw their state governments being voted out, one clearly sensed a mood of political discontent. There was one important exception, though—down south, in Telangana, India’s youngest state, the citizens had voted back the ruling party with an even greater majority. In significant ways, these results reflected three important trends. At the end of the day, the public perception of whether your government has delivered on key issues of governance does matter in deciding the electoral verdict. A supplementary factor that was patently evident was that the ‘cycle of anti-incumbency’, over time, caught up with all ruling governments and no political party was insulated from its impact. Finally, while central and state governments are often elected as per distinctly different mandates, the ‘context’ of each election has invariably factors of both national importance as well as specific local/regional sentiments at play.
In Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the BJP was completing its third term in office. In Rajasthan, the party was going back to the electorate after one term. The BJP was also at the end of its fourth year in power at the Centre and the first visible signs of discontent with the government were evidenced in the Mood of the Nation Survey (MONS) conducted by Lokniti this May. Thus, the BJP was not just defending its record of governance at the state level, but also attempting to highlight the achievements of its central government and leadership, in order to sway the voters in their favour. The defeat would be jarring to the BJP as it reflects on its performance at the Centre and also has implications on its prospects in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.