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Poll rout: Is this the end of Congress’ welfare politics?

CHENNAI : While the result of the state assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh has surprised many, it will calm the markets. Fears of fiscal profligacy or a rickety coalition government at the Centre in 2024 have eased. Mint explains:

Why were the election results surprising?

Not many expected the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to do well in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh and pre-poll surveys showed a close fight in Rajasthan. But the party managed to fight off four-term anti-incumbency and retain power comfortably in Madhya Pradesh, and wrest power from the Indian National Congress in both Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. In other words, the BJP swept the Hindi heartland, leaving the Congress in shock. Telangana was the only consolation for the Congress. Strong anti-incumbency derailed the Bharat Rashtra Samithi government, but here, too, the BJP doubled its vote share.

What do these results portend?

The BJP’s strong show in the Hindi heartland, just months before the next Lok Sabha election, means that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity is intact in the region which contributes a large chunk of seats to the Lok Sabha. This puts the BJP at a clear advantage and the opposition in potential disarray. The fear of a badly cobbled coalition government coming to power at the Centre next year has eased. Also, a BJP loss would have given a leg -up to welfare politics. The party would have resorted to fiscal profligacy to win back voters. That is unlikely to happen now.

Are the markets ecstatic for these reasons?

Yes. Stock markets do not like political instability. A strong show by the BJP has improved the chances of it coming to power at the Centre comfortably next year and the markets are happy with this development. Fiscal discipline is critical for the economy to grow rapidly. The BJP government’s policy of blending welfare with development has got the nod.

Is there a fear of welfare politics?

For all its past reform credentials, the Congress has embraced welfare economics in a big way. It first tasted success with this strategy in Himachal Pradesh, promising the return of the Old Pension Scheme. In Karnataka and Telangana polls, it gave a slew of guarantees that included cash handouts. However, these guarantees failed to deliver in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. The BJP’s messaging of welfare blended with development resonated better with voters in the Hindi heartland.

How will this impact the opposition?

The Congress’s success in Karnataka in May raised hopes of a resurgence, and 26 opposition parties came together to form the INDIA bloc. But the Congress’s rout in the Hindi heartland has not only blunted its resurgence. but also weakened its position in the alliance. INDIA bloc leaders have attacked the Congress, saying it is guilty of an “arrogant” attitude. The party had ignored the bloc and fought these assembly elections alone. An INDIA meeting on Wednesday is expected to be a stormy affair.

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