There remains little doubt that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is India’s most popular leader. The Lok Sabha elections, just eight months ago, was a testament to his appeal. But it is also now clear that voters make a distinction between national and state polls, and Modi’s appeal alone is not enough to offset state-level disadvantages the BJP faces.
The loss of Jharkhand, after Maharashtra (although that was more a case of a pre-poll alliance going wrong post poll), represents a setback for the PM. The reason the BJP was able to dominate the political narrative was because of its twin control of the Centre and a majority of Indian states. With Jharkhand lost, the party now has 11 CMs (14 along with allies). This will mean more tensions between the Centre and states. This makes the task of governance more challenging for the PM.
Modi himself campaigned in the Jharkhand assembly polls, as he did in Maharashtra and Haryana. The crowd connect is palpable: but the PM may have to explore whether the emphasis on issues related to nationalism are resonating on the ground. He will, however, continues to possess political capital to push his party and government’s agenda.
Amit Shah, BJP president
Union Home Minister and BJP president Amit Shah built his reputation on the back of delivering successive electoral victories — the most recent being the Lok Sabha win of 2019. But the end of the year has raised questions about Shah’s political strategy and choices.
There are two views within the party. Some believe that Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand were different, because Shah gave more power to the state units and chief ministers to run their own campaigns and determine seat distribution. The result, therefore, is a reflection of the failure at the local level. At the same time, others argue that Shah, who is, by nature, a micromanager, remained closely involved — though he had to reconcile his party role with his added responsibilities as a busy home minister. Therefore, the results also reflect gaps at the top. Either way, what is clear is that Shah will need to figure out a way to defend power at the state level, especially when the party is the incumbent and not the challenger.
The next test will be Delhi where BJP takes on a formidable incumbent in the Aam Aadmi Party. Shah will be hoping to reverse the narrative of BJP’s slide in states with a win in the capital.
Sonia Gandhi, Congress president
Sonia Gandhi took over as the Congress’s interim president at possibly the worst time for the party, reeling from a second consecutive Lok Sabha defeat and amidst uncertainty around Rahul Gandhi’s leadership after he stepped down as president. The Jharkhand victory will again show that her political instincts remain sharp.
In Haryana, resolving an internal battle, Gandhi appointed Bhupinder Singh Hooda, who delivered a credible performance. In Maharashtra, the Congress adopted a low-key approach. But when it came fourth, the party was agile enough to accept Sharad Pawar’s leadership, and after some ambivalence, an alliance with Shiv Sena.
In Jharkhand, there was a similar strategy at play. The Congress worked on its alliance, accepted the leadership of Hemant Soren, stuck to local issues, and will now have a chance to exercise power in government — giving it crucial political capital and possibly, resources. Gandhi’s challenge is in translating this success at the national level; ensuring that the Congress can win states on its own; reviving party morale; and putting up a strong show in two states where it is relatively weak — Delhi and Bihar — next year.
Hemant Soren, JMM leader
For the leader of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), former CM, and son of Shibu Soren — the veteran tribal leader who led the struggle for the creation of the state — the Jharkhand outcome represents a moment of triumph and vindication.
After successive losses in the 2014 Lok Sabha and assembly polls and then the 2019 parliamentary elections, Soren was being perceived as yet another second-generation dynast with little political credibility. Soren fought from two constituencies. He can also rightly claim the credit for keeping the JMM intact, stitching an alliance with Congress on favourable terms, tailoring the campaign to suit local conditions, and defeating a more formidable election apparatus.