India’s latest state election results are bad news for Modi’s BJP

For the rich or poor?
For the rich or poor?
Image: REUTERS/Mukesh Gupta
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This post has been updated.

Around six months before the tenure of its current parliament ends, India got a glimpse of the electoral mood today (Dec. 11) as the results of legislative polls in five key states were declared.

The news seems mostly bad for prime minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The Congress, India’s largest opposition party, defeated the incumbent BJP regimes in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, and emerged as the single largest party in Madhya Pradesh (MP).

For the BJP, these results are a potential barometer of its prospects for 2019, since they come from large states in India’s populous “Hindi belt,” for long considered the bastion of the BJP’s brand of Hindu nationalism.

The Congress has shown strong signs of a revival in all three, especially in MP and Chhattisgarh, where it has been out of power for close to 15 years. Its strong performance here may give the Rahul Gandhi-led party some badly needed momentum ahead of 2019.

Regional parties had more traction than either the BJP or Congress in the other two states, Telangana and Mizoram.

Madhya Pradesh

The MP election has been the closest one out of the five. Out of 230 seats in the state assembly, the election commission of India (ECI) lists the Congress as having won 114 seats, while the BJP has won 109. Throughout election day, media reports suggested that the leads were swinging wildly through the afternoon and evening, making it extremely tough to name a clear winner.

The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), a national party with a strong supporter base among the Dalit community, won in two constituencies. The razor-thin margin between the two main rival parties could potentially make the BSP the state’s kingmaker.

A large, Hindi-speaking state of central India, MP has been ruled by the BJP since 2003 under Shivraj Singh Chouhan. In his long tenure, Chouhan has weathered several corruption scandals, most famously the Vyapam scam, involving the rigging of the entrance examinations for government recruitment and medical admissions, among others.

Chouhan also battled anti-incumbency and discontent among farmers in this election.


The BJP came to power in Rajasthan in 2013, with veteran politician Vasundhara Raje serving as its chief minister.

The Congress, however, won 99 seats out of the state’s 199, compared to the BJP’s 73.

Raje has been battling fierce anti-incumbency, with many people, including her close party associates, considering her to be inaccessible. Anti-incumbency is of particular consequence in Rajasthan, which for the past 25 years has alternated, term by term, between the Congress and the BJP.

Other key issues at play in the state are the agrarian crisis and unemployment.

The Congress has not declared its chief ministerial face, but among the key contenders are Sachin Pilot, a 41-year old, Wharton-educated firebrand considered close to Rahul Gandhi, and former chief minister Ashok Gehlot (67), part of the party’s old guard.


The BJP has ruled Chhattisgarh for 15 years, with Raman Singh as its chief minister throughout.

But this election saw Congress win a decisive mandate, with the ECI reporting that it has won seats in 67 constituencies and is leading in one more, while the BJP has won only 15. The Congress, however, had not projected any chief ministerial face during the campaign.

A key factor in the election here has been an alliance between the BSP and the Janata Congress Chhattisgarh, led by former Congress leader Ajit Jogi.

Some of the key issues at play in Chhattisgarh were poverty, corruption, unemployment, tribal rights, the agrarian crisis, and Maoist violence.


Telangana, in south-central India, is India’s newest state, formed in 2014. It has been ruled by the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) under chief minister K Chandrashekar Rao ever since. Rao was the leading voice to campaign for its statehood, separate from the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh.

Today the TRS came to power again in a landslide, having won 88 of Telangana’s 119 seats.

The election here was seen as critical for national politics because the Congress had formed a “grand alliance” with the local Telugu Desam Party (TDP). TRS’s decisive victory despite this, however, suggests that the Congress-TDP alliance hasn’t made much headway in the state. Congress won 19 seats and the TDP won only 2.

The polls here were marred by allegations that up to 2.2 million people were unable to cast their votes as their names were deleted from the voter rolls.


Mizoram, a small state in northeastern India, saw another decisive victory by a regional party. The Mizo National Front (MNF) won a majority in the state assembly, having won 26 of the state’s 40 assembly seats.

The incumbent government in Mizoram is ruled by the Congress. Following this loss, the Congress does not have a foothold in any of the states in India’s northeast.

Read Quartz’s coverage of the 2019 Indian general election here.