With explanations like the missing Modi factor or local conditions unable to fully explain BJP’s by-election losses in light of its recent overwhelming win nationally, the phenomenon of inflation, especially of food prices hurting people everywhere, has emerged as a possible answer to this poll puzzle.
In this season of deficient rainfall, consumer price (CPI) inflation accelerated to a two-month high of 7.96 percent in July against 7.46 percent in June, pushed up by rising prices of vegetables, fruit and milk, government data shows.
Wholesale food inflation rose to 8.43 percent in July from 8.14 percent in June. Primary articles rose by 2.7 percent in July from an increase of 6.84 percent in June.
The sticky food inflation meant fruits became costlier by 31.71 percent in July against 21.70 percent in June. Potato prices zoomed by 46.41 percent year-on-year against 42.52 percent in June. While prices of protein-based food like pulses rose by 3.31 percent, egg, meat and fish became dearer by 2.71 percent.
Given this situation and the monetarist stance of Reserve Bank of India Governor Raghuram Rajan, industry chambers, hopeful of a rate cut to boost industrial activity, have sounded cautious.
“Amidst the current situation where prices of food articles are still elevated, it is amply clear that the Reserve Bank will maintain a watchful stance,” said Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) president Sidharth Birla, commenting on the inflation data.
One clear lesson from the bypoll results in Bihar is that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his message of development do not have the same impact at the state level as they did in the April-May Lok Sabha elections.
The alliance of ex-rivals, Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar, along with the Congress, won six of the 10 seats for which bypolls were held and had a combined vote share better than that of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance.
“Voters across the country have rectified the mistakes made in the Lok Sabha elections,” tweeted Lalu Yadav, even as other leaders of the alliance highlighted its social aspects, in how it was fitting that Mandal politics should be reborn on Aug 25 – the birth anniversary of B.P. Mandal, who headed the commission that recommended reservations in government jobs for backward classes.
In Karnataka, the shock loss for the BJP is the Bellary Rural seat vacated by B. S. Sriramulu after his election to the Lok Sabha, where the BJP candidate lost by a massive 33,000 votes to the Congress. The BJP had won 17 of the 28 Lok Sabha seats in Karnataka while the state’s ruling Congress won nine.
To round-off the confusing picture, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) lost both the assembly seats in Punjab, the only state from where they have won seats to the Lok Sabha.
~ Biswajit Choudhury