Regional parties at unease

Regional parties at unease

Maharashtra-haryana polls

The Maharashtra-Haryana elections have made India’s jodi number one (Modi-Shah) even more unstoppable than they were after the Lok Sabha polls. It will strengthen the PM’s hands for the agenda he wants to pursue, and he has already moved towards labour reforms and de-regulation of diesel.

The import of the victory shows that Modi was able to overshadow local factors and local faces, cutting across caste loyalties, which normally dominate state elections. This reflects the level of disenchantment that exists with leaderships of parties, and that Modi’s criss-crossing of the two states, addressing as many as 37 meetings, has clearly had an impact. 

This time the RSS cadre was not directed to campaign for the party though many Sangh workers did so individually. But the RSS provided the party with leaders who worked with Amit Shah in micro managing poll planning. The secret of the Modi-Shah success lies in what a BJP leader from Haryana described as “youth and booth” strategies.  And yet, the larger than life emergence of Narendra Modi has also started to worry the Sangh leadership and this was evident from RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s statement that the victories should not be attributed to one individual or one slogan.

India’s first political duo has reduced  India’s Grand Old Party to the third position, below regional parties, with lowest ever tallies in both states, and taken their party to the highest ever figures, giving the BJP a clear majority in Haryana and just short of a majority in Maharashtra. The loss of Maharashtra, a state traditionally held by the Congress, is akin to the loss of UP 25 years ago, a loss from which the 129-year old party is yet to recover.

Modi acted as a demolition squad in the Congress strongholds but the regional parties stood up to him somewhat better, and this was one of the poll pointers by which the Shiv Sena, though it  parted company with the BJP on the eve of the polls, increased its tally and vote share. But as things have panned out, it is likely to join the government as a junior partner. Ironically it is the unilateral, unconditional “outside” support of the NCP to the BJP to form a “stable government”, despite the blistering exchange of words between the two parties during the campaign, which will strengthen the saffron party’s hands to beat down the demands that the Sena might have otherwise put up.

The NCP losses but managed to notch up 41 seats, hanging onto its  strongholds in Western Maharashtra with most of its  prominent leaders  emerging victorious. 

Shifting loyalties
A party which made its debut in the Maharashtra elections is the MIM, winning two seats, and coming second in another two, and this represents a ground level shift that is taking place amongst the minority community, who are not enthused by the Congress or the NCP. Muslim youth were swayed by the Owaisi brothers and the party hopes to spread its wings in the time to come.

Then, there was the INLD in Haryana, which did not do as well as it had in 2009, but it fared better than the  Congress. The INLD may have done even better but for the tie-up the BJP forged with the Dera Sacha Sauda, a powerful pro-dalit institution in the state. As a result, the BJP for the first time garnered 31 per cent of the popular vote in the dalit seats in Haryana where in 2009 its following among the dalits was only 4 per cent. For all the gains the BJP made, it is not quite so easy for Modi to wish away the regional parties.
Having seized power at the Centre, clearly Narendra Modi now has his eyes set on capturing the states, getting a majority in the Rajya Sabha to pass critical economic bills and occupying the political space that once belonged to the Congress. Maharashtra and Haryana are only the beginning.

In the meantime, if he has to strike alliances as he will be compelled to do in Maharashtra, he would like to do it from a position of strength. The formula: go solo, emerge stronger, refashion the alliance, if necessary, but as the senior partner, be able to call the shots. He does not want to be pushed around by regional outfits, like it happened during the UPA, which resulted in its undoing.

Given the way the Modi-Shah team are working, there is a growing sense of unease in the regional parties about their future. One of the reasons why the Sena broke off with the BJP was an apprehension that a resurgent saffron party would coopt its base, and many Sena and MNS workers shifted their loyalty to the BJP and fought on its ticket.
Regional parties across the board are viewing the BJP with a wariness, including the BJP’s allies. The disquiet in the Akali Dal is no secret and senior Akali leaders were in touch with Uddhav Thackeray before he decided to break with the BJP. The Akali Dal campaigned against the BJP in Haryana, supporting instead the INLD candidates, and there is a section inside the party which is in favour of parting company with what they describe as an “expansionist” BJP.

The Maha-Haryana polls come as a wake up call for the Congress, but they also come as a warning to the regional parties. Unless they can make common cause – as Lalu Yadav and Nitish Kumar did in Bihar in the bypolls held there recently – they could face a bleak future, too. The message of the state polls is clear: Only opposition unity can rescue the regional parties, threatened by a resurgent BJP, just as they had to untie in the eighties to take on the then dominant Congress. But today, unity will have to go beyond a mechanical getting together of old and tired faces, representing a jaded politics.