BJP comes a cropper in regional party-ruled states

On May 19, the day results for five assembly polls were declared, BJP president Amit Shah hailed the party’s victory in the northeastern state of Assam and for making inroads into the other geographical end of Kerala which was out of bounds for them since independence.

Keeping aside party’s poor performance in Bihar and Delhi, Shah backed his achievements in 2016 state polls through statistical data on increased vote-share percentages. He claimed the BJP had outgrown from its restricted image of a cow-belt party to that of having pan-India footprints. He insisted the results took the BJP two steps forward in “Congress mukt Bharat abhiyan” and laid “staunch foundation for 2019”.

On the same day, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee made a cryptic remark on BJP’s poll show as the polls brought her back to power in West Bengal with a more emphatic win than previous one. She stated to the extent that the BJP’s victory had a DNA in Rahul Gandhi, vice president of Congress, touted to take over the reigns of his party from mother Sonia Gandhi sooner or later.

Perhaps, what she was alluding to was that the BJP has not been able to do well in states having strong regional parties -- be it West Bengal and Tamil Nadu now or Delhi and Bihar in last year’s assembly polls. The TMC in WB, AIADMK in TN and JD(U) in Bihar, with different coalition partners led by RJD, weathered out anti-incumbencies and retained power in their respective states. While the political toddler Aam Aadmi Party, after receiving a setback in 2014 Lok Sabha polls, returned to rule Delhi obstructing BJP from taking advantage of Congress decline in Delhi.  
The BJP of Modi-Shah dispensation got people's mandate essentially in Congress dominated states such as in Assam, Haryana and Maharashtra. The only exception was Jharkhand.

This trend found an echo in 2014 Lok Sabha. The BJP surge was checkmated by regional satraps in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu in last general polls and even under the charismatic leadership of former NDA prime minister A B Vajpayee from 1998 to 2003. The party ruled in MP, Chattisgarh, Rajasthan and Goa.

For more than a decade, the BJP’s rise, winning two seats in 1984 to occupying Raisina Hill in 1998 with 182 MPs, was at the expense of Congress – whose tally came down sharply from 415 seats in 1984 to a mere 112 in 1998.  Amit Shah, however, had a contrarian view. He argued the BJP won Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand defeating regional parties.

A careful examination of assembly results showed that only in Jharkhand, the BJP-led NDA defeated ruling local party of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM). In other two states, BJP ousted Congress’ Hooda government in Haryana and Congress-NCP ruling coalition in Maharashtra.

The BJP chief made another observation that after the 2016 round of polls, no party would like to have a tie-up with Congress, which together with Left sank in West Bengal besides getting dethroned in Assam and Kerala. Whether the party will be able to overcome this challenge will be tested in Uttar Pradesh assembly polls due early next year. The BJP will be pitted against two strong regional parties – the ruling SP and main opposition BSP – in the high-stake UP battle and the indications forecast a tough fight for Modi to pull it off.

Strong anti-incumbency
Though there is a strong anti-incumbency against the SP, people are not so critical of Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav per se, while the BSP seems to be getting its act together trying to get Dalits back after drawing a na-ught in last general elections. The BJP, like Congress, is struggling to find a face worth projecting in the state, despite bringing in Keshav Prasad Maurya – an OBC – as its state unit chief. The BJP won a staggering 71 out of 80 seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections but storming the UP Assembly is seen as a daunting task for the party.

The election data offers interesting coincidence for the BJP going to take electoral plunge in UP. The BJP, when Vajpayee was the prime minister, had contested the February 2002 Assembly elections for total 403 seats and got 88 seats. The BSP managed 98 and SP emerged winner with 143 MLAs.

This time also the BJP is going to contest elections in the Hindi-speaking state having the Modi government at Raisina Hill. Both represented LS from the same state, Vajapyee from Lucknow while Modi from Varanasi. Also, the UP polls came in the middle of their tenures.

During Vajpayee’s tenure, the BJP also allowed its allies to take centre stage in their native states. For instance, Telugu Desam Party (TDP) which was the most powerful ally of NDA then was allowed to prosper in the united Andhra Pradesh which was split by Congress ahead of last elections to carve out Telangana. The same held true in the case of other trusted partners such as Shiv Sena.

But, under the tutelage of Modi, Shah had a different take on coalition politics. He wanted to enjoy the maximum benefits of Modi’s popularity to expand the party. In that pursuit, the BJP successfully contested last Maharastra elections alone, broke its old ties but resumed alliance with the Shiv Sena after polls and formed a coalition government in the state. It even formed government in Jammu and Kashmir by partnering with an ideologically opposed PDP.

A senior BJP leader was, however, cautious about celebrations in the party. His thought for the days ahead was the BJP will have to deliver on the 2014 elections mandate – living up to the economic promises made and bring fundamental changes in governance architecture – and reign in uncaged Hindutva elements. Only then, party can think of taking on caste-based parties.

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