If critics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi were looking for a national mood against the BJP and its rule at the Centre, they are not going to find any in the outcome of the elections to four States and one union territory.
Thursday’s count shows the strong return of two women Chief Ministers and their parties, Jayalalithaa and Mamata Banerjee, to power in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, a sensational victory of the BJP in Assam and the Left taking power by a big margin in Kerala.
This, of course, is not the full story. The victories mark a massive setback to the Congress nationally and to the Left, the CPI (M) in particular — it’s electoral understanding with the Congress backfiring badly in West Bengal.
As this piece is written, the Congress is the larger partner in the non-alliance in West Bengal, dashing the hopes of a large body of Left sympathisers who believed that the Marxist revival lay in going with the Congress.
BJP as national party
For the BJP, the victory in Assam marks its triumphant entry to North-East India, a region that had proven difficult to breach in the past. At 12.30 p.m., the Election Commission website showed that the BJP was leading in 82 out of the 126 Assembly seats in Assam, of which the BJP alone held 55 leads.
Keeping alive its green shoots in West Bengal and Kerala, the BJP has obtained more than 10 per cent of the total votes in these two States, but managed under three per cent of the vote in Tamil Nadu.
By virtue of its victory in Assam, the BJP has well and truly lost its image of a North Indian party. The fact that it is leading in key tribal seats in Assam shows how far the party has come in terms of its electoral tactics and base.
Its success in Assam, the only real prize at stake for the party in this cluster of state elections, shows clever political engineering and quick learning from the party’s disastrous performance in Bihar and Delhi in 2015.
By stitching up alliances with the Asom Gana Parishad and the Bodoland People’s Front and declaring Sarbananda Sanwal as its chief-ministerial face, the BJP spoke with a regional voice in Assam, filling the chauvinistic space ceded by the AGP.
Question Mark Congress
From Assam to Kerala, the Congress has been decimated and a big question mark hangs over the party’s future. The fact that it has secured more votes than the BJP (alone, not with allies) in Assam or that it has done better than the CPI (M) in West Bengal is no consolation for India’s grand old party.
Increasingly leaderless and rudderless, the Congress was unable to stitch meaningful alliances in Assam or project itself as party with a future elsewhere.
Despite the presence of an under-50 leader like Rahul Gandhi, the party didn’t exude energy. More and more, the Congress is looking like a motley conglomerate of leaders with more of a past than the hope of a present or future.
Diversity on view
No one party has come to power in any of the five States, laying bare the regional nature of India’s polity yet again. Mamata Banerjee and Jayalalithaa have proven themselves to be powerful regional forces, winning their States in style.
A perusal of Thursday’s counts suffices to show that India’s political diversity is part of the country’s DNA, which can be dented by personalities in Lok Sabha elections, but not in Assembly elections.
The regional accent employed by the BJP in Assam, deploying Mr. Modi only when required and giving space to allies is why the party has succeeded in taking power in North-East India’s pre-eminent State.
The message for political parties before crucial Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab in 2017 is quite simple: stitching up alliances and projecting chief-ministerial forces to shore up your political base can prove to be a winning formula.
The larger message of alliance politics will hold for Lok Sabha 2019 too. Those who build clever alliances are likely to do better.