Who Won, Who Lost and Why?
NEW DELHI: The election results are clear. The people have spoken. The Bharatiya Janata Party will form the government in Assam; the Left Democratic Front returns with a full majority to Kerala; Mamata Banerjee and the Trinamul Congress have defied the Congress-Left alliance and returned to West Bengal with more seats before; and in Tamil Nadu Jayalalithaa comes back again for another term as the Chief Minister but with a strong Opposition in tow. In Puducherry the Congress seems to be struggling out of a neck to neck race to form the government.
Assam has been the major setback for the Congress, and expected despite the brave noises emerging from former Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi. The party went into the elections without a strategy wherein all faith was reposed in the ageing and ailing Gogoi who was barely able to campaign, and get rid of the baggage that was adding to the anti-incumbency factor after 15 years. Gogoi did not stitch up an alliance with the AGP and the Bodo Front moving to the BJP that immediately grabbed them for a larger initiative. And nor was the party leadership at the centre able to contain the dissent within the Assam party with the result that the BJP got its chief campaigners and Chief Minister face for the polls from the Congress itself.
The Congress party was unable to tie up with the AIUDF as a result, leading to a split in Muslim vote that brought down the number of seats for both. In his first press conference after the defeat AIUDF leader Badruddin Ajmal blamed the Congress saying it was solely responsible for his party’s defeat. However, after failing to get the alliance with the AGP and the Bodo groups off the ground, the Congress found it difficult to ally with a basically Muslim party for fear of polarising the vote in favour of the BJP. However, this strategy failed with the sizeable Muslim vote in Assam getting divided and neutralised as a result.
The BJP, of course, carried on a highly communal campaign placing Bangladeshi migrants at its centre. The campaign was clear: Hindu migrants from Bangladesh will be given citizenship status, Muslim migrants will be detected and deported. Why? Because the Hindus have had to flee persecution and rape and violence, the Muslims have come here to take away others jobs runs the argument. Instead of countering this the Congress state machinery fell silent, and the BJP and RSS cadres who flooded the state, were able to mobilise opinion in their favour on this along with the issues of governance and development, both not seen for the last several years in Assam.
In neighbouring West Bengal, the people voted in the Trinamul Congress with a big majority. Mamata Banerjee improved upon her performance despite reports by sections of the media in the state projecting a Left-Congress revival. Interesting the Left that is usually far more correct in its assessments also believed that it would gain tremendously in these elections, and that the results would see it as a big opposition, even if not in power. In fact perhaps this state election is the most interesting as the voters here have sent out two clear messages:
Didi still remains their best bet. The rural vote has not left her. And the Muslim vote remains consolidated behind her. And while there is some disillusionment here and there, it is not sufficient to move her out of power, more so as the alternative is not seen as credible at all.
The Left-Congress alliance struck despite an earlier CPI(M) decision not to go for any alliances in the state but work for an uplift, was not seen as credible by the people judging from the votes. In fact the Congress did better than the Left, in yet another indication that the peoples anger with the latter continues to run deep. And the trust not restored. The Left will have to take stock of this, as it remains out of the voters loop singly or in an alliance and it is going to be a painful trudge ahead with no guarantees from the people of West Bengal.
Interestingly, while the BJP has won Assam it has not been able to get the seats it was looking at in any of the other states. It has just about one seat in Kerala and can take satisfaction, at best, in opening its account, 7 in West Bengal which is a slight improvement, and none in Puducherry and Tamil Nadu that kept the state divided between the two regional Tamil parties. This is not exactly a great show considering that Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the campaign in Kerala and Tamil Nadu in particular, but was unable to win over the voters. In fact in Kerala the BJP was hoping to do better but the remarks on Somalia, taken within minutes to the people by the Opposition, cost it a better vote percentage in the state.
The Congress lost two states---Kerala and Assam. The former is being explained as a “we alternate with the LDF every year” but the question that remains hanging is: if Mamata and Jayalalithaa could beat the incumbency factor why could not you? Assam is of course a major loss reflecting bad planning, poor strategy that almost amounted to a willingness to let the state go. However, the party has improved its position in West Bengal emerging a second albeit a low second in the fray. It is the single largest party in Puducherry, has won seats in alliance with the DMK in Tamil Nadu, and is the principal opposition in Kerala and Assam that it lost. In other words the Congress remains in the picture and can build upon it for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. But can it, will it, of course remains the moot question.
Amidst the media buzz that the Left would do well in West Bengal its revival in Kerala has not got into the spotlights. This is an important victory for the Left parties, more so as the attack on them in the state came from both the BJP and the Congress together. Left leaders have already hinted at a strange understanding in some constituencies between the Congress and the BJP, in favour of the latter. Given the all out attack on the Left, nationally and globally, on economic policies in particular the Kerala victory---after Tripura---has come as a shot in the arm that mitigates to a small extent the defeat in West Bengal. Significantly, a section of the party that remained opposed to the West Bengal alliance insisting that an opportunistic coming together would not enthuse the voters, is now vindicated.
AIADMK Chief Minister Jayalalithaa “Amma” is back in power though not with the same mandate as “Didi.” In the process DMK’s Karunanidhi has lost what was widely seen as his last chance to become the Chief Minister, although his party has given a strong fight and is back as a large opposition. The voters in this state have refused to move beyond the two regional parties, preferring to stay with the known and not opening the state to the vagaries of North Indian political parties. The Congress in its alliance with the DMK has not done too badly, hitting the double digit figures that will be clear after the votes settle and the election results are declared.