The Fine Print in These Elections
Regional parties gaining ground
The story is changing. Perhaps not as dramatically as some opposition parties and their supporters had hoped for, but yes the sands are shifting if these Assembly elections are analysed carefully. On the face of it, the Bharatiya Janata Party is getting ready to form the governments in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur, while the Congress has virtually disappeared from all these states, the most decisive being UP.
But there is the fine print which really carries the story for 2024. And while many will gloss over it, the BJP is one of the parties with the shrewd political sense to know that the regional parties have gained ground in all the states. More than it would have liked in the run up to a general election.
In Punjab the Aam Aadmi party victory has been dramatic and as sensational as Arvind Kejriwal could have hoped. It has eaten into the Congress and surged ahead leaving the Akali Dal and the BJP in the boondocks, with the current trend registering a sweep for the party after a slow start. The BJP does not have much of a presence in this border state, and the Congress should probably sit and introspect with its former chief minister Amarinder Singh of a good election lost.
Six months before the polls CM Amarinder Singh was in a good position, having got the farmers over to his and the Congress side. All was going fairly well, until the party leadership in Delhi decided to bring in Navjot Singh Sidhu to queer the pitch. To cut a long story short the Maharaja quit, went into a huddle with the BJP, and threw his weight around insisting he would win and make the Congress eat crow. The Congress did eat crow but Amarinder Singh too is finished as a political entity in the state, his end being not very dignified and certainly more than a little humiliating.
The Congress brought in Charanjit Singh Channi and insisted it would gain dividends as it had brought in a Dalit. To give him his due Channi fought hard for himself at least, but the party fell into an abyss to the point where senior leaders being flown into Punjab to campaign were sitting in their hotels, barely venturing into the field. The people are not fools, and AAP which came in with its performance in Delhi and its trajectory on development won the day, with the Congress dissolving into a shadow of its former self in Punjab.
AAP that aspires to be but is certainly not a national party, has secured the goodwill of the people of Punjab. It has built on its earlier 20 seats in the Assembly and brought in a popular leader as the chief minister face. As sources within said, the strategy is to enter states where there is no feasible alternative. And voters are fed up with the two national parties, the BJP which no longer seems ascendant and the Congress that is fast descending into possible oblivion.
In Uttar Pradesh, the BJP has emerged as the single largest party but by the time the dust of counting settles it will still be far below its 2017 figure of 325 seats. The Congress has diminished to negligible numbers, but this time round the Samajwadi Party rose to provide a solid opposition in the hitherto opposition-less state. The celebration in BJP offices and despondency in the SP camp is to be expected, but the fact remains that UP voters have moved out of complete polarisation to vote for the Samajwadi party as an alternative.
It might be recalled that the SP had disappeared from view after the 2017 polls with Akhilesh Yadav caught in the family web of push and pull. He has clearly come out of that, and as the campaign progressed he became more and more confident of the peoples’ support. He has risen from 40-odd to figures that seem to be settling at over 120, not a small gain for a regional party fighting the combined manpower and finances of the BJP/RSS and leaders like Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who found the going a little tough too. His three day stay in Varanasi for an MLA election demonstrated the worry, but also the fact that the BJP/RSS will walk all the extra miles it takes to victory. Unlike the Congress that does little, and whose leaders disappear the moment the going gets tough.
The BJP has fallen behind, when it should not have with its heavy agenda of polarisation. Of the Muslim, and the mandir and masjid politics that has been revved up over the past years and should have paid dividends, by increasing the BJP tally or at least leaving it at the 300 plus figure, certainly not reducing it by significant numbers.
The SP under Akhilesh Yadav needs to shed its anti law and order image - he has made a good beginning - become far more inclusive in its approach, and focus on bringing in the other backward classes into its fold through the agenda of development. Akhilesh Yadav did make a beginning that drew the crowds; he will now need to strengthen the alliances he has made, and stick to the slogan of development over the coming years.
The SP has been revived to new levels after a long while, but now Akhilesh Yadav will be seen as the new threat by the BJP after Mayawati, and it remains to be seen if he will withstand the pressure and deliver.
In Uttarakhand the fight was directly between the BJP and the Congress. The Congress leadership again messed around with their one good leader in the state Harish Rawat, and by the end of it ensured the party’s defeat. The yes-and-no attitude of those controlling the party from New Delhi brought down the morale, increased the factionalism that made Rawat struggle in his own seat, and made the voter turn from the Congress party to the BJP. As sources said earlier, the Congress Nehru-Gandhi dynasty seems to have substituted a death wish for strategy and in Uttarakhand, as in Punjab, ensured their own defeat. In both states reports were that the Congress had been on firm ground until the top brass started messing around with the state leaders.
Significantly in Goa, both the Trinamool Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party have made some inroads. The BJP seems to have won, the Congress has lost, again because of its inability to tackle factionalism and provide a cohesive alternative to the BJP. Goa is a state where the BJP has not rested its laurels on polarisation, and yet the Congress has found it difficult to compete. Poor party management and a lacklustre campaign, sources said, is the reason for its collapse here. However, even if the others do not the BJP will watch the progress of the TMC and AAP in Goa with interest.
A regional party has made inroads into Manipur as well where again the Congress has lost to the BJP. Of significance is the rise of the National People’s Party whose leader and Meghalaya chief minister Conrad K.Sangma said during the campaign, “we want to change the high command culture. We witnessed the internal feud in the national political parties – our party truly belongs to the north east.”
Sangma has been projecting the NPP as a voice for the people of the entire north-east, the lone national party from the region. Manipur has a history of voting with the ruling dispensation in Delhi, but the NPP campaign has made inroads increasing its 2017 tally of four seats to nine, if the trends remain as now.
Interestingly, from nine seats the NPP contested 42 seats this time round. In Meghalaya it came second to the Congress in 2018, and allied with regional parties as well as the BJP to form the government in the state. The new government was thus formed with MLAs that included 19 from the NPP, six from the United Democratic Party, four from the People's Democratic Front, two each from the Hill State People's Democratic Party and Bharatiya Janata Party, and an independent.