Some political lessons from the state election outcomes…
As we go to press, the final results of the various state elections are still some time away. However, the broad trends are quite clear, at least in the key states of Uttar Pradesh and Punjab. There is no denying the fact that the ruling BJP has made some serious and impressive inroads into the Hindi heartlands of India. For a more incisive observer of these election outcomes, there are some very important lessons that can be gleaned. In fact, some of these trends could have much larger implications for the future of Indian polity. Here are 5 such key trends that have emerged.
That seems to be the biggest and most obvious takeaway from these state elections. The BJP already had the key states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Haryana and Jharkhand under its control. Remember, Jammu & Kashmir already has a BJP supported coalition led by the PDP. These state elections have delivered the all important states of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand to the BJP. With this victory, only Bihar, Delhi and now Punjab are outside the BJP control. This will give tremendous leverage to the BJP, not only in terms of its strength in the Rajya Sabha but also in terms of its preparedness for the central elections in 2019. In the entire Northern belt, the big missing link for the BJP was the state of Uttar Pradesh. This will be the first time that the BJP will be getting a full majority in the UP assembly since 1991. Interestingly, the BJP never projected a Chief Ministerial candidate implying that this was a clear vote for change from 25 years of SP/BSP politics.
To be fair to India’s oldest party, they have not exactly done too badly for themselves. In Uttar Pradesh, the Congress was never a force to reckon with and it was the junior partner in the SP/Congress combine. Probably, what went wrong was the assumption that the Muslim / Yadav vote would gravitate towards the SP/Congress combine, which in fact got split with the BSP. Having said that, the Congress did sweep Punjab and has redeemed itself in Goa and Manipur! In all fairness, the Congress has actually performed better than expectations. But then it is also time for them to do some serious rethinking.
Firstly, the issue of leadership in the Congress is still not resolved. It is time for the Congress party to now bite the bullet and either run with the hares or hunt with the hounds. The middle-path will not work any longer; and this is a clear warning signal from these state elections. Secondly, the Congress has already ceded the mantle of the largest national party to the BJP. With the BJP almost dominating the entire Hindi Belt, there is very little left for the Congress to really fend for. If they do not make drastic changes in policy and strategy now, the situation may go from bad to worse for them. After all, as a robust democracy India needs at least two national level parties in the fray.
These state elections could be the big inflection point for the Aam Aadmi Party. It needs to be conceded that this young party has made rapid strides in the last few years. What is evident from these state elections is that the AAP in terms of its strategy and performance may have reached a very important inflection point. To begin with, the party was expected to perform exceedingly well in Punjab and Goa. But the results paint a different story altogether. In Punjab, the AAP performed just about as well as the SAD-BJP combine did. That means that the entire benefit of anti-incumbency in Punjab accrued to the Congress party, especially in the critical Malwa region. Of course, AAP can take comfort from the fact that they started from ground Zero but then it also proves that the Delhi model that AAP employed cannot be easily replicated in other states. Goa may be a bigger blow for AAP where it has almost drawn a blank.
The big takeaway for AAP is that its confrontationist style of politics is a good beginning but not necessarily a good end. At the end of the day, people are looking for performance, maturity and longevity. If the AAP is having problems with the LG in Delhi, then the onus is on the AAP to negotiate and find a middle path. The message for AAP seems to be that it is time to get down to the business of governing. A confrontationist approach can only help up to a point!
From Bihar to Madhya Pradesh to UP, the message clearly seems to be that the people want good economics. The state of UP has been exasperated by the narrow caste politics of the SP and the BSP and wants a government that promises economic change. One can argue that Akhilesh Yadav did focus on economic development but the problem was slightly different in that case. The people of UP were not entirely comfortable voting for a party where the two principal protagonists were virtually at loggerheads. It is therefore hardly surprising that the people opted to vote for the BJP which had the lowest focus on caste agendas and tried to wean people more towards a developmental agenda. That seems to be the big message from election after election in the states. It is time to look beyond caste and ethnic equations alone and start focusing on the development story.
In the early nineties we saw the rise of regional parties which came around to dominating politics in the all-important states of UP and Bihar. What has happened in UP could be a trendsetter for forthcoming elections in other states. Today, in the Northern belt, regional parties are really strong only in UP and Bihar. In other states like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal, these regional parties are still fairly powerful. These state elections will increasingly mark the beginning of a major shift in Indian politics. As economics becomes the fulcrum of state administration regional parties that were formed along caste and ethnic lines will increasingly find themselves becoming less relevant. Then they will have to ally themselves more closely with national level parties to be able to add value. We could see that trend accelerating in the coming months.
In a nutshell, these state elections have not only consolidated the position of the BJP, but have also served as a wake-up call for the Congress and the AAP. As for regional parties, they need to quickly reinvent themselves. The time is now!