The Maharashtra and Haryana results indicate that BJP’s ashwamedha horse can travel around the country with not many standing up to mount a credible challenge.
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) massive gains in the assembly elections in Haryana and Maharashtra could set the tone for a bigger, pan-India, Saffron footprint in the coming two years, and impact national politics in profound ways.
After having won a clear mandate in Haryana and nearly tripling its tally in Maharashtra, there is no question of the BJP not redefining the political landscape in these states. But there could be more. The party may well put up admirable performances in a slew of upcoming assembly elections over the next few months – Bihar and Jharkhand (2015); West Bengal, Kerala and Tamil Nadu (2016); and Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Gujarat, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh (2017).
Before we look at the larger picture, let us first look at the three key implications of this poll outcome. One, even as the Congress suffered humiliating defeats in both states–a further loss of face after its Lok Sabha wipeout–Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s stature within the BJP has grown further. Two, the centre can now take bold policy decisions sans a resort to populism. Three, the Modi government will steadily become numerically comfortable in the Rajya Sabha, where the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) still has an upper hand.
As far as Maharashtra is concerned, it is a win-win situation for both the BJP and the Shiv Sena individually, although it is a collective loss. If they had managed to retain their 25-year-old coalition, the outcome would have been far more pleasing for both parties. That said it is still a great performance for the BJP since the party has risen from a mere 46 seats in 2009 to 123 seats in 2014. It is remarkable that the BJP has crossed the one hundred mark–the last time any party crossed that figure was a quarter of a century ago when the Congress got 141 seats in 1990.
Since then no party has been able to win more than 82 seats. As for the Shiv Sena, its tally stood at 63, a gain of 19 seats that left the party at the number two spot. Far more importantly, its contingent of 18 MPs and 62 MLAs have ensured that Uddhav Thackeray is a far more important man than before both in state and national politics. The BJP-Shiv Sena coalition could present the two parties with a chance to bring together the latter’s Marathi manoos parochialism with the former’s pan-India nationalism.
In Haryana, the BJP’s gains could be put down to the continuation of the 2014 Lok Sabha general election mood, which belied a trust-deficit vis-à-vis the Hooda government and a desire to join the national mainstream of development. However, the BJP’s success must also be seen in the light of the support it received from socio-religious organizations such as Dera Sacha Sauda. The Dera had never before extended such open political support to any party. How this impacts the BJP-Akali relations in adjoining Punjab and Delhi will be interesting to watch because the Dera is widely seen as a cult at loggerheads with the Sikhs.
Though the Maharashtra result is not as decisive as most verdicts of the recent years, the trend indicates a disapproval of arm-twisting by coalition partners in policy formulation and programme implementation.
The ideological shift of the Congress from the left to the right during early nineties appears to have slowly impacted voters’ psychology. The majority shifted to the right during 2014 Lok Sabha elections as demonstrated in BJP’s massive win. With the decline of the leftist orientation in politics and among parties, people are attracted to the right. The BJP, of course, has benefitted from this. It may lead to the formation of BJP governments in several states before next Lok Sabha election due in 2019.
Will that mean a return to the well-known Rajni Kothari model in Indian politics where one party dominated the multi-party system? Renowned political scientist Kothari’s model put the Congress at the center of such a system which according to him existed in India until the mid-1960s. In the new avatar of the Kothari model, the BJP would replace the Congress.
The commonality between the two models would be the feature of inclusiveness. In the ‘Congress-system’, the party formed a rainbow coalition encompassing all social denominations. However, the Congress did not sufficiently accommodate subalterns in its leadership structure. The result was a steady exodus of subaltern groups such as Dalits and OBCs from the Congress in the late 1980s. Modi’s emphasis on inclusiveness has made the BJP the latest destination for these subalterns who are wary of exploitation by their caste parties in the guise of identity politics. The crucial question is whether the BJP would allow them to return to their respective caste outfits or persuade them to stay on.
The sudden rise of BJP in national politics and at the state level brings its own set of problems for the party. The better it performs under the leadership of Narendra Modi, the greater are the chances of his domination in the party. Already, one notices the fading away of traditionally dominant national leaders and their replacement by newer set led by Amit Shah. But, the old guard in the BJP had become unproductive for the party and a leadership revamp was essential for the resurrection of the BJP.
If the new party dispensation succeeds in rebuilding the party, and if the party mobilizes rural voters adopting an inclusive approach, it stands to do better in the days to come. Otherwise, a fading-away of the old guard, without the backing of a strong network of grassroots workers and active local leaders, may put BJP in trouble especially in the post-Modi era.
If that is a challenge the party faces in the medium to long term, its immediate challenge will come from rivals in several states eager to put an end to its rising graph. The backdrop to this is the steady marginalization of small regional parties who will suffer as the issue of development gains currency with the lower and the lower-middle classes. With issues of regional and caste identities beginning to matter less, the voters seem to trust that BJP-led governments at the centre and in the states, in tandem could bring the kind of prosperity and development they aspire for.
In this context, the Congress’ problems on the organizational, ideological and leadership front will only aid the BJP further. However, the impression of an unchallenged BJP may push non-BJP parties to form alliances in state after state to counter the party. This was tried by the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Janata Dal United (JDU) in Bihar during the recent assembly by-elections with a positive result.
This could be re-enacted in several states that are likely to go to the polls in the next couple of years. Such a political polarization may well be attempted on secular-communal lines, however, one does not know if political self-interest of several parties in state politics would really let that happen. Certainly, the Maharashtra and Haryana poll outcomes have hinted at the shape of things to come in the next decade.
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