The recently concluded state elections set the tone for 2019 Lok Sabha elections. They will primarily be about the dominant BJP zealously trying to safeguard its political supremacy in the face of Congress’s desperate efforts of political rejuvenation and regional parties’ bid for national political power.
It is crucial to analyse the recent Vidhan Sabha election results in order to comprehend the evolving trajectory of Indian political discourse. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ceded significant ground to the Indian National Congress (INC) in three important states — Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. The dominant regional party of Telangana, Telangana Rastriya Samiti (TRS) led by its de facto leader K, Chandrasekhar Rao, registered a spectacular victory in Telangana, In the northeast state of Mizoram, Indian National Congress (INC) lost power to the regional party Mizo National Front (MNF).
Political siginificance of these Assembly elections
This election was extraordinarily significant right from the outset, even before the results were upended expectations, due to two factors. First, the elections in the five states were held in the run-up to the national elections of 2019. Thus, these elections were considered a way to gauge the popular mood which may have a bearing on the Lok Sabha elections next year.
Second, three of the five states that went to polls were long ruled by the BJP, which is not only the ruling party of India at the Centre, but it has also managed to establish itself as an undefeatable political machinery in recent times as it rose to power in one state after another, with only few exceptions before this. Since BJP was the incumbent ruling party in three states — Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh —, it was rightly expected to struggle in order to retain power. This election was also a test of the much vaunted political invincibility of BJP and the effectiveness of the Modi-Shah magic.
A close analysis of these election results will help presage the political outcomes of 2019. These election results can be studied through broadly three major developments — the resurgence of Congress, reality check for BJP, and the consolidation of regional parties for a chance national political power.
Resurgence of Congress
After a long time, with the exception of Punjab elections, Congress registered three major political victories. The grand old party of India, which had consistently suffered a series of devastating defeats since its electoral trouncing in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, found a new lease of life by capturing power in these three states. This will boost its confidence to put a formidable challenge against BJP in the upcoming national elections.
Congress also exhibited interesting political maturity, by not only managing the problem of factionalism within the party, but also empowering its regional leaders in the three states to fight elections from the front instead of relying on the Congress president to engineer the political transformation. This culture, if sustained by Congress, would not only ensure electoral victories, but will also create an effective social base and second rung of efficient leadership that will strengthen its organisation. This could be an indispensable tool in ensuring its success in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls.
However, Congress would do well to take cognisance of the several local factors and the anti-incumbency sentiment against the ruling BJP that played a crucial role in its win in the three states. The 2019 national elections which will be fought on a fundamentally different plane. Apart from the spectacular victories, Congress must also ponder over its loss in the state of Mizoram, which was the last northeast state where Congress had been in power. Its rapid political marginalisation in the entire northeast doesn’t bode well for the party.
Challenge to BJP’s dominance
This result is a major jolt to the political dominance of BJP which rewritten the Indian politics’ rule book. The political juggernaut of BJP appeared invincible as it captured several states in succession in the last four years. Its defeat in these three major states is a severe setback.
However, it would be erroneous to view these defeats as an indicator of Modi’s downfall. In all the three states, there was a formidable wave of anti-incumbency as the ruling BJP governments turned unpopular and reports of corruption further tarnished their image. Moreover, BJP’s defeats in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, despite reports of its growing unpopularity, weren’t as devastating as had been speculated. Hence, it would be foolhardy to underestimate BJP’s power in 2019.
Consolidation of regional parties
The results have once again reinforced the political dominance of regional parties in India. The astounding political victory of parties like TRS and MNF in Telangana and Mizoram, respectively, is a manifestation of political dominance of regional parties in several states.
K. Chandrasekhar Rao’s massive victory in Telangana again brings up the possibility of a third front emerging in the upcoming national elections, something which Rao himself hinted in his victory speech. It is now clear that dominant regional forces such as Trinamool Congress (TMC) of West Bengal, Biju Janata Dal (BJD) of Odisha, TRS in Telangana, Janata Dal (Secular) in Karnataka, Telegu Desam Party (TDP) of Andhra Pradesh, Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP) and Samajwadi Party (SP) of UP are all set to play a crucial role in 2019. Rumours of a grand coalition of these disparate political forces are gaining momentum as a means to stall the BJP juggernaut.
2019 won’t be a two-corner fight between Congress and BJP as these powerful regional outfits will exercise their power and influence.
Ambar Kumar Ghosh is a doctoral candidate at Jadavpur University.