Before Saturday’s results several questions were being asked on how the politics of India was likely to change after the electoral verdict in five states. Would it push the Congress on the back foot; would it lead to a “Congress-Mukt Bharat”? Would the verdict pave the way for the national expansion of the Aam Adami Party (AAP)? Would defeat of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) be an indication of the challenge it might have to face at the hands of some sort of anti-BJP alliance during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections? And would success for the BJP indicate victory in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections?
The results are out and the BJP has registered a massive victory in two states, winning 312 seats with 39.7% votes in Uttar Pradesh and 57 seats with a huge 46.5% votes in Uttarakhand. Though the BJP could not hold on to power in Goa and lagged behind the Congress, winning 13 of the 40 assembly seats (Congress 17 seats), it still was ahead of the Congress in terms of vote share (BJP: 32.5%; Congress: 28.4%).
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In Manipur, a state where the BJP had no presence in the 2012 elections, it managed to not only win 21 of the 60 assembly seats, but left behind the Congress in terms of popular vote (BJP 36.3%, Congress 35.1%). Clearly, having formed the government in Assam last year and with such a commendable performance in Manipur, the BJP has managed to strengthen its position in the Northeast. It is only in Punjab that the vote share of the party declined from 7% in 2012 to 5.4%. The Congress registered a landslide victory, winning 77 of the 117 assembly seats though its vote share declined from 40% in 2012 to 38.5% in these elections, much of it cornered by the AAP.
But with such a verdict can we conclude that the country is moving towards a “Congress-Mukt Bharat”? It is true that the Congress not only lost the 2014 Lok Sabha elections badly but also subsequent assembly elections in several states. It was routed in UP and Uttarakhand, but the party could take some solace from the results of these assembly elections.
In UP, the Congress had been lying low—it made an attempt to revive itself through an alliance with the Samajwadi Party (SP), but failed miserably. There was everything for the Congress to gain in UP, nothing to lose, but it failed.
In the end, there is hardly any loss compared to the situation before the assembly elections. It lost in Uttarakhand badly, but managed to win comfortably in Punjab, so the victory in Punjab evens out the loss in Uttarakhand.
In Manipur, it is true that the BJP’s performance is exceptional, but the Congress still managed to hold on despite 15 years of anti-incumbency and emerged as the single largest party and is close to forming the government.
In Goa, the BJP’s vote share is bigger than that of the Congress, but here, too, the latter managed to win more seats than the BJP.
Yes, the Congress did not perform well in these elections, but the overall situation of the Congress did not deteriorate further, and at least these elections do not indicate that there is any movement further in the direction of a “Congress-Mukt Bharat”. At the same time, there isn’t much for the party leaders to celebrate their victory in Punjab. It is more of a victory for Amarinder Singh—the party’s chief ministerial candidate— than a victory for the party.
The narratives of elections vary from state to state, and the party needs to search new narrative in different states if it wants to make a serious effort for a national revival. Its leaders would be making a very serious mistake if they were to see the Punjab victory as a sign of revival of the party. It is true that AAP could not manage to perform in keeping with their tall claims, but the party did manage to win 20 assembly seats in Punjab, and has emerged as the principal opposition in the state assembly. This is an achievement for the new party. The party managed to garner sizeable support and polled 24% votes.
For any new party this is a decent performance. It looks poor only if one compares it with the tall claims which several leaders of the party made time and again during the elections—of not only winning but sweeping the elections in the state.
By no means can such a performance by a new party which is in power in one state be interpreted as spelling an end to their ambition of national expansion. But it is time for the leaders of the party to realize that national expansion is possible by hard work and connecting with the people by raising their issues, and not merely by rhetoric.
The outcome in UP has certainly paved the way for a possible victory for the BJP in the 2019 general elections. This victory would add to the enthusiasm among party workers, and make leaders more confident because of a growing support base, all of which would help the party in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
But there is one caution. Such a huge victory comes with huge expectations. The party will need to deliver soon after forming the government in UP and Uttarakhand—much sooner than normally a new government can do.
The time is not far before the country enters another national election. If things are not delivered before that, people might ask difficult questions to the BJP in 2019.
Sanjay Kumar is a professor and currently the director of CSDS. These are his personal views.