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The BJP’s Assam chief ministerial candidate Sarbananda Sonowal at the party’s head office in Guwahati on Thursday. Photo: PTI
The BJP’s Assam chief ministerial candidate Sarbananda Sonowal at the party’s head office in Guwahati on Thursday. Photo: PTI

Assembly elections results strengthen Modi, Shah hold on BJP

BJP's rise in newer regions, along with the steady weakening of the Congress, will also impact national politics

New Delhi: After a bad patch in 2015 when it lost the Delhi and Bihar assembly elections, Thursday finally brought good news for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)—it is set to form a government in Assam, has made inroads in West Bengal and even opened its account in Kerala.

The BJP leadership attributed its performance in the three states to the work done and the development agenda of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Senior leaders of the party also argued that the win in Assam and the good show in West Bengal will strengthen the position of Modi and party president Amit Shah, who was blamed for last year’s losses.

Senior BJP leaders say that even though the BJP has won only three out of 294 seats in West Bengal, one in Kerala and failed to open its account in Tamil Nadu, the party has improved its position in terms of vote share in all three states, where it has traditionally had a thin organizational network and negligible presence in the assembly. It had only one legislator in West Bengal and none in Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

“The assembly results are very pleasing for the BJP and the NDA. The voters of these four states have shown faith in the BJP," said Modi. “To many people, the BJP forming a government in Assam is as surprising as the BJP’s alliance in Jammu and Kashmir (with the People’s Democratic Party). The development promise and work done by the government is being accepted and supported by the people. BJP is fast increasing its footprint in many parts of the country and is forming government in several states."

The rise of the BJP in newer regions, along with the steady weakening of the Congress party, will also impact national politics.

In the two years since the 2014 general election, the BJP has managed to beat the Congress wherever the two parties have met in a direct contest.

The BJP has unseated governments in Haryana, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Rajasthan and Jammu and Kashmir which were ruled by the Congress either on its own or in alliance with a partner. With the reduced political clout of the Congress, the opposition space will be occupied by more regional leaders, making it easier for the BJP to deal with a weakened Congress.

The victory over the Congress will also help uplift the morale of the party because in the coming 18 months, the BJP and the Congress will be in a direct contest in Uttarakhand, Punjab, Goa and Gujarat.

Also looming in May next year are important elections in Uttar Pradesh, where two regional giants—Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party—will play a crucial role.

“The defeat in Delhi and Bihar had demoralized the rank and file of the BJP, but this victory will enthuse the party workers before the elections in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh," said Sanjay Kumar, a political analyst and director at the New Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.

But Kumar said that the result in Assam cannot be seen as an endorsement of the NDA government at the centre.

The BJP bounce-back will also resonate in Parliament, where the BJP and the Congress have been at loggerheads in the Rajya Sabha for the better part of two years.

While running the Parliament will still remain a Union government responsibility, a weaker Congress party could help the government pass crucial bills by dividing the opposition, which has so far rallied behind the Congress.

“The verdict is a lesson for Congress for its obstructionist politics in Parliament. The BJP’s performance in the assembly polls is in a way people’s stamp on the performance of the Modi government in the last two years. Poll results show that a strong foundation of the BJP has been laid for ensuring victory in 2019 Lok Sabha polls," said BJP president Shah.

Analysts say the BJP changed its campaign strategy, relying more on local and state leaders than senior Union ministers.

“The BJP after the Bihar elections realized that it cannot carpet-bomb national leaders on states. It instead relied on local leaders like Himanta Biswa Sarma and Sarbananda Sonowal (in Assam) and, in my opinion, that was a political masterstroke," said Sandeep Shastri, political analyst and pro-vice chancellor of Jain University, Bengaluru.

“After a series of setbacks last year, 2016 has finally been a good year for the BJP, and they will be happy with their performance, not just forming the government in Assam, but also with Kerala," he added.

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