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To successfully defend four states is no easy feat. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has managed that and, in the process, strengthened its status as the only nationally dominant party. True, in Goa, it is clinging on, and Punjab has given it a new challenger in the Aam Aadmi Party. But in the most prized Uttar Pradesh, and also in Uttarakhand and Manipur, the ruling party has made waves with elan.

So for now, that hegemony is intact. In December 2014, the BJP held 26% of all assembly constituencies in India, which rose to 33% by December 2019. It has maintained that level. Against a pugnacious BJP, the Congress seems to be fighting only on reputation, with Punjab the latest setback: the party’s assembly seat share is down from 22% in December 2014 to 19% now. The BJP had 146 seats more than the Congress in December 2014, but that lead widened to 479 in 2019 (50% of Congress’ total tally) and now 555 seats (73% of its tally).

The largest share of assembly seats still belongs to a clutch of regional parties, and AAP in Punjab is the latest addition to this grouping. After these elections, parties other than the BJP and Congress will control 49% of assembly seats in India. With the Congress unable to stem the tide of voter disapproval, the contest for the 2024 general elections is shaping to be between this clutch of regional parties and the BJP.

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Population Sweep

At present, about 48% of the Indian population resides in states governed either directly by the BJP (39%) or by one of its allies (9.3%). Since 2014, while the share of population under the rule of BJP and allies has grown from 46% to 49%, the gains have come from direct BJP-ruled states. The BJP has grown not only at the expense of its rivals, but also its own allies, such as in Bihar.

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This is in contrast to Congress, which has its own government in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, but is the smaller partner in Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. The situation could have been drastically different if not for its missteps in Madhya Pradesh and Punjab, which account for about 10% of India’s population. ​​The BJP’s dominance has not only affected its allies and the Congress, but other non-allied parties as well. From governing 40% of the population in 2014, their share has dropped to 24% now, even though they control 49% of assembly seats.

Upsides In UP

The BJP is the first party in three decades to retain Uttar Pradesh, home to 16% of India’s population. The party has changed the state’s political landscape. From a fractious, four-party contest, UP is now effectively a two-horse race. In 2012, the Samajwadi Party (SP) came to power with 224 seats on a 29% vote share. This time, the SP has 32% vote share and has doubled its seat count from 2017, but will still finish a distant second.

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Meanwhile, the BJP has increased its vote share from 39% in 2017 to 42% now. Previously, 30% vote share in UP was good enough to win. But BJP’s social engineering, breaking across caste lines, has pushed the threshold beyond 40%. In this election, BJP candidates in UP increased their vote share in 249 seats, with close to half registering a gain of above 5 percentage points.

Beyond BJP

Beyond the BJP, there are a handful of winners in these elections. The SP has doubled its seat share. Its regional rival, BSP, finished with just one seat and a 13% vote share. Conrad Sangma and his National People’s Party have emerged as a force to reckon with in the North East. His government in Meghalaya is currently supported by both the BJP and the Congress.

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The big gainer is the Aam Aadmi Party, finally expanding beyond Delhi. With Punjab, it will have its first full state to govern. And, in Arvind Kejriwal, a leader capable of commanding national mindspace. The party is expected to pitch itself as the alternative to the Congress on the national stage. That pitch will be tested when Gujarat, where Congress has 77 MLAs, votes in December. Later this week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in Gujarat to kick off the BJP’s election campaign there. The shadow of these elections will extend there as well.

www.howindialives.com is a database and search engine for public data.

 

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