Verdict 2016: BJP rising, Congress floundering, Left middling
The biggest political slugfest of 2016 is over, and the results have set the field for the big match in 2019. After BJP's successive losses in Delhi and Bihar last year, the party's detractors had started writing off its prospects for a second term at the Center. In this round of polling in five states, though, the party has silenced them by winning one state, opening its account in another and increasing its tally in a third.
A strategic campaign has brought the BJP its first ever victory in Assam, first ever MLA in Kerala, and four MLAs in Bengal as against one in 2011. The party was never a serious contender in Tamil Nadu, where it lost its deposit on 99% of the seats it contested, and Puducherry.
The Congress has emerged as the biggest loser, losing Assam and Kerala, and doing poorly in Tamil Nadu. Sure the party increased its tally in Bengal, but this success was not entirely its own - it benefited from its alliance with the Left. The victory in Puducherry is the only consolation prize.
The polls left mixed signals for the Left in Kerala and Bengal, but one clear message from an ideological perspective: its "unnatural" alliance with the Congress proved costly, bringing down its tally in Bengal. In Kerala, the CPM-led LDF came back to power by defeating the Congress-led UDF, demonstrating that it can do well without getting into desperate alliances.
Beyond the obvious consequences, this verdict will have implications for all the contesting parties, as well as for national politics. Here's a lowdown:
What does this verdict mean for national politics?
- The Assam victory will salvage the images of both Prime Minister Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah. Assam will be showcased as proof of Modi's continuing popularity, while Shah will regain his reputation as a master election strategist.
- It will also boost the morale of the BJP ahead of the 2017 elections in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Uttarakhand.
- The victory of regional parties and groupings in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and the defeat of the Congress in Assam and Kerala will mean that the anti-Modi alliance for 2019 will be pivoted around regional leaders.
- Mamata Banerjee has staked her claim to be the pivot of an anti-BJP front, along with Nitish Kumar and Arvind Kejriwal. The real threat to the BJP now will come from regional parties led by them.
- There will be a reshuffle in Modi's cabinet - one, to fill the vacancy left by the departure of Sports Minister Sarbananda Sonowal to take over as Assam chief minister, and two, to accommodate smaller parties and caste groups from Uttar Pradesh, with an eye on the 2017 polls.
What does it mean for the Congress?
- These results have confirmed the dismal trend of electoral defeats for the party. This will harm the chances of its revival.
- As the ruling party, the Congress has shrunk to seven states - Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand in the north, Karnataka and Puducherry in the south, and Manipur, Mizoram and Meghalaya in the Northeast.
- The party's funds will dry up.
- Its image as the main opposition to the BJP will be eroded. It may no longer be the central pillar of an anti-BJP alliance for the 2019 general election.
- Internally, the clamour for bringing Priyanka Gandhi into politics full-time will intensify as Rahul Gandhi has not been able to lead the party to victory. Some may want this to happen as early as next year, ahead of the UP election.
What does it mean for the BJP?
- An important lesson learnt is that if the party forms alliances with regional parties, it can win in states.
- The party must project a local leader as the face of the campaign, rather than Modi.
- The party's reliance on the RSS is likely to deepen further since it was the mother outfit that helped the party stitch alliances in Assam.
- Shah and Modi's hold over the party will strengthen. This, though, comes with the caveat that in states, they must continue to project local faces.
What does it mean for the Left?
- That they are now trailing the Congress in Bengal suggests that while their vote as an organised cadre-based party shifted to the ally Congress, the reverse did not happen.
- A key lesson learnt is not to go for alliances with parties with which it has fundamental differences.
- The Kerala victory will make the Left a player in national politics. General Secretary Sitaram Yehury may come to play the same role as his mentor, the late Harkishan Singh Surjeet, in bringing together anti-BJP forces nationally.
What does it mean for Mamata Banerjee?
- The BJP increasing its presence in the Bengal assembly means Mamata will now face an onslaught from the BJP both at the Centre and in the state.
- She has overcome anti-incumbency because of her populist policies. She will have to empower the poor even more in the years to come to retain their support.
- She will have to become more development-oriented, and reform her party structure to ensure she does not replicate the patronage relationships that the Left model of governance developed.
- She will have to work more for the welfare of minorities given that the Congress's fortunes seem to be improving in the state. Muslims form 27% of Bengal's population.