Assembly Elections

Victory of sorts

Print edition : January 23, 2015

At the Bharatiya Janata Party office in Srinagar on December 24, 2014, party leaders celebrating the results of the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly election. Photo: PTI

The BJP continues to dominate electoral politics, but the not-so-spectacular show in the latest Assembly round affects its confidence.

THE central feature of the electoral battles in 2014, both Assembly and parliamentary, was the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the personality cult of Narendra Modi. This aspect was confirmed when this political series came to a close with the announcement of the results in Jharkhand and in Jammu and Kashmir on December 23. In Jharkhand, the BJP and its ally, the All Jharkhand Students Union (AJSU), managed to rustle up a simple majority for the first time in the 14-year history of the State. In Jammu and Kashmir, the BJP finished a close second, after the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the former principal opposition in the State. Modi campaigned extensively in both the States and formed a key element in the poll plank of the BJP, thus iterating his personality factor.

The results in the two States more or less reflected those in the recent elections held in Haryana and Maharashtra respectively. In Haryana, the BJP scored a clear majority while in Maharashtra it did not cross the halfway mark and had to depend on other parties to form the government. Of course, the BJP became the single largest party in Maharashtra while in Jammu and Kashmir it came second. At the time of writing this, it was not clear whether the party would ultimately get to be a part of the government in Jammu and Kashmir. Whether it does or not, there is little doubt that the BJP has emerged as a significant player in this crucial State of India.

Five more Assembly elections were held in 2014, in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. In Andhra Pradesh, the BJP’s ally, the Telugu Desam Party, emerged victorious. In Odisha, the Biju Janata Dal led by Naveen Patnaik got the better of both the BJP and the Congress. The Congress managed to retain Arunachal Pradesh, while Sikkim was held by the dominant regional force in the State, the Sikkim Democratic Front.

Marginalisation of the Congress

Taken in totality, the important qualitative dimension of the elections of 2014, apart from the rise of the BJP, is the sustained marginalisation of the Congress. The oldest party in the country was ousted from power at the Centre and in Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Jammu and Kashmir during the course of the year. In Andhra Pradesh, the party was in power on its own while in Jharkhand it shared power with the Jharkhand Mukthi Morcha (JMM) and in Jammu and Kashmir with the National Conference (N.C.) for a considerable period.

A significant nuance of the results in both these States makes the marginalisation of the Congress even more conspicuous. In the Lok Sabha elections, the party was in alliance with the JMM in Jharkhand and the N.C. in Jammu and Kashmir. Both the regional parties broke the alliance with the Congress after the Lok Sabha elections, which helped enhance their vote share in the Assembly elections. For instance, in the Lok Sabha elections, the JMM’s vote share was 9.42 per cent of the total votes polled. This leapfrogged to 20.4 per cent in the Assembly elections. Similarly, the N.C.’s 11.22 per cent vote share in the Lok Sabha elections rose to 20.8 per cent in the Assembly elections.

In contrast, the Congress’ vote share came down from 13.48 per cent in the Lok Sabha elections to 10.5 per cent in the Jharkhand Assembly elections. In Jammu and Kashmir, the corresponding figures are 23.07 per cent and 18 per cent.

Commenting on these trends, the political analyst Sheetal P. Singh pointed out that this would strengthen the impression that the Congress was a political liability to its allies. “This may have reverberations in other States too, where elections will be held in the future,” Singh said. Singh added that while regional parties seemed to be rediscovering their core support base when they moved away from the Congress, the relationship between the BJP and its regional allies was quite contrary. In both Maharashtra and Haryana, the BJP gained by breaking away from its regional allies, the Shiv Sena and the Haryana Janhit Congress respectively.

Senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad brushed aside the development of these electoral equations vis-a-vis regional parties as nothing extraordinary. In his view, it is normal in the Assembly elections that happen in the same year as the general elections to throw up results that favour the party ruling at the Centre. “The Congress has showcased this trend so many times in the past. Now, it is the turn of the BJP. That’s all,” he said.

End of regionalisation of Centre

A Jharkhand-based senior Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) leader told Frontline that the last set of Assembly elections had struck yet another blow to the political phenomenon of “regionalisation of the Centre” that held sway over the national polity during the years of Congress rule.

Notwithstanding this claim, there are sections within the BJP and within the constituents of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the party that believe that it is too premature to come to a conclusion on this. Making a comparison of the vote share of the BJP in the States of Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Jammu and Kashmir in the Lok Sabha elections and the Assembly elections, a leader of the BJP’s Delhi unit and a leader of the Lok Janshakthi Party (LJP), an NDA constituent, put across this argument forcefully. They pointed out that in all the three States there has been a significant drop in the BJP’s vote share between the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections and that the gainers in all three States had been regional parties. Both leaders were of the view that this did not augur well for the so-called process that would lead to the end of the regionalisation of the Centre.

The leaders illustrate it better with statistics. In the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP-Shiv Sena combine together had a vote share of 47.9 per cent. The vote share in the seats contested by the BJP alone was 27.56 per cent. In Jharkhand, the party got 40.1 per cent of the votes and in Jammu and Kashmir 32.65 per cent. While in Maharashtra Assembly elections, the BJP improved its vote share marginally to 27.8 per cent, in both Jharkhand (31.3 per cent) and Jammu and Kashmir (23 per cent) its vote share dropped close to 10 percentage points.

Going by the vote share of regional parties like the JMM, the PDP and the N.C., it is clear that they were the beneficiaries of the fall in the BJP’s vote share.

In the process, the BJP failed to achieve the targets that it had set for itself in both Jharkhand and Jammu and Kashmir. Party president Amit Shah’s “Mission 44” slogan specified the target for Jammu and Kashmir. In Jharkhand there were two targets: a BJP-specific target of 45 seats, encapsulated in the “Mission 45” slogan, and a BJP-AJSU alliance target, spelt out in the “Mission 55” slogan. As it turned out, the BJP got only 25 seats in Jammu and Kashmir and 37 seats in Jharkhand. In the latter, the alliance reached only 42.

The Delhi BJP leader is worried that if there is a similar percentage point drop in the forthcoming Delhi Assembly elections, things will get very difficult for the party. In the Lok Sabha elections in Delhi, the BJP got 46.1 per cent of the votes while its nearest rival, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), got 32.9 per cent. “If the AAP makes similar gains like the JMM or the N.C., we will indeed be in a tight situation,” the Delhi BJP leader said.

His fear is that the situation could be worse in Delhi. “In both Jharkhand and Jammu and Kashmir, we had two powerful campaign points against the regional parties. One was the corruption of JMM and N.C. leaderships and the second was the dynastic politics pursued by both the parties as well as the PDP. But that do not seem to have brought down their votes. In the case of the AAP, we have neither corruption nor dynastic politics to show at the moment,” the leader said.

Clearly, notwithstanding the domination of the BJP and the personality cult of Modi in 2014, the BJP’s level of confidence on the long-term sustenance of these factors is not very high. As the LJP leader told Frontline, this level of confidence and the accrual of electoral and political gains may diminish proportionately to the time and political distance from the aggressive rhetoric employed in the Lok Sabha election campaign and the aspirational high of the early days of the Modi government.

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