The outcome of the Assembly elections in four states and one union territory spanning the politically live South, a turbulent East and an unstable Northeast, establishes trends that would do India good in the times to come. Notwithstanding what happened earlier in Delhi where there was en masse transfer of Congress votes to AAP or in Bihar where the unity of caste and community identities produced the unbeatable numbers in favour of Nitish Kumar, the current elections indicate that the transformative impact of the 2014 general election is still working.
The advent of a new regime under Narendra Modi that enjoys a credible image of integrity and the people’s trust in its promise of good governance and development, was the result of an electoral pull that had cut across the length and breadth of the country at that time, embracing even the southern and eastern parts of India where BJP then had only a tenuous existence as a party. In the current Assembly elections, the BJP has won new territories on the strength of its national appeal and because of the clean image and hope associated with Prime Minister Modi.
Congress has declined as a national party in these elections precisely because the reasons for which it was ousted in 2014 have not gone away. The unfolding of scams, inconsistencies in the responses of Congress as a party and a certain staleness about the ways of its leadership, have not gone unnoticed. The Congress spokespersons generally appeared quite unconvincing in their defence of the party over these last two years. The Congress played identity politics so blindly that it seemed to have no place for recognition of the virtue of nationalism in its political strategy. The BJP’s showing in these elections connects with the conscious rise of the healthy feeling among the people that India can be made a strong, well-governed and united nation.
The results in Assam totally vindicate this. In the entire Northeast, Assam, the mother state in the region, was always for identification with the national mainstream. The Assamese sentiment never entertained separatism and the rise of identity politics in the name of secularism in the recent months even created security concerns among the original residents of the state. The extraordinary success of the BJP-AGP alliance reflects this reality. The minority community, on the other hand, showed an inclination to consolidate its own position—this left the Congress already suffering from internal dissension, on one limb. The nationalist sweep in Assam will make a big impact on India’s politics.
In West Bengal, the memory of the violent regime of the Marxists was very much there and Mamata Banerjee’s determined ways still command admiration. The Left and Congress were like an axis of losers as the image and reputation of the Congress had already taken a beating at the national level. The TMC swayed the polls because the minorities saw in it a better side to rely on, while the sentiment of nationalism drew many Hindu voters to the BJP fold and gave the party a presence in the Assembly. Mamata Banerjee’s personal profile could withstand the negative fallout of a few scams and governance failures that hit West Bengal in the run up to the elections.
The return of LDF in Kerala was facilitated by a certain degree of anti-incumbency against UDF. The Congress in the state shared the decline that the party was having as a national party. In a state known for an extremely conscious electorate, LDF was the only alternative to the UDF, with no side being able to claim an exclusive hold on the minority. It is significant that the BJP was able to register itself in the Assembly and there is no gainsaying the fact that the message of nationalism emanating from the Modi regime did have its takers. This will have a bearing on the course of politics in future.
Unlike in Kerala, where the divisions are ideological, the legacy in Tamil Nadu is one of Tamil sentiment dictating politics there and the two players, AIADMK and DMK, therefore, continuing to be the main contenders of power. It seems Jayalalithaa was closer to the masses and the stigma of corruption on a leader who had no family did not seem stronger than the dynastic rule of the competitor, who also had issues of integrity. A party from the North has to create a lot of ground work in the state. The Congress could not create a strong presence in spite of being in power for decades at the Centre.
The Assembly elections provide a peep into the future of Indian politics. The rise of BJP at the Centre is creating a new challenge for the regional parties that derived their strength from caste arithmetic. The issues of development, opportunities for all, and the allegiance to the national cause are coming up fast and the course of politics will be largely decided by the youth of India, who will either lend muscle power to the leaders of their respective castes or be drawn to the apolitical path of development shown by the Modi government. In the latter case, the pride in nationalism will get the youth to back only those regional leaders who governed the state well and did not create political conflict with the Centre.
D.C. Pathak is a former Director, Intelligence Bureau.