Counting day trends of the five state assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur are now in. The way the electoral wind has blown has become clear in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Uttarakhand while it is still neck to neck contest in Goa and Manipur. As per the trends available so far, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), along with its allies, has won 325 seats in the 403-member Uttar Pradesh assembly, an overwhelming majority in the state’s electoral history, ending the party’s 15 year old political exile in the state. Home Minister Rajnath Singh was the BJP’s last chief minister in Uttar Pradesh in 2002. The party has repeated its emphatic show in Uttarakhand, winning 56 of the 70 assembly seats on offer. The Congress has taken Punjab with 76 seats in the 117-member Punjab assembly.
The verdict 2017 is going to write the electoral landscape of India for the next parliamentary polls in 2019, settling down the most important question of the representational camps in the state level and national politics.
And the message is loud clear.
It is going to be the coalitions Vs the BJP in the upcoming assembly polls that may finally culminate in a grand alliance taking on the ruling party in the Centre in the 2019 general elections. In 2018, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura are going to polls while ten states including Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha and Rajasthan have their state polls slated for 2019.
It is to be seen whether these coalitions will learn from the lessons of the experiments done in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. In spite of all the big projections, the BJP had to bite the dust in the 2015 Bihar assembly polls as it was a clear two way fight between the BJP led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the grand political alliance of the Janata Dal United (JDU), the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Congress party that ensured that the anti-BJP votes did not split.
That could not happen in Uttar Pradesh.
While the BJP targeted non-Yadav OBC and non-Jatav Dalit votes, in addition to its traditional vote bank of upper castes and middle class, the triangular contest between the Samajwadi Party (SP)-Congress coalition, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the BJP led NDA saw the anti-BJP votes split between the SP-Congress coalition and the BSP. At the same time, the BJP was able to consolidate its pie riding high on the factors like the Modi wave and polarisation along religious and community lines.
In Bihar, two arch rivals, the JDU and the RJD, could bury their past differences to prevent the BJP juggernaut. Uttar Pradesh would have been a different story had it been for a grand alliance of parties say the SP-BSP-Congress and even Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD). Crisis of political survival may push these parties to come under one umbrella in future as we saw in the overtures of Akhilesh Yadav who offered to go along with the BSP to prevent the BJP’s sail in UP after the exit polls predicted a BJP victory or a hung assembly with the BJP as the largest party in the UP assembly.
The Congress party has effectively lost the electoral space to act as a national alternative to the BJP. The BJP and its allies were already ruling over 60% of India’s geographical area with 43% of its population before today’s verdict and the today’s sweep has taken it to around 70% of the land and 58% of the population. Even if we don’t count Goa and Manipur in BJP’s stable along with today’s results, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand make BJP the ruling party of 14 Indian states while the Congress, that has ruled India for almost 55 years in its 70 years of independent, sovereign history, has shrunk to just five states with Karnataka as the only big state in its fold. The Congress has an alliance government in Puducherry while it is the junior-most alliance partner in Bihar’s ruling coalition. And we should not forget that the states of Goa and Manipur are wide open till majority governments are formed there. When it comes to that, the state may well end up with the BJP.
Though the huge anti-incumbency against the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BJP combine has given Congress an emphatic victory in Punjab, the party has seen a humiliating loss in Uttarakhand where even its chief minister Harish Rawat could not save his assembly constituencies. To make Congress’ plight more visible, we have examples of Goa and Manipur. Congress claimed to win both of these states but the trends so far belie such claims. The north-eastern state of Manipur has been a traditional stronghold of the Congress party while it was expecting the anti-BJP incumbency to deliver Goa for it.
Manipur and Goa are small states, with 60 and 40 assembly seats respectively and the trends available so far say that it is a neck to neck fight between the BJP and the Congress in both of these states and the smaller parties and the independents will play the kingmaker in deciding who is going to form the government next. If the BJP has been able to form its government in Manipur, it will give the ruling party of India its second direct opening in the north-eastern region of India after Assam win in 2016.
If it happens so, the BJP will have presence in four of the eight north-eastern states, i.e., Assam, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland. After a series of dramatic upheavals, the BJP has its government in Arunachal Pradesh while Nagaland’s ruling Naga People’s Front (NPF) is its alliance partner. So another BJP advance in the region at the cost of the Congress will limit the Congress’ influence like the one of regional parties while will add one more, and necessary, feather in the BJP’s drive to become a true pan-India political party.
This BJP spread is a crisis moment for the Congress, the SP, the BSP and many other state and regional parties and it will write the way further for the electoral politics in India. The crisis will eventually force them to come together to take on the BJP might. The future electoral landscape of India is thus expected to be dotted by coalitions and more coalitions against the BJP, in the upcoming assembly polls and in the mega electoral show in 2019 when we will chose our next set of parliamentarians. And Congress will have no choice but to become part of such coalitions, accepting junior roles, like it did in Bihar, and like it has done in Uttar Pradesh.