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വായന

21 October, 2014

Modi in for a long innings

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Those who saw the Bharatiya Janata Party’s lacklustre performance in the September by-elections as a sign that the Modi wave, which swept it into power at the Centre in May, was petering out have been proved wrong.

In last week’s State Assembly elections it won an absolute majority in Haryana and secured near-majority in Maharashtra. In both states it boosted its vote share substantially — from 9.04 per cent to 33.2 per cent in Haryana and from 14.2 per cent to 27.8 per cent in Maharashtra.

Both the states will now have BJP chief ministers for the first time. The party was a junior partner of the Shiv Sena in the coalition which ruled Maharashtra between 1995 and 1999. Although the alliance continued even afterwards, power eluded the Hindutva pair. This time, as the party which holds the reins at the Centre, the BJP was unwilling to play second fiddle to the Shiv Sena. This led to breakdown of the coalition

The Congress-National Congress Party alliance, which ruled the state continuously for 15 years, also broke down before the elections, resulting in a virtual free-for-all.

The Shiv Sena and the NCP ended their partnerships thinking they will be able to improve their position and drive a better bargain after the elections. The results dashed their hopes.

Even though the Shiv Sena, which had 44 seats in the 288-member house, raised its strength to 63, the BJP confounded it by raising its strength from 46 to 122 — just 22 short of the half-way mark.

The Congress party’s strength fell from 82 to 42 and the NCP’s from 62 to 41. In a bid to make the best out of the situation, NCP leader Praful Patel offered to support a BJP government from outside. The BJP responded coolly to the unsolicited offer.

The BJP had a good case when it sought more seats from the Shiv Sena since it had a higher success rate in both the 2009 Assembly elections and the recent Lok Sabha elections. In the 2009 Assembly elections the Sena contested 160 seats and the BJP 119. The BJP won 46, but the Sena could win only 44. In this year’s Lok Sabha elections, too, as the major partner, the Sena contested more seats than the BJP but it could win only 18 seats as against the BJP’s 23.

Uddhav Thackeray, who became head of the Shiv Sena on the death of his father Bal Thackeray, the founder of the party, was not ready to give up its primacy in the coalition as he was keen to become the chief minister. When he rejected a suggestion that the two parties share seats equally, the BJP decided to go it alone.

Modi, who was the BJP’s main campaigner, concentrated his attacks on the Congress and the NCP. He tactfully refrained from attacking the Shiv Sena. “This is the first election in the absence of Bal Thackeray, for whom I have great respect,” he said. “I have decided not to utter a single word against the Shiv Sena. That is my tribute to Balasaheb Thackeray.”

Once Uddhav Thackeray gets over the frustration over his party’s loss of primacy in the state to the BJP he is sure to realise that his best option now lies in coming to terms with its reduced status and reviving the alliance with the BJP as the senior partner. That will spare the BJP the awkward situation of having to accept the NCP’s support to form the government.

The Congress had hoped to do well in these elections as both Maharashtra and Haryana prospered under the coalition governments led by it. However, the urban middle classes’ fascination for the Modi brand and the double burden of corruption charges and anti-incumbency, did it in. It ended up in the third place in both the states.

Having lost power in two more states, the Congress party’s stature as a national party has shrunk further. Of the 18 states which have 10 or more seats in the Lok Sabha, only two, Assam and Karnataka, are now under Congress rule. In a third, Kerala, it heads the ruling coalition. The BJP is in control of seven states and is a part of the ruling coalition in one. The remaining seven states are under as many different parties.

It needs to be noted that all the BJP’s gains are not at the expense of the Congress. The decline of the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra and the Indian National Lok Dal in Haryana indicates that it is weaning away people from the regional parties too.

The election results have buttressed the position of Modi and his lieutenant and party president Amit Shah in the BJP. With the battered Congress yet to refloat itself and the non-Congress opposition parties unable to put their act together, the BJP under Modi’s captaincy is well set for a long innings. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, October 21, 2014.

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