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15 March, 2016

BJP bid to extend footprint

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

India has six political organisations which the Election Commission has recognised as national parties. They are, in the order of their appearance on the political scene, the Congress, the Communist Party of India, the Bharatiya Janata Party, the CPI-Marxist, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the National Congress Party.

They owe their national status to the easy terms set by the Commission. When the CPI was about to lose its national status a few years ago, the Commission lowered the norms to help it remain a national party.

The Congress party has declined since the days of the first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Nationally, it has been pushed to the second place by the BJP. In the big states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu it is in the third, fourth or even still lower place.

For several decades, the influence of the two Communist parties has been limited to the three states of West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura. Five years ago the regional Trinamool Congress brought to an end three decades of Left rule in West Bengal.

The Bahujan Samaj Party of former UP Chief Minister Mayawati and the National Congress Party of former Maharashtra strongman Sharad Pawar are essentially one-state parties with just enough presence elsewhere to qualify for national status.

The BJP is the only national party which has recorded growth in the recent past. In the 2014 parliamentary elections, Narendra Modi led it to a spectacular victory, and it became the first party to secure an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha in three decades.

While it swept several states in the north and the west, it could not make much headway in the east and the south.

Two eastern states, West Bengal and Assam, and two southern states, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, are going to the polls in May to elect new Assemblies. Assam has been under Congress rule for 15 years. In Kerala, the Congress-led United Democratic Front is seeking an unprecedented second successive term. West Bengal and Tamil Nadu are ruled by regional parties.

These states, which together account for 113 Lok Sabha seats, had contributed only 10 seats to the BJP’s tally of 281 in 2014. The party is hoping to use the opportunity provided by the Assembly elections to extend its footprint in these regions.

In the Lok Sabha elections the BJP had done well in Assam, winning seven of its 14 seats with the help of regional parties aligned with it. In West Bengal it got only two out of 42 seats and in Tamil Nadu just one out of 39.

Assam is the only one of the four states where the BJP is represented in the Assembly at present. It has five members in the 126-member house. It has no members in the outgoing Assemblies of West Bengal and Tamil Nadu.

Kerala has been inhospitable to Hindutva politics all along. Neither the BJP nor its predecessor, the Jana Sangh, ever won a Lok Sabha or Assembly seat in the state. However, in last year’s local bodies elections the BJP did well in some urban centres, including the capital city of Thiruvananthapuram, where it emerged as the second largest party in the City Corporation after the CPI-M.

This has led to high hopes in the BJP camp, and the party’s national leadership and its ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, are directly plotting the party’s campaign in the state to take advantage of what they view as a favourable situation.

A key element of their strategy is attracting sections of the backward castes and Dalits who are disillusioned with both the CPI-M and the Congress for one reason or another. Traditionally, the bulk of these sections have voted for the Left. The BJP has succeeded in enlisting the support of a couple of organisations of backward communities but the ability of their leaders to influence electoral conduct remains to be proved.

While the Congress and the CPI-M are engaged in a bitter power struggle in Kerala, their West Bengal units have come to a tacit understanding with the blessings of their national leaderships to take on Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress.

The Trinamool Congress and a few regional parties of Tamil Nadu, including Chief Minister J Jayalithaa’s All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, were constituents of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance when Atal Behari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister. These parties have shown no interest in aligning with Modi’s BJP. The party as well as the RSS must introspect on why its ability to win friends has diminished. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, March 15, 2016.

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