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24 May, 2016

Moving from poll to poll

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The Bharatiya Janata Party has been celebrating its modest gains in the recently concluded Assembly elections in three States and one Union Territory to dispel the popular impression that the Modi magic ended with last year’s setback in Bihar.

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi completes two years in office, with development failing to create jobs, there is a pressing need to boost the morale of the rank and file which slumped following failure to bring Bihar under BJP’s control. Especially so since seven states, including Uttar Pradesh, the most populous one, and Modi’s own Gujarat, are due to go to the polls next year.

The states of West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Assam and the Union Territory of Puducherry, which figured in the election calendar, together account for 116 of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha. In the 2014 parliamentary elections, the BJP could bag only 10 of them. It picked up half of Assam’s 14 seats but got only two out of West Bengal’s 42 and one out of Tamil Nadu’s 39. It drew a blank in Kerala, which has 20 seats. Its regional ally picked up Puducherry’s lone seat.

Modi attached great importance to the Assembly elections in these states, and drew up plans to boost the BJP’s prospects with the help of new allies. The services of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh cadres were requisitioned.

The plan succeeded only in Assam. This was the smallest of the four states and the only one where the BJP and the Congress were in a direct contest for power. The BJP was able to oust the Congress government headed by Tarun Gogoi, which had been in office for 15 years at a stretch, and seize power for the first time in an eastern state.

The BJP won by precipitating a sharp polarisation on religious lines in the state, which has an ethnically diverse population. The party’s Hindu vote share shot up from 43 per cent to 63 per cent, while the Congress’s declined from 30 per cent to 25 per cent.

Muslims constitute a third of Assam’s population. Their number has been rising at a higher rate than that of the Hindus from one census to the next. While the community’s higher birth rate accounts for this partly, the BJP has been attributing it mainly to illegal migration from Bangladesh. Sarbananda Sonowal, the new Chief Minister, has vowed to seal the borders to prevent infiltration.

Both the Congress and the BJP were small players in the large states of West Bengal and Tamil Nadu. The regional parties ruling these states, led by charismatic women, won a second term.

Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress had stormed into power in West Bengal in 2011, putting an end to more than three decades of rule by the Left Front, headed by the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Now in a debilitated state, the CPI (M) entered into an informal alliance with the even more debilitated Congress. They could not prevent Mamata Banerjee’s return with a bang.

The CPI (M) suffered a double defeat. It lost the status of the main opposition to the Congress, which had contested fewer seats but won more than it could.

Tamil Nadu has been ruled by two regional parties, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and its breakaway group, the All India Anna DMK, since 1967. In recent elections the two parties had won in alternate elections. This time AIADMK Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa beat off the DMK’s challenge and secured a second successive term.

The Trinamool Congress and the AIADMK were both constituents of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance when Atal Behari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister, and Mamata Banerjee was a member of his Cabinet. But the two parties have stayed out of Modi’s NDA.

The Congress party forged an alliance with the DMK in Tamil Nadu. Failing to find an ally, the BJP went alone, and 230 of its 232 candidates forfeited their deposits as they got less than one-sixth of the valid votes polled in their constituencies.

In Kerala, where the Congress-led United Democratic Front and the CPI (M)-led Left Democratic Front have been alternating in power for more than three decades, the BJP picked up an Assembly seat for the first time. A new Hindu party set up by the social organisation of the Ezhavas, the largest OBC community, with Modi’s blessings, was its main ally. While the alliance cut into the votes of the UDF and the LDF, it could not prevent the LDF’s assumption of power in keeping with the established pattern.

The Congress which lost power in Assam and Kerala received a consolation prize in Puduchcherry.

Modi, whose forte is electioneering, has already started making plans for next year’s big fights.-- Gulf Today, May 24, 2016.

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