Seen cumulatively, the outcome of the Assembly elections in four major states has a common message: regional parties with tested antecedents are back in favour. Secondly, the farther the people are removed from the Centre, they are more likely to treat the promises doled out by the domineering duo of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with disdain and to more likely to treat them nothing more than a lot of hot air, totally bereft of even an iota of life-giving oxygen so much in demand across the BJP’s ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’.
Landslide win of the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress in West Bengal is the major surprise emanating from the verdict. That the forecasters were wide off the mark is the smaller part of the story. The fact that Mamata-led Trinamool Congress outdid her own stellar performances is perhaps more noteworthy in that the lady took on the might of the BJP single-handedly and ensured that the party ruling the Centre is still nowhere in the reckoning when it comes to West Bengal. All that the BJP can now take for consolation is that it just retained its hold over Assam though with reduced margin and perhaps is in the best position to contrive a majority in the tiny Union Territory of Puducherry. As for Tamil Nadu and Kerala, people are still in no mood to touch the BJP even with a barge pole and have better and more experienced alternatives if they wish to change the incumbents. However, in case of Kerala, they have bucked the 45-year old trend of alternating their preferences, by handing over a sound mandate to the incumbent Left government a second consecutive term. Curiously, the BJP which opened its account in 2016 in the State Assembly has found the doors shut this time round. As for Tamil Nadu, though power has shifted from one Kazhgam (AIADMK) to another Kazhgam (DMK), the former has retained substantial ground and would provide robust opposition to the new incumbent. Not to be missed are the relentlessly sagging fortunes of the Indian National Congress which failed to even maintain its former level of presence in the States.
Stunning results in WB
But among them all, it is the outcome in West Bengal that is stunning and was totally unexpected. Poll pundits had only grudgingly predicted a marginal victory at best or a cliffhanger at worst, for Didi and her TMC. But Didi proved them thoroughly wrong and has managed to win seats nearly three times more than the nearest challenger, the BJP. It can now safely be assumed that the BJP’s gains have mainly come from the total decimation of the Congress and the Left combine which will have almost no seats in the new House. Joining of a crypto-religious outfit masquerading as ‘Indian Secular Front’ has proved of no avail for the two parties. With BJP increasing its tally in the West Bengal House from previous three to 74 (even as leads are yet to turn into wins), the State’s polity is all likely to see a reset.
High octane campaign
Didi’s victory is also notable because the BJP had been in fray with its huge propaganda and poll machinery with no-holds barred, high octane campaign. It was an election in which the ruling dispensation at the Centre stooped low well beyond imagination to divide the people and to woo certain sections. The Prime Minister even did not think twice about the appropriateness of visiting Matua community shrine at Thakurbari in Bangladesh on March 26 at the peak of the election campaign with an eye on the votes of a particular community (Matua), bulk of whom live in West Bengal.
AIADMK down, but not out
The outcomes in Assam, Tamil Nadu and Kerala are almost on expected and predicted lines. The DMK’s performance is though emphatic, is far less than a repeat of clean sweep it accomplished in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Despite absence of any iconic figures like the MGR or Jayalalithaa, the party has ably sustained itself as a viable alternative the people can look up to. The measly four seats win of the BJP in the States, goes to prove that the Dravidian parties retain strong bases and intrusions by national parties, if any, need to be at their sufferance.
Kerala has made history in that it rejected the claim of the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) to rule by a vast margin, allowing the CPM-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) for to continue in the saddle. It has happened for the first time in 45 years since the two distinct fronts came to dominate Kerala. That Pinrayi Vijayan has managed to beat off the challenge from the UDF despite two devastating floods and reverses suffered by the LDF during the 2019 Lok Sabha election (when the UDF won 16 of the 20 seats), points to a remarkable recovery.
The comeback of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in Assam was though predicted, leaves a few imponderables. It is no surprise that the Congress faced trepidation over joining forces with the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) led by Maulana Badruddin Ajmal. The Congress had shied away from doing this during the last several elections. The two major parties came together in what was called ‘Mahajot’ of around ten parties, in order to tap the benefit of consolidated Muslim votes. Yet the outcome leaves much to be desired and looks like the parties failed to derive the anticipated benefits. Perhaps the alliance would require a few more elections before the two vote banks coalesce into some viable base.
But the larger question that begs an answer is if the mandate has any message for India as a whole now that the BJP is a pale shadow of its former self and much of its rhetoric having come unstuck? It must have left the domineering duo who doled out the promises by dozens dumbfounded. Unfortunately, the verdict lacks a cogent response and all that one can conclude is that no central pole seems to be emerging around which the regional forces can align. With the Indian National Congress refusing to rise and deep divisions keeping its leadership in inactive mode, chants for a federal front are all likely to surface from regional satraps opposed to the BJP’s continuance at the Centre. It is certainly does not provide a response to the disconcerting questions that would be raised by those who are looking for an alternative.
M A Siraj is Bengaluru based seasoned journalist who writes for a variety of newspapers including The Hindu, and news portals.