Assembly polls of 5 states: A different perspective

By Cleofato A Coutinho
21 May 2016 12:01 IST

The results of elections to four states and one union territory assemblies are on expected lines, except in Tamil Nadu where Jayalalita was seen as formidable, but exit polls gave a different impression. Kerala also kept up to its image of changing governments every five years. After the failure of the Congress to align with Badrudhin Ajmal of AIUDF it was certain that the BJP would have a gate way in the North East.  

Normally the party ruling the Centre is at advantage and tends performs better in the polls as the states wish to derive benefits from the centre. The party is also in a position to use official machinery. History tells us that the ruling party at the center which gets to power by decimating the other side rarely looses in the first half. Look at the 1977 elections, the Janata wave that swept the country brought the Janata governments in the states. Similarly the Indira wave of 1980 brought back the Congress governments. Even the V P Singh wave of 1989 brought Janata Dal governments in the Hindi heartland of UP and Bihar.

Looking at History it looks strange that despite the victories in Haryana and Maharashtra, the BJP was decimated in Delhi and Bihar. The sweep in Assam is only due to the failure of the other side to come together. AIUDF with 18 seats and 3 MPs could certainly give an arithmetic advantage to the Congress party. The combine had a ten percentage advantage over BJP even in 2014. If the party could align with the left in West Bengal there is hardly any argument as to why there could not be an alliance in Assam.  Tarun Gogoi is seen as a last regional satrap who tried his best to make the election something about Assamese nationalism against the Hindu nationalism of the BJP. The failure at alliance making is largely due to the fact that this satrap and the Congress party live in their past glory and are unable to come to terms with reality that BJP is now the dominant pole of Indian politics.

These election results were never over who will form the governments in the four states but over their impact on national politics. The results demonstrate that regional parties have withstood the Modi wave. At the time of 2014 elections it was felt that the anti-Congress vote would be converted into a pro-Modi wave resulting in a boost for the party in the assembly elections to come after 2014.  It was expected that Assam and West Bengal would be swept by the Modi wave and a serious dent would be made in the southern states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu.  Its performance in Kerala and Tamil Nadu has been dismal.

Though the results show the downhill trend of the Congress party, the BJP can only console over Assam results. The Congress party has not be in a position revive its fortunes except in rural Gujarat in municipal for some local bodies elections to and some bye polls. The alliance results in Puducherry are hardly a consolation. Arvind Kejriwal and Nitish Kumar seem to   see a silver lining in the declining fortunes of the Congress party and are positioning themselves for the premier slot. But at this stage these are regional forces without any pan India image. The 93-year old Karunanidhi realized the importance of the Congress party and its pan India image despite its minimal presence in Tamil Nadu without G.K. Vasan. Karunanidhi allied with the Congress party only for the arithmetic advantage and better positioning.  

Even at its worst the Congress had a 19% vote share in 2014. There is no statistics to show that it has declined. In fact the alignment with JD (U) and RJD in Bihar, left in West Bengal and DMK in Tamil Nadu shows that the Congress has relevance as a principal pole on the other side of the dominant pole. A lot would dependent upon how the party exploits that position to its advantage. Aligning with the left in West Bengal, RJD and JD(U) in Bihar and DMK in Tamil Nadu in Bihar helped it not to get decimated. Its poor performance in Assam is due to non alignment with AIUML.

Tactical alliances are the key to resurrection of Congress. Veterans in the Congress party who do not contest elections, continue to believe that the party should go to the polls on its own so as not to share electoral space with regional parties. History shows that alliances the party is unable to revive and loose out to regional players. But a party which is neither vibrant nor dynamic and drawing  its inspiration from one family shall have to build its fortune only on the arithmetic advantage and prevent the BJP from expanding. There will have to be electoral understandings with rivals to keep the enemy at bay as long as its leadership fails to catch the imagination of the people.

The alignment with the left in West Bengal is historic. It was actually driven at the local level. The Siliguri Mayor tested the arithmetic advantage in the Siliguri Municipal Corporation and has been the driving force of the alliance with the Congress. Though the veterans in both left and the Congress party opposed such an alliance, seat sharing happened due to the need at the ground level. The alliance may not have succeeded in forming the government but it certainly made the election interesting and halted and chipped into the 17% vote share of the BJP in the 2014 general elections.   

The next round of elections shall be in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Goa. Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Assam have great lessons for the Congress party.  The party will have to sleep with the rivals to keep the enemy at bay.   

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

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Cleofato A Coutinho

Cleofato Almeida Coutinho is a senior lawyer and one of the constitutional expert in Goa. A member of Law Commission of Goa, he also teaches at Kare College of Law in Madgao.

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