After the results of the Bihar and Delhi assembly elections, a few oft-quoted statements by the Usual Suspects became a staple diet in traditional and social media. ‘The Modi wave has ended’, ‘The Saffron Party is losing ground’, ‘The party is paying the price for its communal politics’, ‘The party can never make inroads outside of its traditional strongholds’, ‘Anti-BJP forces in every state will unite to take down Modi’.
One year and four more assembly elections later, the reality is far more complex. The leanings of the electorate are clearly heading in a direction that is sure to rile up the leftists and Congress sympathisers within politics and outside.
The Congress age is coming to a grinding halt and while the Saffron renaissance is still a few years away, it is clearly the beginning of the Saffron age.
Oft ridiculed, never taken seriously, and treated with absolute condemnation by so-called intellectual circles, these assembly elections clearly prove that Center-right politics is here to stay and will be the narrative to counter the pseudo-secularist and misplaced socialism of the Congress which had long resulted in a major vacuum in the country’s polity and society.
BJP has always been dubbed ignonimously as a ‘cow-belt’ party, and one that is incapable of shrugging its ‘north-Indian’ and ‘Hindi’ narrative. The states it has won so far also seem to indicate this trend, as they are pre-dominantly in the Hindi heartland, barring Maharashtra where it has had some presence as an opposition party for a very long time, and a brief period in the south with Karnataka. The general elections in 2014 changed all that when Prime Minister Modi managed to build a pan-India narrative and win seats in states where it had seemed unfathomable years ago. The big question mark going into these assembly elections though was whether the BJP could translate the goodwill on a state platform, and gain a foothold in these non-traditional states.
And the answer to that question is, yes it has, and in ways that is clearly the genesis of the Saffron age.
While the big story of the day for the party would be its remarkable victory in Assam, double digit vote shares in all the other states except for Tamil Nadu is even more crucial to its long-term plans. Winning Kerala and West Bengal was never really in the picture as it had no base to speak of in these states, and to this day lacks a local face to lead the party to victory. Despite this, it has managed to increase its vote share from roughly 6% to 11% in Bengal, from 9% to 15% in Kerala. The cynics would point out that the party has lost voteshare relative to its performance in the 2014 generals in West Bengal, but this is a facetious comparison and can be described straw clutching at best.
Building the base for Saffron Age:
While the BJP has surprised its naysayers with its stellar performance, it needs to also go through a period of critical insight for its own good. The party was riding on the strength of anti-incumbency of the Tarun Gogoi Govt., but in order to emerge as a credible alternative, it had to get away from parachuting the Prime Minister in from Delhi like it had in previous assembly elections. While PM Modi was once again their star campaigner, by projecting Sarbananda Sonawal as the presumptive CM candidate, and by shaping a local narrative, the party ensured that the goodwill it earned in the 2014 general elections could be transformed into actual gains also in the assembly polls.
The Assam victory shows that the BJP is at its strongest when it has local faces to lead the campaign, and this is something they will have to take cognizance of in forthcoming elections. If the party manages to cross the crucial 25% voteshare mark in Bengal and Kerala, the bipolarity in these states will be in serious jeopardy. Bengal in particular seems to be in no mood to allow the left to come back to power anytime in the near future, and the BJP has the odds of gaining the anti-TMC vote in its favor. Kerala with its close voteshare margins is trickier, but with its avowed voter base it’s unlikely the LDF will lose its presence, which means much of the increasing BJP voteshare will come from the UDF, spelling even greater disaster for the Congress. Tamil Nadu has once again shown its stubborness to stick to the two major Dravidian parties, and the BJP would be better off allying itself with Jayalalitha until a true political vacuum develops in the state which could be as early as 2019.
Saffron Age marks the end of the road for the Congress:
The biggest loser in this election is once again the Congress. It has tried everything from going alone to being a minor player in an alliance, but it has only ended up losing Kerala and Assam, and gotten a drubbing in Tamil Nadu. While the party can take some solace for its performance in Bengal, it would be a pyrrhic victory at best, if one could even call it that.
The party has tried every trick in its book to regain some of the ground that it has been losing since 2011, but it has failed miserably. The last major state where the party has any presence left now is Karnataka and word on the ground is that people are fed up with Siddharamiah and this state could slip out of its hand as well come 2017.
With Punjab turning into a three way battle, the Congress appears like a deer in the headlights forced to take solace in Municipal polls to sing paeans about the leadership of Rahul Gandhi. Their so-called Chanakya Prashant Kishor has his work cut out if he wants to make the party win the UP elections, and the pan-India loss of confidence that it is suffering will only increase his woes. One would hope that the Congress realises that it is in their best interest that the party plays ball in Rajya Sabha and allow for the smooth functioning of the house, lest public anger gets compounded going into the next set of polls. In particular, the BJP has been struggling to pass the GST since it formed the Govt., with the Congress and its acolytes affecting disruptions in the Upper house. This is bound to change now, and while the party would not gain a significant majority in the Rajya Sabha, Mamata and Jaya’s victory will help their cause as both parties are in favor of the GST. The BJP can now try and drum up enough support for the GST through other regional parties, alienating the Congress further.
Saffron Age – The road ahead:
Indian politics for long was considered to be as Congress vs. the rest, but it is no longer the case. The present and the future narrative shall be BJP vs. the United Opportunistic Alliance of disparate partners. The BJP now faces its biggest test in UP where it will battle a multi-polar contest of epic proportions. It will also need to counter the anti-incumbency wave against the Akali Dal in Punjab, and closer home, against Anandi Patel in Gujarat. A credible face in Karnataka will ensure that the party would have a Govt. in every single geographic boundary of the country by the time general elections happen in 2019. The Congress on the other hand, will need to perform some serious course correction, or else it will simply have to watch in silence, and reminisce about a time that was, and a time that never will be.