I wager the real significance of the Haryana and Maharashtra results lies beyond the simple fact of who wins. It’s the implied message about the churning in Indian politics that is of deeper importance. It may be slow and silent but it’s steadily advancing. Such subterranean movements can lead to tectonic change.
I see it as a two-part message. First, the polls suggest a shift from regional to national parties. The NCP and Shiv Sena could be pushed to the wall in Maharashtra whilst in Haryana the BJP may outperform the INLD and demolish the Haryana Janhit Congress.
Earlier we saw a similar shift in Karnataka and it could, in time, happen in Jammu and Kashmir and Tamil Nadu. That, of course, depends on how successful the BJP’s Mission 44 is in the former state and how debilitated the AIADMK and DMK are in the latter. But the possibility of a national party government is no longer hard to conceive of.
There is, however, a trend in the opposite direction we should acknowledge before explaining it away. If you look at the by-election results in Bihar, where the JD(U), RJD and Congress allied to check the BJP, or in UP, where the Samajwadi Party with help from the BSP, which abstained, defeated the BJP, you get a different message.
But is this an instance of regional parties reversing the trend in favour of national parties or simply holding it up? The next state elections will give the answer. My hunch is the BJP will win comfortably in both states.
Meanwhile there are also two states where, at the moment, regional parties reign supreme. The key question is for how long.
This May, in West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee won 34 out of the 42 seats and BJP only two. But the BJP’s vote share was an astonishing 17% and if that rises to 25 at the next state elections the challenge it will pose the Trinamool would be serious.
Mamata Banerjee knows, even if she won’t publicly admit it, the BJP could be her nemesis.
Five months ago in Orissa, the BJD won 20 out of the 21 Lok Sabha seats and 117 out of the 147 Vidhan Sabha seats in its best performance in four elections. The Congress was altogether eliminated from the Lok Sabha tally whilst the BJP got just one seat.
So is Orissa a regional bastion that’s successfully resisting national parties?
Perhaps but there are pointers that suggest otherwise. In May, the BJP’s vote share was an incredible 22%. Since then the BJD’s image has been tainted by a sudden and surprising series of scams. And by the next elections Naveen Patnaik will be nearly 73.
This brings me to the second part of the message from Haryana and Maharashtra. The national party that’s squeezing regional forces is the BJP. Not the Congress. It lost badly to the TRS and TDP in Telangana and Andhra and could face crippling defeat in Maharashtra and Haryana.
So the second message is the steady march forward of the BJP as the dominant national party. Indeed, even the number of states it controls will soon be more than that of the Congress. At the moment, not counting Maharashtra and Haryana, the Congress has eight compared to the BJP’s five, which later today could rise to seven. Over the next few years if the Congress loses Assam, Karnataka, Uttarakhand and, perhaps, Arunachal and Kerala the party will further shrink whilst the BJP can only grow.
My conclusion is simple: Indian politics is changing faster than we realise. The question is how far this will go.
The views expressed by the author are personal