The BJP made stunning inroads into the Northeast, wresting power from the Congress in Assam for the first time on Thursday, riding an anti-incumbency wave that two powerful women chief ministers, Mamata Banerjee and J Jayalalithaa, overcame in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu.
The Congress’ electoral downslide continued as its scandal-tainted coalition government lost to the Left in Kerala. The party, which has lost six state elections since the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, however, picked up a consolation prize of sorts in Puducherry by defeating the regional All India NR Congress (AINRC).
The Left’s poor showing in West Bengal took the shine off its victory in Kerala. Despite stitching up an unprecedented alliance with rival Congress, it was made to bite the dust in the state and was reduced to a poor third. Banerjee’s charisma saw her ruling Trinamool Congress notching up a nearly three-fourths majority in a House of 294, despite a campaign rocked by allegations of corruption by party leaders.
The BJP was the biggest winner of the day as it also picked up its first assembly seat in Kerala and several in West Bengal.
The party now controls 13 of India’s 29 states; the Congress wields power in just six — added up from the Northeast and Himachal Pradesh, with Karnataka the only large one.
In Assam, a credible local face in the shape of Union minister Sarbananda Sonowal, strategic alliances with local outfits and a tempered Hindutva agenda that exploited local fears of being swamped by illegal immigrants proved a successful recipe for the party.
“The poll results have demonstrated that the BJP’s ideology of development and its tireless efforts to bring about change in the lives of common masses are being well accepted and supported by the people,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said.
Banerjee savoured her victory by coming down hard on her rivals. “The BJP is a divisive force. The Congress knows how to lose friends,” she said while talking about how she enjoys good equations with leaders such as her Delhi and Bihar counterparts, Arvind Kejriwal and Nitish Kumar, respectively.
Jayalalithaa, the first Tamil Nadu chief minister to be re-elected in three decades, spoke about how all parties were against her: “I believed in God and had associated myself with the people,” she said.
The BJP’s impressive show will revive a drive to expand its footprint beyond its traditional base in north India, an attempt that was derailed by back-to-back reverses in Delhi and Bihar last year.
The victories are also likely to reinforce BJP president Amit Shah’s image as an election winner and provide a much-needed morale booster for the party in the run-up to next year’s crucial polls in seven states, including Uttar Pradesh and Punjab.
“The country is two steps closer to creating a Congress-mukt Bharat,” said Shah in Delhi. “The verdict is a lesson for the Congress for its obstructionist politics in Parliament,” he added.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi said “We will introspect on the reasons for our loss and rededicate ourselves to the service of the people with greater vigour… hope that good governance and development shall remain the centre point of political discourse.”