Travel down north and west India. You will see a glimmer of Congress rule, as a junior partner or alone, in Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh. But drive past Punjab and now Haryana, through Rajasthan and Gujarat, enter Maharashtra, and take a detour through Goa, return to the Indian heartland of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, and you will be in saffron territory. With Sunday’s win, a large belt of north and western India – demographically sizeable – is now under BJP’s grip.
The pattern is unmistakable. The Congress – India’s old natural party of governance – is losing state after state even as BJP – on an upward trajectory – is now becoming the preferred choice as party in power for many.
A caveat is important. Four out of the five states in South India are outside the BJP ambit – it is only in alliance with TDP in Andhra Pradesh. Two of India’s biggest states, UP and Bihar, remain with regional parties. The east – West Bengal and Odisha – is with Trinamul Congress and Biju Janata Dal, and the BJP is not in power in any north-eastern state.
But with BJP set to form governments in Chandigarh and Mumbai, the number of state governments it has a stake in will go up to nine. In 1998, when Sonia Gandhi took over the Congress, her party was in power in four states. The party went up to governing 17 states, either alone or in alliance, in 2004. And while it still has more states numerically than BJP, this number is down to 12 states – out of which two states are in the south (Kerala and Karnataka) and six are in the north-east.
The BJP seems to be keenly aware of its weak spots. And this is why party strategist say its focus will shift east. They will invest political muscle in Bihar, embark on an unprecedented campaign in West Bengal, Assam and Odisha, before turning their focus back on the state that gave them a majority in the Lok Sabha – Uttar Pradesh in 2017. If the winning pattern continues, be prepared for an even longer drive through saffron territory.