Travel to north India and 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 Haryana, through Rajasthan and Gujarat, enter Maharashtra, drive down to Goa, return to the Indian heartland of Madhya Pradesh via Maharashtra and continue to Chhattisgarh — you will not have left saffron territory once.
With Sunday’s win, a large belt of the demographically sizeable north and west India is now under the BJP’s grip.
The pattern is unmistakable. The Congress – India’s old natural party of governance – is losing state after state even as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), on an upward trajectory, is becoming the preferred choice 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 the Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh.
Two of India’s biggest states, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, remain with regional parties. The east — West Bengal and Odisha — is with the Trinamool Congress and the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), and the BJP is not in power in any northeastern state.
But with the 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.
By 2004, the party was governing 17 states, either alone or in alliance. And while it still has more states numerically than the BJP, this number is down to 12 states — of which two are in the south (Kerala and Karnataka) and six are in the northeast.
The BJP seems to be keenly aware of its weak spots. This is why party strategists say its focus will shift east. It will invest political muscle in Bihar, embark on an unprecedented campaign in West Bengal and Assam, before turning its focus back in 2017 on the state that gave it a majority in the Lok Sabha — Uttar Pradesh. If the winning pattern continues, be prepared for an even longer drive through saffron territory.
Full coverage: Maharashtra, Haryana assembly elections