This was not supposed to be a competitive round. After the big BJP wins in Maharashtra and Haryana in the Lok Sabha elections only 5 months ago and the widely perceived support for decisions on J&K, the party’s win was a given. However, voters sprang a surprise by denying BJP a majority in Haryana and restricting its mandate in Maharashtra. The outcome will disappoint BJP and could trigger introspection about the adequacy of its “nationalist” plank in local leagues, especially amid an economic slowdown. It does not undercut its political pre-eminence but sharply underscores the challenges to its bid for countrywide dominance that Congress once enjoyed.
The less-than-impressive saffron show just when it had seemed “unreachable” by a big distance is a tribute to the tenacity of the “local” — short-hand for personalities and factors that influence choices at the grassroots. They may be pushed to the background in an LS poll, yielding an overarching theme or a popular national leader like Narendra Modi, but return with vengeance in state elections. Results of by-elections and, in many cases, success of rebels are also a testimony to the resilience of the rooted. The Indian experience provides validation for former US Speaker Tip O’ Neill, who famously said all politics is local.
A slowing economy, unemployment and rural distress were issues and the jury is out on whether and to what degree they hurt BJP. Opposition parties predictably brought them up and pointed to a sullen mood. But to what ‘extent’ remains unresolved, considering that BJP picked up over 300 seats in the LS election against what some considered a very adverse setting. Also, BJP faced incumbency in both Haryana and Maharashtra and couldn’t have returned the numbers they did if they had faced large-scale resentment. Possibly, the discontent over kitchen table themes kept BJP from fully leveraging its assets
Caste solidarity which yielded to Modi’s personal popularity and the strength of his plank, proved its salience yet again.
The dominant castes of Marathas and Jats, who were feeling downsized, demonstrated their relevance.
The performance of Pawar and Hooda owe a lot to caste support which also boosted new regional satrap Dushyant Chautala. The staunch support from their kin allowed their leaders to forge formidable social constituencies at the local level
Difficult to say to what extent the seemingly popular move to do away with the special status for J&K helped or hindered BJP. For, finding a reliable answer would require complete clarity on how the party would have performed if the ‘nationalist’ issue had not been in play. Also, Congress leader Bhupinder Singh Hooda broke ranks with Rahul Gandhi to back the decision, while NCP’s Sharad Pawar and JJP’s Dushyant Chautala refrained from opposing it. But the slim win in Maharashtra and failure to score an outright win in Haryana will reinforce the view that local can trump national in regional arenas. Opposition parties may feel encouraged to resist BJP’s aggressive posture on the matter
From Arvind Kejriwal to Mamata Banerjee, regional satraps must be relieved.
For, an emphatic performance by BJP would have left it thirsting for similar feats on their turfs. It could also have lent impetus to JD(U) chief Nitish Kumar’s scarcely concealed plan to keep BJP as his junior partner in Bihar for the coming state elections had he not fared so poorly in the by-polls
Whether allegations of corruption influence polls has been debated endlessly with people voting out the allegedly corrupt only to bring them back the next time. This time too, graft charges failed to dent Pawar or Hooda. Pawar, in fact, shrewdly turned a courtdirected ED inquiry to fend off BJP’s aggressive designs