Hold your celebrations: Why BJP should worry about a 'Congress-mukt' India

If there is one party that should be worried about India becoming 'Congress-mukt', it is the BJP. Results of elections in four major states indicate the BJP needs its arch rival to succeed — it feeds off the failures of the Congress.

It is natural for the BJP to celebrate its maiden victory in Assam. It isn't often that a party with just four percent seats in an Assembly goes on to sweep the next election with a four-fifth majority. With nearly 90 seats in the 126-member Assam assembly, the BJP alliance has indeed achieved the impossible.

But, here is a caveat: BJP won Assam because the conditions were tailor-made for any credible opposition to the Congress. The factors that decided the outcome in Assam had very little to do with national politics. And Narendra Modi wasn't one of them.

Hope and promises of achche din, factors that helped BJP win a series of elections from 2012-2015, before the AAP stopped its juggernaut, were not the talking points in Assam. The election was decided only by just fear.

Assam's demography had undergone a major change over the past few decades. Since early 19th century, immigrants from the east, first East Bengal and later Bangladesh, had taken the number of Muslims to almost 35 per cent of the population. More than 30 per cent of them are believed to be of migrant origin.

Since the number of Muslims were growing, ethnic Assamese tribes and other Hindu voters — Marwaris, Bengalis and those from Nepal — were worried about the state turning into another Kashmir, a minority-majority state.

Political competitors, BJP can only win when pitted against Congress. Reuters

Political competitors, BJP can only win when pitted against Congress. Reuters

This fear among Assamese people of becoming a minority in their own land was enhanced by the presence of the All India United Democratic Front led by Badruddin Ajmal. In the 2011 election, people had reposed their faith in the Congress because they wanted to keep Ajmal out and also hoped that Tarun Gogoi would stop the inflow of illegal immigrants in the state.

But, the Congress failed to take effective measures to address the issue. To its credit, the BJP read the mood of the state early, turned immigration into the single-biggest issue of the election and stitched up alliances to ensure the majority vote doesn't disintegrate.

Results of the polls in the three other states — Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal — are mixed for the BJP. Early trends suggest its vote share in Kerala (11 per cent) has stagnated since the 2014 elections and in WB it has actually come down from 17 to just 10 percent.

In Kerala, it was expected to expand its base because of the alliance with Bharatiya Dharma Jana Sena, an umbrella organisation of Ezhavas, a dominant backward community that was traditionally a supporter of the Left. But, it has done well only in its traditional strongholds like Trivandrum and Kasaragod.

If you analyse the election closely, it becomes apparent that the BJP is doing well only in states where its major rival is the Congress. In states where it is pitted against a strong regional party, the BJP flounders. Like it did in Bihar and Delhi before this round of elections.

This theory would be put to test again in the next round of elections slated in 2017. In Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, the BJP's major rivals would be strong regional parties--AAP in one and SP-BSP in the other. When the next round is held, there will be no borders to seal, no immigrants to stop and no ageing Gogois to dislodge. This is when the BJP will be put to a tougher test.

Be that as it may, a 'Congress-mukt Bharat', a process that had started in 2013, still appears to be a possibility. But, to conclude that the Congress is dead and buried after the losses in this round would be erroneous. From the very beginning, the Congress was not expected to win in Kerala, where voters have the habit of throwing out the incumbent.

In Tamil Nadu it was non-existent and in West Bengal the Congress was just the sleeping partner in an opportunistic alliance. Assam was the only state it could have won.

So, Congress-mukt Bharat is still work in progress.

The next two years would be decisive for the Congress. If (caveat: too early and too small a sample) results of the recent MCD bypolls in Delhi are an indication, it is actually bouncing back in the Capital. It is the AAP's main rival in Punjab, the BJP's principal adversary in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka, and still a major force in Maharashtra.

Only if the party loses elections in all these states, gets wiped out the way it has been in Assam, will the BJP be able to claim India has become 'Congress-mukt'.

What if it ends up winning some of these states? Perhaps it may not be such a bad news for the BJP.

Updated Date: May 20, 2016 17:35 PM

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