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Assembly elections results 2022: BJP takes all laurels, Punjab's AAP wave notwithstanding

Assembly elections results 2022: BJP takes all laurels, Punjab's AAP wave notwithstanding

Assembly elections results 2022: BJP takes all laurels, Punjab's AAP wave notwithstanding
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By Vikas Pathak  Mar 11, 2022 4:20:46 PM IST (Updated)

The wind seems to be blowing the BJP’s way at the national level. This is the key takeaway of this ‘semi-final’ once the dust of electioneering has settled.

The dust has settled on assembly elections 2022. The wind has blown and sent its message across. What do these elections suggest? I was asked on a TV debate whether the headline in my mind would be the BJP’s retention of four states or the Aam Admi Party’s storming of Punjab. I said the headline should have both.

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A day later, the headline seems to be the BJP all the way. Let me explain why.
The retention of Uttar Pradesh by the BJP suggests that, unless political time surprises us by its dizzy pace, the party is set to retain India in 2024. One, the victory comes in a state that sends 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha and without which no party has ever won a clear majority in the Lower House of Parliament.
Two, the victory in UP comes at a time when the BJP was facing two impediments: the purported loss of the influential Jat vote in west UP and an astute OBC-Muslim combination that Samajwadi Party was stitching together, both by weaning away leaders of smaller OBC castes from the BJP and weaving an alliance with the Rashtriya Lok Dal, once considered the party of Jat farmers of western Uttar Pradesh. Yet, the BJP not just swept west UP but also seems to have retained much of its appeal among the non-Yadav OBC castes, despite Akhilesh Yadav increasing his tally by a distance and also increasing his vote share marginally.
The UP victory is the first in decades when the incumbent has won for the second time. In neighbouring Uttarakhand, which was part of UP before the state got reorganised, the BJP has again reversed a trend, by winning a clear majority for the second time, despite replacing two Chief Ministers in quick succession.
Moreover, a party once associated with the Hindi heartland and western India has also won a clear majority in Manipur, after having won Assam two times and toppling the CPI (M) in Tripura. On the map of India, the north-east, once seen by political observers as culturally out of bounds for the BJP, also seems coloured in saffron.
The one state where the party has come a cropper is Punjab. Here, with an immediate context of the anger over the now-repealed farm laws and the snapping of BJP-Shiromani Akali Dal ties, the BJP is nowhere in the race. The Aam Admi Party has swept the state, defeating stalwarts from the Congress and the SAD, including Chief Minister Charanjeet Singh Channi from both seats he contested.
Does the victory of Aam Admi Party suggest that it may soon become a national alternative to the Congress? In politics, nothing is impossible, but it is unlikely that such a thing may happen soon. Moreover, the longer the confusion over which party is a potential challenge for the BJP at the Centre, the better it is for the saffron party. The reason: India may be on the cusp of a unipolar polity, but there is a marked difference from the unipolar polity of the 1950s, when Jawaharlal Nehru was Prime Minister.
By the early 1960s, the country saw the Congress towering above all parties, with all other players — be it the Jana Sangh, the socialists or the Swatantra Party — being much smaller than the Congress. They also lacked the legacy to challenge either the Congress or Nehru. So, the only option they had was to make mutual arrangements either before elections — as in the 1963 Lok Sabha bypolls that saw Ram Manohar Lohia enter the Lok Sabha as a joint opposition candidate — or after polls, as the coming together of opposition parties in many states in 1967 to form unstable Sanyukta Vidhayak Dal governments showed. This sparked a phase of anti-Congressism that unsettled the unipolar polity in the 1960s and in 1977, when opposition parties merged into the Janata Party to defeat the Congress.
However, this was possible because no party had the legacy or the national spread to match the Congress. Today, things are different. While the BJP is in pole position, the Congress, a party that seems to be in terminal decline, has the pride of legacy as also a dwindling yet widespread national vote-bank. It cannot swallow its pride to see regional parties as its equals. And given the consistent decline of the Congress, regional parties like AAP or TMC fancy their chances of replacing it rather than making common cause with it.
What one sees in Punjab is this process. On a TV debate, I saw Raghav Chadha of AAP openly claiming that AAP was best-placed to replace the Congress. The operative word: the bid is to replace the Congress. This is easier said than done, as the Congress has had a steady support base in multiple states, some of them being large and socially complex. For any regional party to come in the fray in multiple states is a long-drawn process fraught with the risk of sudden reversals. And, yet, even as parties try to do so, their aim will be to grow at the expense of the Congress, meaning that anti-BJP votes will split and the BJP will have an easy run.
Given this dynamic where opposition parties are trying to replace rather than bolster the prime opposition party, the BJP is likely to stay in power for several years.
In short, seen nationally, even in its defeat in the face of an AAP wave in Punjab lies a tacit national victory for the BJP. Any quick replacement of the BJP requires the Congress to get its act together. However, as Punjab shows, the party has a dual challenge: stopping the high command from meddling in the affairs of Congress state governments and preventing infighting within state units, something which often comes with the open connivance of the Nehru-Gandhi family, a high-command that commands scant respect in the hearts and minds of voters.
The self-goal of the Congress in Punjab, a state that resisted the Modi wave of 2019 under Amarinder Singh but saw infighting at multiple levels between former Congress leader Captain Singh, Navjot Sidhu, Channi and Sunil Jakhar close to assembly polls, suggests that the victory of AAP actually makes the BJP’s national task easier. For, it splits the opposition into multiple parties anti-BJP voters are looking to experiment with.
The wind seems to be blowing the BJP’s way at the national level. This is the key takeaway of this ‘semi-final’ once the dust of electioneering has settled.
—The author Vikas Pathak is a columnist and media educator. The views expressed here are personal. 
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