As the first of the three-phased electoral process kicks in, in Bihar on Wednesday, chief minister Nitish Kumar is standing at the cusp of history as no incumbent has ever won a fourth term in the Hindi heartland in the last four decades. If Nitish wins a fourth term, which we would know on November 10 on the day of the counting of votes, he will become the first to do so in the Hindi speaking state.
A defeat for Nitish and the Janata Dal (United) (JDU) led alliance will be largely in line with the past trends where no incumbent party in the Hindi belt has won a fourth consecutive term. No surprise, this has raised expectations in the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)-led opposition camp hoping a lot from anti-incumbency.
If the ruling JDU-BJP alliance under Nitish wins a fourth term, the JDU will join the list of chief ministers like Naveen Patnaik in Odisha, Manik Sarkar in Tripura, Jyoti Basu in West Bengal or Pawan Chamling in Sikkim, who have won at least four or more straight terms. In fact, Sikkim Democratic Front’s Chamling’s over 24-year stint or five terms between December 1994 and May 2019 is the longest any chief minister has ever served in the office. Chamling is trailed by Basu’s 23 years in West Bengal and Arunachal Pradesh’s Gegong Apang.
In Bihar, prior to Nitish, the Lalu-Rabri combination ruled the state between 1990 and 2005, winning three straight elections. RJD supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav first became the chief minister of the state leading a Janata Dal government. He eventually broke the party in 1997 to form the RJD amid allegations related to the fodder scam. With Lalu facing investigations and shifting to the national politics, the party was led by his wife Rabri Devi in the state as CM between 1997 and 2005.
Elsewhere in the heartland, Bharatiya Janata Party’s three-time chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan came closer to winning the fourth term but ultimately lost to the Congress party by a slender margin in terms of seats in Madhya Pradesh.
Chouhan has now again become the chief minister in the aftermath of the political coup by Jyotiraditya Scindia camp in the Congress and may still end up as one of the longest-reigning chief ministers in the heartland.
Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh helmed the BJP government in the state from 2003 to 2018, eventually losing power to the Congress.
In Uttarakhand, no party has won two consecutive terms since the creation of the state in 2000.
The political situation in the most populous heartland state of Uttar Pradesh has also been volatile with no party winning a second term since 1989.
The only time Rajasthan has returned a government for the second term was in 1993 when BJP’s Bhairon Singh Shekhawat won. Since then, the power has alternated between the BJP and Congress with the latter winning in the 2018 assembly elections. Since the early 1990s, the trend in Himachal Pradesh is also similar with no party returning to power for a second term.
Delhi had returned the Congress party to power for three consecutive terms between 1998 and 2013 with Sheila Dikshit at the helm. Following the assembly polls in the national capital in 2013, the balance of power has shifted in favour of the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
Moving away from the Hindi belt, Gujarat has been the only state in the last four decades that has returned the BJP to power six times with the party governing the state for over two decades.
In Odisha, Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal (BJD) has been winning since 2000, five terms, making the incumbent the longest-serving chief minister currently.The Left Front won a record seven times in West Bengal between 1977 and 2011. The five of these elections were won under Basu at the helm and two terms under Buddhadeb Bhattacharya.