The BJP’s showing in the assembly elections is impressive. In Haryana, it increased its tally from 4 in 2009 to 47 in 2014, thereby securing absolute majority in a house of 90 members. Its vote share increased from 9% in 2009 to 32% in 2014. In Maharashtra, BJP secured 28% of vote (versus 14% in 2009) and 122 seats (46 in 2009). It will need to form an alliance with either the Shiv Sena, or even with Shard Pawar’s NCP.
How might one interpret these results?
1. The Modi wave continues. In both Haryana and Maharashtra, the BJP did not project any leader as its next CM. The BJP sought votes in Modi’s name and voters have responded positively. Thus, the Modi brand remains viable even in state politics.
2. In the previous by-polls, the BJP did poorly. Why? One reason is that Modi did not campaign in by-polls. Thus, it is now clear that “BJP is Modi and Modi is BJP” (with apologies to DK Barua). Indian politics has again become incredibly person-centric after a gap of about 4 decades.
3. Regional parties, beware! Hitherto, the BJP played a second fiddle to the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, and Chautala’s INLD in Haryana. No longer. Recall, about 3 weeks ago, the Shiv Sena was not willing to concede even 125 seats to the BJP. Now the Shiv Sena’s tally stands at 63, about half of the BJP. Raj Thackeray MNS has done very poorly and secured 1 seat only (13 previously).
4. The BJP has benefited from multi-cornered contests. Its vote share in Maharashtra is 28% (roughly 1 in 4 voters supported the BJP) but its seat share is 42%. Similarly, in Haryana, the BJP’s vote share is 33% while its seat share is 52%. Hence it is important not to over interpret the BJP’s victory.
5. Regional parties should feel worried about a resurgent BJP. Akali Dal, in particular, needs to be worried on two counts: first, they supported Chautala in Haryana going against the coalition dharma (payback time?). This comes over an above their inability to “deliver”a win to Jaitely in Amristar (causing a major embarrassment), and the “panga” they have taken with Navjot Singh Siddhu, the most visible Sikh face of the BJP. Second, the Badal family is unpopular in Punjab as was evident in the Lok Shaba elections. Hence, the Akali Dal has become a political liability for the BJP. If Modi retains his popularity, I predict that the BJP and the Akali Dal alliance will dissolve in the next elections (I also predict that the BJP will not support the Akali Dal in the DGPC elections).
6. Perhaps the biggest challenge the BJP will face is to recruit popular as well as competent CMs in Haryana and Maharashtra . Given Modi’s towering personality, there is always a temptation for Modi and/or Amit Shah to micro-manage the affairs of these states, especially, if the BJP decides on CMs without much mass support. This is going to provide disastrous for the BJP. Opposition parties might be down, but they are not out. Particularly in Maharashtra, the BJP will need to confront Uddhav Thackeray and the Pawar family, both being formidable rivals. The BJP will need somebody akin to Shivraj Chouhan, Raman Singh or Manohar Parrikar in these states. Anandiben type will not work.
7. I suspect Delhi assembly elections will be held soon, so that the BJP can ride on the momentum of Haryana and Maharashtra elections. In Delhi as well, the BJP does not have public face to be projected as the next CM. This can prove problematic both during and post-elections. Kejriwal might be down, but he is not out. Plus, the puzzling stand of the BJP on black money has given him an important issue to focus on.
8. I hope Modi can expand the Union Cabinet. It makes no sense that Defense and Finance ministries are held by the same individual who is not keeping good health. Yes, this arrangement allows the PM to run these ministries by proxy, but PM will need to unlearn his instincts for micro-management. Plus, important regions lack adequate representation in the Cabinet. This needs to be corrected.