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This article was first published 9 years ago  » News » Regional parties down, but not out

Regional parties down, but not out

By Bharat Bhushan
October 22, 2014 11:16 IST
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Despite the flood of BJP victories, it is difficult to see how regional parties will disappear. These parties not only have the same development goals as the national parties but also promise good governance

After the Haryana and Maharashtra assembly election results were declared, I congratulated a friend, a political scientist, for correctly predicting that the Bharatiya Janata Party would get a majority in Haryana. He then recounted the exchange between two friends, “Congratulations,” said one to the other. “For what?” his friend asked. The other replied, “You were right. The floods are on time!”

Who has been swept away by the flood of BJP victories? The obvious answer is the Congress. But does the BJP’s success in projecting itself as a national party that can represent regional aspirations also make the future of regional parties uncertain? After all, the BJP made substantial gains although it abandoned its erstwhile allies in these elections. It jettisoned possible alliances with the Indian National Lok Dal and the Haryana Janhit Congress, and yet rose from four seats in the state assembly in 2009 to 47 this time around. In Maharashtra, it gambled by going it alone without the Shiv Sena, and emerged as the single largest party.

This pattern may well be repeated in state elections in Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal, Assam and even Punjab. These states are vulnerable to change in government. Yet, analysts may be reading too much into the BJP’s regional successes. After all, the state-level parties in Haryana and Maharashtra have not been entirely decimated. The INLD has emerged as the second largest, and, therefore, the main opposition party in Haryana. And this was despite two of its top leaders undergoing a 10-year prison term.

One could even argue that because the Jats saw their 80-year-old leader Om Prakash Chautala out on bail, limping from one rally to another, a sympathy vote consolidated behind the INLD. While the Jat vote (except in the Congress belt of Rohtak and Jajjhar) consolidated in favour of the INLD, the non-Jat consolidation behind the BJP was larger, contributing to the party’s victory. So the main state-level party, the INLD, despite its leaders being publicly dishonoured and jailed, maintained an honourable legislative presence.

In Maharashtra, too, the Shiv Sena has far from disappeared. Indeed, it has increased its strength in the legislature. The regional Nationalist Congress Party also continues to exist. Despite seizing ground from both, the BJP still needs to ally with one of them to be able to form a government in Maharashtra.

It is difficult to see how state-level players will disappear under the onslaught of the BJP in Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Tripura, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Kerala or even in Delhi.

The state-level players do well not because they represent a regional sentiment but because they promise good governance. Naveen Patnaik, who does not even speak Odia, has won every election since 1999 and his Biju Janata Dal will continue ruling Odisha till 2019. These parties are regional only in terms of their area of influence. They have the same development and governance goals as the national parties irrespective of whether they are organised around caste, ethnic, religious or regional lines. Where national level parties have failed to provide a responsive government in a state, why would voters not opt for local political parties?

By virtue of its majority government at the Centre, the BJP insisted on changing the rules of engagement between itself -- a national party -- and the state-level parties. Yet, the electoral successes of the BJP do not necessarily mean the eclipse of state-level parties.

The BJP is in an ascendant phase under the leadership of Narendra Modi. However, in this time of fast-changing public aspirations, short attentions spans and the constant public need for new stimuli, public perceptions of the Modi government will change. When the storyline flags, the BJP may have to look for allies once again.

Meanwhile, winning state-level elections largely by banking on Modi’s personal charisma, would mean that the local leadership of the BJP will be dwarfed. As power will accrue to only two people, Modi and Amit Shah, the “high command” culture, which ruined the Congress, could also become the bane of the BJP.

Image: Followers of the Shiv Sena during a rally.

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Bharat Bhushan
Source: source