Irrespective of the outcome of Lok Sabha polls 2019, one feature that is set to redefine the contour of politics after the result is the role of the regional parties. Will Indian governance be beholden to fractious regionalism? Or has a political equilibrium been attained in India to overcome regional and social fault lines for good?
Let us hope that this election provides a convincing answer to these fundamental queries that have significant impact on the country’s politics and governance. Take for the instance the manner in which two most important states of the country- Uttar Pradesh and Bihar- continued to be dominated by regional forces till 2017.
In Uttar Pradesh particularly, either the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) or the Samajwadi Party (SP) continued to dictate the political course on the basis of caste-identity. There have been instances when BJP aligned with BSP to form a government in the state in 1997, and later won over BSP MLAs to run independent government. But the nature of the government was quite fragile and beset by casteist considerations. It ran much like a government headed by a regional party.
Since then it became a revolving door government between the SP and the BSP in UP. Of course the national parties like BJP and the Congress got practically decimated in the process. In 2014, the SP and the BSP were left overwhelmed by the Narendra Modi phenomenon and found themselves marginalised. In 2017, the SP and the BSP found their hubris of maintaining their status as regional forces misplaced when the BJP romped home in the state assembly elections with remarkable ease and scored more than two-thirds majority, a feat that appeared nearly impossible for any party.
In neighbouring Bihar, the RJD and JD(U) continued to dominate the political scene when they combined in 2015 state assembly election. However Nitish Kumar’s decision to go in for alliance with the BJP has completely changed the political contours of the state. As of now the JD(U) and the BJP are playing as equal partners in the state for 2019 Lok Sabha polls. There is every possibility that the RJD will be reduced to the margins in state politics in the absence of Lalu Prasad. Lalu’s political legatee Tejashwi shows neither grit or guile of his father to revive RJD’s sagging fortune. The BJP-JD(U) combination’s comprehensive victory would mean an end to the dominance of regional forces in Bihar.
But more important than UP and Bihar is the emergence of the BJP in West Bengal where Mamta Bannerjee’s Trinamul Congress has been facing an existential challenge. For the first time, the BJP which was earlier seen as not rooted to ground in West Bengal, has made considerable impact and won over a significant section of the society. The reason is not far to seek. Despite Mamata’s image of a leader of the masses, her inability to project herself as consistent and able administrator has been taking toll on her charisma. Unlike the CPM which had nursed a strong trained cadre and mobilised them according to political requirements, Mamata, many believe, appears to be raising an army of highly “lumpenised workers” unleashed on common people. Of course, if the BJP emerges as challenger to Mamata in West Bengal, she may find it difficult to retain her base in the assembly elections as well.
Apparently the election results are bound to redefine the role of regional political parties in UP, Bihar and West Bengal. But that is one part of the story. The BJP’s inability to make deep inroads in Odisha, and entire southern India (except Karnataka) is a commentary on the inability of the national parties to dislodge the regional forces. The obvious inference is that the strategy that worked in the ‘Hindi Heartland’ and West Bengal, could not find resonance across the Vindhyas. Evidently, the Biju Janata Dal in Odisha, TRS in Telangana, YSR Congress in Andhra Pradesh or DMK in Tamil Nadu appear to be getting more traction among people than national parties like the BJP and the Congress in their respective territories. The obvious inference is that the regional forces which have kept their ears to the ground are more than match for the national parties as of now. While the election result would mark a new moment for northern and eastern part of the country, it will also set the national parties on the course of introspection for some states across the Vindhya range.
- Ajay Singh, Editorial Director, Governance Now