Indian parliamentary poll and future of regional parties

A greater part of the focus of the analyses of the results of recent Indian parliamentary elections in India has been understandably on the victory of Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party and the defeat of the Congress. But there is another important strand of the electoral mandate which has received comparatively less attention. It is the performance of theregional parties in different states.

Before the elections, the regional parties had boasted of becoming the king-maker or king  themselves in the event of either BJP or Congress falling well short of majority. In fact, Telugu Desam Party chief N Chandrababu Naidu, Trinamool Congress head Mamata Banerjee organized mega rallies of anti-BJP parties in their states and, along with Telangana Rashtriya Samiti chief K Chandrasekhara Rao, had become prime movers of opposition unity in the run up to the poll and left no stone unturned for their cause. Barring Dravida Munnetra Kazagham (DMK) in Tamil Nadu and Y S R Congress party in Andhra Pradesh, all other regional parties opposed to the BJP have felt in varying degrees the heat of the landslide win of the saffron party. The biggest casualties are Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party alliance in Uttar Pradesh, Janata Dal (Secular) in Karnataka, Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar, Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha in Jharkhand, Nationalist Congress Party in Maharasthra. Slightly lesser hit have been Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, Biju Janata Dal in Odisha and Telgana Rashtra Samiti in Telangana.

The rise of BJP as the central pole in Indian politics has had two contrasting fall-outs before and after the elections this year. Ahead of polls, the prospect of Modi-led BJP returning to power for a second straight term forced the Congress and anti-BJP regional parties closing ranks but failing to form a pan-India unity because it was not feasible. Only SP, BSP and Rashtriya Lok Dal formed a pre-poll alliance in UP in what was perceived to be a formidable challenge to the BJP’s sway in the state because of their traditional vote base among Yadav (SP), Jatav (BSP), Muslims (shared by BSP and SP) and Hindu Jats (RLD). But that turned out horribly wrong as results show.

In fact, BJP’s sweeping win across most parts of the country on the back of a consolidation of Hindu votes cutting across caste fault lines and substantial vote share even in constituencies with large of concentration Muslims in UP, and in several other states has already set off churnings in the opposition camp. The biggest manifestation of the churnings is the collapse of the SP-BSP alliance in UP as announced by BSP supremo Mayawati on June 4. The SP-BSP-RLD alliance not only failed to stop the BJP’s surge in UP but ended up a poor second with just 15 seats together against the 65 of the saffron party

It is too early to write the political obituary of

 regional parties but their performance in recent

 elections has raised serious question marks over 

their ability to become a third pole away from

 BJP and Congress and their ability to challenge 

the dominance of pan-India parties like BJP 

and Congress

Both Mayawati and SP chief Akhilesh Yadav said they would contest the coming bye-elections to eleven assembly constituencies in UP separately and against each other. The SP-BSP was alliance built in January this year to take on the BJP in parliamentary elections after the two parties set aside their years of sharp hostilities among them. But that tie-up  lies in tatters just six months down the line. Adding to the deep discomfiture of SP-BSP alliance was the Congress party, which was not included in the alliance, cutting into the SP-BSP votes in at least a dozen seats in UP, the failure of SP and BSP to transfer their votes to each other and, most importantly, the SP’s traditional support base among Yadavs having split and gravitated to BJP and the saffron party having won more votes than SP and BSP even in constituencies with large concentration of Muslim populations in UP.

The biggest setback to a regional party came in Bihar where imprisoned Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal ended up with no seat for the first  time. Like in UP, the BJP-led alliance in Bihar too succeeded in winning over the Yadav community voters who form the core support base of the RJD. The question has arisen: has the Lalu era come to an end in Bihar’s politics?  In West Bengal, Trinamool Congress suffered major reverses with its tally of seats falling sharply from 34 in 2014 to 22 this time with the main beneficiary being BJP which finished with an unprecedented haul of 18 seats. In Delhi, AAP, another ruling regional party led by Arvind Kejriwal, drew a blank in the triangular contest for the seven parliamentary seats against the BJP and the Congress. In Maharashtra, NCP led by aging Sharad Pawar failed to add this time to its tally of four seats secured in 2014 leaving Pawar looking at an uncertain future. In Karnataka, BJP swept aside Janata Dal (S) and Congress and won 25 of the 28 parliamentary seats in the state.

However, the Modi wave failed to create any ripple in Tamil Nadu where DMK made massive gains 23 seats on its own from zero in 2014. A part of the DMK-led alliance, the Congress party also won eight seats in the state. BJP, which had aligned with AIADMK this time, failed to get a single seat as compared to just one five years ago. Even more comprehensive was the triumph of Y S R Congress party in Andhra Pradesh state where ruling Telugu Desam Party was toppled in state assembly elections as also in parliamentary polls by the Y S R Congress headed by young Jaganmohan Reddy whose party won 151 of the 175 assembly seats and 22 of the 25 parliamentary seats. BJP drew a blank in Andhra Pradesh assembly and parliamentary elections this time. In Odisha, BJD spearheaded by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik not only won the state assembly polls held along with parliamentary elections but also checked BJP to just eight parliamentary seats out of total of 21. BJP could not win any seat in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.

The results of recent parliamentary election have raised the question if the coalition era, which has come to stay since 1990s, is ready to become a thing of the past now that the BJP got majority in two successive general elections. But BJP opted for coalition governments in 2014 and this year too. The regional parties have for much of the last 29-year period tended to punch above their individual political weight taking advantage of the lack of majority or fragile majority for BJP or Congress and extracting their pounds of flesh for their support to governments of the day by securing more ministerial berths or other facilities. But BJP, now having a more comfortable majority on its own than in 2014, has already shown more assertiveness in dealing with the regional parties which are its allies in NDA.

It is too early to write the political obituary of regional parties but their performance in recent elections has raised serious question marks over their ability to become a third pole away from BJP and Congress and their ability to challenge the dominance of pan-India parties like BJP and Congress. Two messages from the recent poll are (1) unity among regional parties is a myth because they operate independently in different states and with little ability to help each other and (2) they need to be on the right side of the national party that ultimately emerges victorious. 

Pallab Bhattacharya is a journalist based in India.