Supporters of the Chief Minister of the eastern state of West Bengal and Trinamool Congress (TMC) Chief, Mamata Banerjee, attend an election campaign rally ahead of the forth phase of the state election, amidst the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Kolkata, India, April 7, 2021. Picture taken April 7, 2021. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri
As counting is progressing to determine the winner of the assembly elections held in four states and one union territory, it is safe to say that decisive mandates have come by.
In Assam, the people have showed their approval of the Sarbananda Sonowal-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government. In Kerala, the Pinarayi Vijayan-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) government has reversed a nearly four-decade-old trend of alternating governments every five years. In Tamil Nadu, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) government has been shown the door, while in West Bengal the Trinamool Congress (TMC) is all set to retain power.
If in 2016 the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) victory was attributed to anti-incumbency against the Tarun Gogoi government, this time the BJP has shown that it has firmly etched its position in the state. What makes the BJP’s victory important is that the party has won despite facing massive protests against the CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) and the NRC (National Register of Citizen), of which Assam was the epicentre. The victory in Assam will be a fillip to the national party’s efforts to reinforce its presence in the rest of the Northeast. This victory will also cushion the defeat in West Bengal.
For the Communist Party of India (Marxist) this election was a matter of survival, especially with the party not in power in any other state. The changes this victory will bring to the Left party’s national character is another debate — but for now Vijayan is the ‘Captain’. For the Congress this is a setback, but — contrary to what many analysts say — it is not the death knell, at least not in Kerala. That is because the Congress in Kerala is more like a regional affiliate to the national party.
A deeper analysis might also show that the state might have risen above communal politics, though it is too early to say so affirmatively.
The MK Stalin-led Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) victory, and more importantly the party crossing the halfway mark on its own, will give the party a much-needed lifeline, because it would have found it difficult to sit in the opposition benches for the third term in a row. For the ruling AIADMK, this loss could be the beginning of its unravelling. Its alliance with the BJP might have cost it the election, because there are not many visible factors or signs of anti-incumbency against the state government.
For the TMC under Mamata Banerjee, convincingly defeating bigger parties is becoming a habit. If a decade back it was the Left, this time the regional party has stood up to the BJP’s entire electoral machinery. Going ahead, it will not be easy for the TMC, especially with the BJP as principle opposition party, but the moment belongs to the TMC.
In addition to the above points, there are five takeaways from the 2021 assembly election results:
- The BJP’s Achilles heel remains its performance against regional parties. While the ruling party at the Centre performs well when the Congress is the opposition, it is yet to make significant inroads while facing a regional party. In its current power structure where the central leadership overshadows the state leaders, this deficiency will continue.
- The Congress is a leaky ship caught in a tempest without a compass. A lot was riding for the party in the elections in Kerala — after all Rahul Gandhi is an MP from Wayanad. The lack of a central leader is only one among the many problems the party is facing. The loss in Kerala and Assam should get the grand old party to get its house in order.
- With the poor performance in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the BJP is yet to effectively cross the Vindhyas. But for a shaky government in Karnataka (which is ridden with problems from within), the BJP is still seen as a ‘Hindi party’ in South India. If it does not address this problem, the party will find it hard in 2024 to better its 2019 performance.
- The election results have yet again shown that the voter is discerning. For example, take Kerala; while the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) won 19 of the 20 seats in the 2019 general elections, less than two years later they have voted for the LDF. Similarly, in West Bengal, while the BJP did relatively well in urban areas in 2019, this time that is not the case.
- These results will amplify the voices of the anti-BJP, anti-Congress parties. This ‘third front’ will gain importance hereon. If the Opposition decides to unite against the BJP-led NDA, it might not be the Congress that will lead the fight, but the regional parties with or without the Congress.
That said, the numbers that should matter for the new government are: 3,453 for Assam, 35,636 for Kerala, 19,588 for Tamil Nadu, and 17,512 for West Bengal. These are the number of COVID-19 cases added to the state in the past 24 hours. The all-India number was close to 400,000 — the highest in the world, the second being Brazil with 60,000-plus cases. It helps that three of the four states will see ruling parties back in power.