The big story of March 11 is the damage done to local parties across the five states. The Samajwadi Party (SP) and BSP, the two parties which have shared power in Uttar Pradesh for the last two terms, have been humiliated. The BSP has paid a heavy price for playing old-fashioned votebank politics. Akhilesh Yadav took a gamble on combining with the Congress by giving them 105 seats. As I had said here then, the Congress has no base left in UP. It does not have grassroots members, only candidates for seats. It has taken the SP down with itself. The size of the BJP’s victory exceeded all expectations and takes us back to the great days of Congress dominance in UP.
The Congress has survived elsewhere as a credible party. The key is the absence of the family in the campaign. Rahul Gandhi concentrating on UP helped the Congress everywhere else. Local Congress parties could breathe easy and fashion their own strategy. It was not easy. Amarinder Singh had to fight hard to retain his hold over the Punjab Congress. He returned to Punjab from the Lok Sabha and won decisively. Regional devolution may yet save the Congress from the incompetence of the Family. Of course, you never know. Rahul may take credit for Punjab and put Sidhu in charge as chief minister. Let us hope not.
The big loser in Punjab is the AAP. Arvind Kejriwal is a man in a hurry to make his party a national presence. It is premature and the voters have given him thumbs down. Goa was also an adventure for which the AAP was unready. You cannot build a national party in an amateur fashion. It requires patience and a lot of work at the grassroots to build a credible multi-state party. Now the attention will shift to the AAP’s record in Delhi and people will punish it for its juvenile theatrics. In 2019, the AAP will not be a large player.
It is the BJP which is the winner beyond all expectations. I had predicted it as the largest single party in UP but not with such a huge majority. UP being the iconic state in India’s political history, the BJP has now proved itself to be the hegemonic party across India. The baton has decisively passed from the Congress to the BJP and it will not be easy to dislodge the BJP from its perch.
Even so, notice how similar the approach of the BJP is to what the Congress used to do in its heyday. The leadership is centralised and even more personalised. Nehru, Indira Gandhi and even Rajiv Gandhi led from the front. The local leaders had walk-on parts. This is what has happened in the BJP. Goa was lost because Modi was busy in UP. Even Manohar Parrikar could not deliver.
There is now little doubt that 2019 is likely to see a return of Modi. He won in 2014 because the country needed a new Idea of India. The Congress secularism had failed to deliver the social and economic uplift of Muslims as the Sachar Report showed. Modi has brought inclusive growth across jati and religious vote banks. Growth has no jati nor a religion. If the growth rate can keep up for the next seven years, the Idea of India as a Union of all communities will gain recognition.