Here we are at the start of the 2016 election cycle. Last year was bad for Narendra Modi as the BJP got humiliated in Delhi and then outmanoeuvred by Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar in Bihar. But this year was meant to be the gap year for the ruling party. It did not have a major stake in any of the five states where elections are being held. Of course, being the ruling party and with Modi at the helm, it dominates every political conversation, but in no state of the five did it have a major presence and hence its prestige was not at stake.
The results in Tamil Nadu are always independent of the national parties. It is an autonomous, almost independent part of India which has two parties from the same stem who have monopolised the state and none can look into it. The heirs of Periyar will fight out their perennial Mahabharata.
In West Bengal, it is not decent for non-Bengal parties to intrude. The Left which ruled and ruined it for decades will fight it out with Mamata Banerjee and lose. In the event, it will drag the Congress down with it. Serves it right, as when it was in power, the Congress did not tackle any problems of the state. The TMC is the Bengal branch of the Congress and will make its own mess but, for the while, it reigns.
It is Kerala where the Congress is pitted against its erstwhile ally and predicted to lose. Both sides are split and both have scandals galore on their cards, but this time it is the turn of the Left Front. In terms of governance, no one will notice much difference.
In these three states, the BJP will at best have a marginal presence, breaking the duck, but not reaching double figures. It is in Assam that there is hope for the BJP. Tarun Gogoi is seeking an unprecedented fourth victory, but faces formidable opposition. He is the best chance the Congress has this year.
Even so, the signs are disturbing. It seems his fourth victory is not guaranteed. Grassroot views as reported by urban intellectuals tell me that the unthinkable could happen. The Congress may not only fail to get a majority but even not be the single largest party. Even more shocking is the prediction that the BJP will emerge not only as the single largest party but may get a majority all on its own.
Or just enough to form a coalition to rule Assam.
If this cataclysmic result were to come about, it will change politics even more profoundly than the 2014 election victory. If the BJP wins Assam, it will become a genuinely national party. It was always thought of as a north Indian, small traders party. For it to get into a leading position so far from its base would prove that it has widespread national appeal.
No party will ever acquire the status the Congress had in the first decade after Independence, when it ruled at the Centre and in all states (J&K excepted). The Congress has frittered away that status due to arrogance, denial that it needs reform and laziness in relying on the Family. Perhaps that is best.
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