The phenomenal rise of the BJP is having an impact on not just the Congress but also on smaller parties that have a national, even if marginal, presence, and regional outfits. Following their rout in the assembly elections in Maharashtra and Haryana, the BSP, CPI and NCP are poised to lose their national party status. This would mean that only the Congress, BJP and CPM qualify for national party status according to the Election Commission. Demotion would have sobering consequences for these parties. For instance, if it is no longer a national party, the BSP could lose the elephant symbol and the CPI the sickle and ears of corn, its symbol since the 1951 general election, if there are other claimants.
The Congress, BJP and CPM represent three settled political-ideological trends, but especially since the 1990s, the political arena has grown more turbulent and competitive with state-centric parties asserting themselves in their respective regions and also at the Centre. Be it the offshoots of socialist politics like the SP and JD(U), the Dravidian parties of Tamil Nadu, regional outfits like the Shiv Sena, Trinamool Congress, TDP, TRS and AGP, or communitarian groups like the Muslim League and Akali Dal, they all have specific trajectories and distinctive histories. Yet now, with the Modi BJP’s aggressive thrust into the states in pursuit of a pan-Indian influence, they may have arrived at a new moment of reckoning — and redefinition.
The campaigns and outcomes of the Maharashtra and Haryana assembly elections indicate a new BJP strategy for the states. It involves a renegotiation of the equation between the regional and the national, an attempt to speak to local issues, concerns and identities while simultaneously drawing them into a wider project helmed by Modi. So, to counter the appeal of the Modi-led BJP in the states, it may no longer be enough for these outfits to merely reiterate their ethnic or regional identity and distinctiveness. They will also be called upon to meet and counter Modi on his polity-wide claims. At the same time, Modi’s BJP is setting new standards and posing unprecedented challenges in terms of communication and managerial strategies. In other words, to stay in the fight, the regional parties must acknowledge that the rules of the game are being rewritten and frame a response.