BJP meets with rebuff in three key states - GulfToday

BJP meets with rebuff in three key states

BRP Bhaskar

@brpbhaskar

Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.

Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.

Narendra Modi

Narendra Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s determined bid to extend his Bharatiya Janata Party’s footprints to West Bengal in the east and Tamil Nadu and Kerala in the south has failed miserably.

These were among the four states and one Union Territory where Assembly elections were held last month amid the raging pandemic.

Large parts of the south and the east had remained inhospitable to the BJP and its predecessor, the Jana Sangh, all along as their Hindutva ideology is generally seen as in conflict with local cultural and political traditions. Assam in the east and Karnataka in the south are the only large states in these regions where the BJP could make headway and come to power.

Modi attached great importance to these Assembly elections, viewing them as an opportunity to extend his party’s influence, now confined largely to the north and the west, to become truly national in its reach.

Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, the party’s top election strategist, campaigned vigorously in all the states. While the campaign was on, several Central investigative agencies were busy prying into the finances of leaders of the parties ranged against the BJP in these states as well as their close relatives. This prompted some to refer to these agencies as the BJP’s partners in the National Democratic Alliance.

In West Bengal, the BJP, which had only three members in the outgoing 294-member Assembly, audaciously planned to capture power from the regional Trinamool Congress (TMC). Its leader, Mamata Banerjee, had put an end to more than three decades of rule by the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front in 2011 and had been the Chief Minister since then.

Incidentally, Mamata Banerjee was a Minister in the BJP-led government headed by AB Vajpayee. The TMC was a partner of the NDA at that time.

The BJP had won 18 of West Bengal’s 42 Lok Sabha seats in 2019. That probably led Modi to think she was a pushover. Modi and Shah started their Bengal operations by organising large-scale defections from the TMC.

Some senior party colleagues deserted Mamata Banerjee and it looked as though the sands under her feet were being washed away.

A gritty fighter, she fought back and led the TMC to a glittering victory. But she suffered a personal reverse in the process: she lost the contest at Nandigram, where she had moved to take on a colleague who had defected to the BJP.

“It is not a big deal,” she told newsmen later. Pointing out that her party had registered a big win, she added, “This is Bengal’s win. This win has saved the culture and tradition of Bengal.”

The TMC had 211 members in the outgoing house. It retains power with a marginal improvement in its strength. Although the BJP’s gamble for power failed, it has emerged as the lone opposition party with 77 seats in the new house. The Congress and the Left parties, which had ruled the state before the TMC’s arrival, were wiped out.

In Tamil Nadu, where two regional parties, Dravida Kazhagan and the breakaway All India Anna DMK  have been taking turns in power for decades. The BJP entered the poll arena as a junior partner of the AIADMK Dravida which had been in power since 2011.

The tie-up with the AIADMK was logical since the Congress party has lately been fighting elections in the state as an ally of the DMK.

After the death of Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, AIADMK faced the possibility of a split. Modi helped her successor, Edapadi Palanisami, to keep the flock together.

The DMK seized power from the AIADMK in this election, winning 134 seats in the 234-member Assembly. The alliance with the AIADMK helped the BJP to win four seats in the State Assembly for the first time. In Kerala, two coalitions, the Left Democratic Front led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the United Democratic Front led by the Congress, have been alternating in power for more than four decades. This time LDF Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan broke the jinx and won a second successive term by cashing the goodwill his government had earned through its welfare measures and successful handling of a flood disaster and the COVID crisis.

The BJP has been active in Kerala for decades. It got a toehold in the state when O. Rajagopal, who was a junior minister in the Vajpayee government, won an Assembly seat for the first time in 2016.

The BJP entered the poll arena this time with high hopes, projecting E. Sreedharan, a reputed retired railway engineer, as its chief ministerial candidate. But it came a cropper. It could not even hold its lone seat.

The elections to the 126-member Assam Assembly made no material change in the situation. The BJP, which had 60 members in the outgoing house, has the same number in the new one too. That means it can continue in power with the support of small regional parties as it does now.

The south gave the BJP a consolation prize. In the elections to the 30-member Assembly of the Union Territory of Puduchery, the BJP got six seats. No party has a majority in the Assembly. The BJP is probably in a position to put together a coalition government with the help of small parties.

The election results show that parties which dominate different regions have the ability to stop the BJP juggernaut. So long as they lack the ability to combine effectively at the national level the Modi regime has no cause for worry.

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