Understanding state election results: Ideology and Idea

Understanding state election results: Ideology and Idea

Submitted by alvin on Thu, 2016-05-19 21:28 As the results of the Legislative Assembly elections in five states poured in today, the media focus was not on the winning parties as much as it was on the losing Congress. Very few seemed interested in what these results marked the beginning of. Everyone declared with some degree of certainty that it was the end of the Congress, at least the Congress as a national party. What is so surprising or significant about the Congress losing this rounds of elections? In Assam it was facing anti-incumbency accumulated for 15 long years. In Kerala, the Congress coalition lost in continuation of the state’s historical trajectory of alternate regimes. In West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, the Congress was a minor player. That the regional parties partnered with the Congress also lost the elections in these two states does not mean much. The Congress is yet to come out of the historical drubbing it received in 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Any party, as Indian electoral history shows, takes some time before putting up a bright show in an Assembly election after suffering a major blow in the Lok Sabha elections. Granted that the Congress does not have a strong, charismatic leadership that is need to pull off electoral victory from the jaws of predicted failure but that is the same familiar line. So, what is it about the Congress that is proved once again in these elections? One television commentator while discussing the results quoted a Congress leader as saying “we do not prepare to fight an election. We patiently wait for the opponents to lose an election.” That in a way sums up the story of the Congress successes for a long time now. The grand-old party just capitalizes on the people’s boredom with its opponents rule. It happens quite quickly in some states as it happens in the case of Kerala and it takes a long time in some other states and the centre There is one thing that the Congress seems to be refusing to acknowledge about contemporary politics and recent elections. Like anything else in liberalized India, fighting an election needs a clear and well-defined idea. The BJP’s repeated electoral successes have not been reaped on the strength of its traditional ideology but on the strength of an electoral idea, which is a strange combination of rightist politics and economics. Call it a combination of a bit of Hindutwa plus development. The idea was not perfected overnight but over a period of trial and error. It first worked in Gujarat, then in several of its stronghold states and then in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. In Assam this time, for example, the idea was customized by combining the question of Assamese identity with development. It was this idea that worked in different hues in West Bengal and Kerala for the BJP to open its account. It did not work in Bihar because Nitish Kumar and co fought the BJP in that state with an alternative idea which is also a different combination of identity and development. The BJP’s idea did not work in Delhi because Aravind Kejriwal encountered the BJP there with his own alternative and innovative political idea. In Tamil Nadu, both AIADMK and DMK present their electoral idea centred around some extreme form of populism. In fact, post-1984 Tamil Nadu politics is all about the clash of two formulae of populism represented by two leaders. Jayalalita represented it more efficiently this time in front of an ageing Karunanidhi, and secured a second term bucking the state’s historical trend of incumbent party losing the election. In West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee presented an idea marked by politics of courage. With many other things which every party employs in an election, now it takes a distinct political idea to fight an election. Every political party seems to have one except the Congress. So, it is not just the strong-leadership vs weak-leadership story. It as much the story of fighting elections with a distinct idea and without one. There is nothing surprising in the loss suffered by the Congress. Nobody expected it to win this round of elections hands down so soon after the historical drubbing it received in the lok sabha elections 2014. After a big loss in general elections, a party takes a long time for a party to recover and show performance in an assembly elections even when we accept that different factors work in assembly and parliamentary elections. Moreover, in none of the five states the Congress was in a great advantageous position taking into account the local factors. In both Kerala and Assam it was facing anti-incumbency and in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal its presence has anyway been insignificance. So, what is that has worked behind the success of the BJP. It is an idea. Like anything else in the liberalized India politics also demands good, innovative and workable ideas. The BJP has been applying one idea which has worked well for it. It combines the economic right and the political right in different proportions and applies it in different dosages. Author: A Narayana is a faculty member at Azim Premji University Bangalore.