The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is no longer the perennial outsider beyond the country’s traditional Hindi-speaking heartland after it swept Assam today, stamping its presence in the Northeast which has traditionally been a Congress bastion.
BJP dethroned the Congress in Assam after 15 years, won a seat in Kerala and expanded its footprint in West Bengal. “These results are encouraging for the BJP and the NDA,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the media.
The Congress badly lost Kerala to the Left, conceding a five-year rule of corruption, sleaze and scandals. Outgoing chief minister Oommen Chandy's big-ticket projects and 'development with care' slogan did not work at all. The Left won Kerala 91 to the Congress’47.
Jayalalithaa smashed the ‘yo-yo’trend in Tamil Nadu with an authoritative victory over the DMK-Congress combine – the only chief minister since 1984 to grab power a consecutive term.
However, since the DMK combine is set to win over a 100 seats in the 234-seat Assembly, this is the first time in the history of Tamil Nadu that there will be a strong Opposition.
Mamata Banerjee came back in West Bengal with a spectacular victory, the verdict mocking the disastrous alliance between traditional enemies the Left Front and the Congress.
Mamata, who defeated the Left Front after 34 years in 2011, came back with a bigger margin – over 210 in the 294-seat Assembly -- as the people clearly rejected an alliance of political opportunism. Ironically, the state’s Left unit which thought it could stand up to Mamata with the Congress’ help, came a poor third in the race with a little over 30 seats to Congress’ 40-odd. The Congress had managed 42 last elections.
The Left Front continues to be in decline in the state because it hoisted its campaign on some primetime Mamata bashing. And then there was the disastrous alliance with the Congress -- which some analysts are calling another 'historic blunder'. The Left has also failed to put forward new faces or new narratives. The BJP, on the other hand, were leading in six to seven seats in Bengal.
The Congress could only take solace in Puducherry where it managed a simple majority along with the DMK to wrest power from the AINRC, headed by former Congressman N Rangaswami.
In Assam, the verdict – BJP and allies got close to 90 seats in the 126-seat Assembly -- saw the end of Congress chief minister Tarun Gogoi’s three terms.
In Assam, the BJP did not thrust its national leadership on the electorate – a lesson it may have learnt from its crushing defeats in Delhi and Bihar last year. The BJP had projected local leader Sarbananda Sonowal as the chief ministerial candidate throughout the campaign. Local parties Asom Gana Parishad and Bodo People's Front also have five years in the sun as BJP’s allies. The BJP last time had just 5 seats while the AGP had 10 and BPF had 12.
The Congress, which had secured 78 seats in the last elections, is not likely to get more than 20-odd this time. The AIUDF, led by Badrudin Ajmal, was ahead in a little over 10 seats.
The Congress has blamed anti-incumbency for its loss in Assam. It has been in power for three terms. But it also failed to read the writing on the wall when Hemanta Biswa Sharma stomped out of the party to join the BJP last August. They could have wiped out some of the anti-incumbency sentiment by removing Tarun Gogoi from the chief minister’s chair, analysts feel.
The BJP leadership was jubilant with the results, with party president Amit Shah stating it was a lesson the Congress had been taught for its “obstructionist politics”.
Union Minister and senior BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad said the results indicated a ‘pan-India’ rise of the BJP, which he said was also "because of the kind of governance people have seen in the last two years when the party came to power at the Centre". He said people have seen how corruption has been curbed.
Union Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said the “negative, destructive politics of the Congress had been defeated. Positive approach and commitment to good governance succeeded."
Union Minister Sushma Swaraj said: “This victory is the result of life time work of those who dedicated their lives building the organisation in the northeast.”
Union Minister M Venkaiah Naidu said the BJP's victory in Assam was a ‘happy gift’ to the party and the Prime Minister on his two years in office. "Today's result is a clear slap on the face of opportunistic opposition alliances.” he said.
BJP is now looking at the very important states of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Gujarat which go into elections next year, and the results from which are set to lay the template for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
The BJP's dramatic inroads in Assam will help soften the blow of losing Delhi and Bihar last year. It also shows that the party is extending its base beyond India's northern and central regions.
Political analyst Ashok Malik told AFP that Thursday's results showed the BJP was now India's only truly national party.
"This expansion for the BJP comes at a time when the Congress is shrinking, even though they have different social constituencies," said Malik, a fellow with New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation think-tank. "And now, the BJP is the only pan-India national party, which the Congress once used to be."
The BJP needs to win state elections to gain more seats in the Rajya Sabha, which has been blocking reforms seen as crucial to fuelling the economic growth it has promised voters.