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India: Warning to BJP and Congress
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 20 - 05 - 2016

The results of legislative assembly elections in five Indian states, two in the east and three in the south, have more or less followed the pattern revealed by various exit polls shown on TV channels on Monday, the final day of polling. Assam in the east and Kerala and Union Territory of Pondicherry in the south have voted for change while chief ministers Mamata Banerjee of West Bengal in the east and Jayaram Jayalalitha of Tamil Nadu in the south retained power with spectacular victories. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi stormed to power in Assam bagging a government in the northeast for the first time, dethroning the Congress party which also suffered a humiliating defeat in the southern state of Kerala where it has to cede power to the Left Democratic Front led by Communist Party of India (Marxist). The LDF won 91 seats against 47 secured by the Congress-led United Democratic Front.
Some 169 million registered voters, a fifth of India's overall electorate, were involved in the elections. While the voting in West Bengal and Assam was staggered, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Pondicherry voted in a single phase on Monday. Approximately 8,300 candidates were in the fray.
The elections were seen as a referendum on the performance of various ministries run or led by Congress in Assam and Kerala, Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) in Tamil Nadu, and AINRC in Pondicherry, all regional parties.
But there were also two larger questions. One, whether BJP, in office nationally under Narendra Modi, could extend its influence beyond its traditional strongholds.Second, whether Congress, which dominated Indian politics for decades after independence in 1947, could arrest the steady decline in its fortunes. The answer to both questions is in the negative.
Even though BJP has captured Assam, it is yet to make its presence felt in non-Hindi states and in the south in a big way. In West Bengal it won only six seats in the 294-member house. For the first time, one BJP member has been elected to the 140-member Kerala Assembly but the party's performance in Tamil Nadu has been dismal. Even in Assam it had to align with regional parties and brandish the sectarian card, particularly against migrants from Bangladesh. At a rally in November, one prominent BJP leader accused Congress of harboring a "secret plan" to surrender Assam to Bangladesh.
Since its resounding victory in 2014, BJP's fortunes have been mixed. Last year it lost badly to local parties in both the capital, Delhi, and in Bihar, India's third-most-populous state. Next year Uttar Pradesh, the country's most populous state with over 210 million people, will hold assembly elections. If the trends revealed by the elections to West Bengal and four other states are anything to go by, BJP's expectations cannot be too high. These results show that the Modi magic is on the wane, something last year's humiliating loss of crucial state elections in Delhi and Bihar demonstrated.
Despite the success in Assam, BJP will continue to face problems in the Rajya Sabha, Parliament's upper house, where the party and its allies hold just 64 of the house's 245 seats. Congress and other opposition parties have used the upper house to thwart legislation passed by the lower house, where BJP commands a big majority.
BJP's only solace is that Congress is in a worse condition. The loss of Assam and Kerala will reinforce the impression that the party is in terminal decline. Now it controls just one of India's larger states, the southern state of Karnataka, and a handful of relatively small states including Pondicherry where it will share power with a regional party.
In other words, the election results are a warning to the ruling BJP and the main opposition, Congress.

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