The regional resilience

Srinivasan Ramani | Updated on May 24, 2014

Strength in numbers: Nardendra Modi's BJP will require allies such as the AIADMK, led by J Jayalalithaa, to prevail in the Rajya Sabha. Photo: R. Raghu   -  The Hindu

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Despite the BJP’s strong showing on its own, regional parties will continue to hold sway

For the first time since Indira Gandhi’s assassination ensured a sympathy wave for the Congress, a single party — the Bharatiya Janata Party — finds itself in a position to form the Central government on its own. Since 1989 (except during 1991), party coalitions have ruled at the Centre, whether led by the grand old Congress, or the newly victorious BJP, or an assemblage of regional forces anchored by several smaller national parties.

Although the BJP can technically rule on its own, it would not, for it will still require its allies to add numbers in the Rajya Sabha. Moreover, it no longer sees the allies as particularly problematic, as the National Democratic Alliance is a much more coherent and close-knit “homogeneous” alliance than ever before.

The BJP and the NDA’s singular dominance means that for the first time in many years, regional parties will not have the heft they had at the Centre. If anything, only the regional component of the NDA will matter in Delhi, and that too not all that much, given the substantial shift in the nature of the political dispensations ruling at the Centre since 1991. That was the year the Congress formed a government on its own — that is, without any regional allies.

If one were to consider all parties except the Congress and BJP as regional (even the Left parties, despite the Election Commission definition, are geographically concentrated in select regions), you would see that their vote share consistently increased since 1984, before petering out in 2009 and holding steady in 2014. Seat shares more or less remained unchanged, as the fortunes of the Congress and BJP fluctuated over time, while those of the regional parties remained relatively intact.

In other words, the BJP’s victory in this election has been possible even without too many regional allies primarily because the Congress has performed very poorly. The BJP achieved what it set out to do by shoring up its vote share away from the Congress in States where there was a direct fight and by concentrating on the largest State, Uttar Pradesh. Except for the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party in this important State and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha in Jharkhand, the regional parties that lost vote share mostly benefited a rival regional outfit rather than the BJP. This is clear from the experience of Tamil Nadu (DMK to the AIADMK), Bihar (JDU to the RJD), West Bengal (Left to the Trinamool Congress) and Punjab (Shiromani Akali Dal to Aam Aadmi Party), among others (in the north-east).

In other words, the regionalisation of India’s polity is still quite intact. It is the decline and weakening of the Congress and the parties that projected an ambivalent attitude towards it (SP, BSP and others such as the DMK and the JMM) that helped the BJP’s strong electoral victory. Parties such as the AIADMK, TMC, BJD or AAP might have no role to play in the Centre as far as the government goes. But these parties (among others) will definitely shape the contours of India’s political system for years to come.

( Srinivasan Ramani is Senior Assistant Editor, Economic and Political Weekly)

Published on May 23, 2014

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