Federal fiction

| Updated on May 04, 2021

BJP juggernaut may have been halted but it is still a force, with no viable alternative in sight, yet

Mamata Banerjee’s All India Trinamool Congress may have successfully warded off the Bharatiya Janata Party in the recent Assembly elections but that should not eclipse the tremendous inroads made into Bengal by the national ruling party in recent years. The BJP’s rise in Bengal peaked in 2019 with 18 Lok Sabha seats and 40.7 per cent of the vote share which dropped to 38.1 per cent in the Assembly polls. But it would be a mistake to discount what the BJP has managed to achieve in Bengal in less than five years since the last Assembly polls when it debuted with 10.16 per cent of vote share and just three seats. From being a bit player to occupying the principal opposition position displacing the Left and the Congress shows the BJP’s extraordinary capacity to expand its footprint in hitherto uncharted territories. This space is still available in Odisha, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, and even Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

By wresting power in Puducherry, retaining it in Assam, and returning four of its candidates to the Assembly in Tamil Nadu after two decades, the BJP has underlined its dominant status in the national polity. Of course, the results have underlined the limitations of the BJP’s muscular Hindutva and cow-belt politics that provincial players such as the TMC, the DMK and the Left have successfully countered with their strong regional identities and aggressive welfarism. Federalism is at odds with the unitary character of Indian polity and politics that the BJP represents and this time around, the provincial players have trumped the central party. Coupled with the public anger against mismanagement on the Covid-19 front, the expectation is that the BJP’s expansionism can be checked and even reversed by strong regional players who can present a viable alternative at the Centre.

Hypothetically, this may provide succour to those who would like to see the back of the current dispensation at the Centre. The problem with this hypothesis, however, is that for every coalition that has succeeded at the national level till now the presence of a national party as the holding force has been a prerequisite. From 1998 onwards, it was the BJP that provided the national steel-frame for the NDA till 2004. Subsequently, the UPA’s two terms were held together by the Congress. What is absent in the discourse that has started in the last 24 hours about the rise of federal forces against the centrist BJP is the critical element of a national player. These elections undoubtedly highlight the relevance of the regional players. But they also shine a light on the spectacular failure of the Congress to emerge out of its continuing existential crisis. Unless the Congress regains its mojo quickly all this talk of federal forces presenting a viable alternative to the BJP will remain just that.

Published on May 03, 2021

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