The New Saffron Surge
After years in the Opposition, the BJP has regained power in Bihar. This represents a massive coup for the BJP – which managed to retake power in Bihar and brought back a longtime ally to the fold. But this is just one among a series of victories for the BJP among Opposition strongholds. After unseating the Congress party from their regional and central hegemonies, the BJP has taken aim at corrupt local parties. This has resulted in massive inroads for the party in Bihar, Odisha, and Tamil Nadu – regions that have not enjoyed popular support for the BJP for a long time.
Nitish Kumar’s separation from the RJD follows the naming of deputy CM, Tejashwi Yadav, in a CBI anti-corruption investigation. When party leader Lalu Prasad Yadav announced that Tejashwi Yadav would not resign pending the investigation, Nitish Kumar resigned from chief minstership. But soon after, the BJP offered the unconditional support to JD(U) and the next day Nitish Kumar was sworn in as Chief Minister, after which he passed the floor test in the Bihar Legislative Assembly with a majority of 131 seats.
Sharing power in Bihar follows on the heels of their massive gains in Odisha. In the February panchayat polls, BJP managed to capture 297 of the 851 seats up for grabs – becoming the second largest party in the region, and challenging the BJD’s stranglehold over the region. This means a reversal of the party’s fortunes from the 2014 Assembly elections – where the BJP won only 10 seats out of 147, and was only the third largest party. This reflects gains for the party from a vote share of 7.4 per cent to 34.9 per cent.
Amit Shah was quick to capitalize on these gains with his Mission Odisha, aimed at securing a BJP victory in the Assembly election and the general election, both of which will be held in 2019. As part of this initiative, Shah toured the state in July this year. His visit included a door-to-door visit in the Hugulapata, Jajpur, and Dhauli regions – where he checked on the efficacy of central policies in the state. He also had a massive reception in Berhampur and visited the Biraha Temple.
The BJP’s outreach in the region seems poised to unseat the hitherto dominant Biju Janta Dal . Though the BJD has been the majority party in the region since its formation in 1998, it was once an ally of the BJP on the national stage. The party disassociated itself from the BJP in 2009, and has become only more powerful since.
During its tenure, members of the BJD have allegedly been involved in several chit-fund scandals even as the party has been accused of irregularities in election funding. These scandals have worked to erode the voter’s trust in the party, and the BJP was able to leverage this weakness into a massive surge in its performance from the 2014 Assembly elections.
The one obstacle to BJP victory in the region is current Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. Despite the losses of his party, Patnaik stands deeply. That his prominence has not waned as a result of the manifold corruption allegations is a testament to his ability to manipulate the electoral process in his favor. And, so far, the BJP hasn’t been able to field a leader with his appeal in the region.
However, a recent probe by the Election Commission may prove the answer. A BJP complaint to the central authority has led to a probe into irregularities in the funding disclosures in Patnaik’s own election. Allegedly, Patnaik lied in disclosure forms to the EC about the source and amounts of his funding. It is suspected that the election may have been partially funded by the proceeds of illegal chit-funds run by party members. If these allegations are found true, Patnaik will likely be disqualified from his seat. With no clear heir or second-in-command, Patnaik’s loss will clear the way for the BJP in the region.
In Tamil Nadu, the death of Jayalalithaa and arrest of Sasikala split the ruling AIDMK into two factions–creating a massive power vacuum in the state. These two factions, led by ex-CM O Panneerselvam and current CM E. Palaniswami–have been engaged in near-constant warfare, weakening both sides. At this stage, a merger seems impossible – and has been ruled out by both sides on several occasions. Meanwhile, DMK has been weakened by the protracted illness of party leader Karunanidhi. BJP was quick to capitalise on this opportunity – courting both factions of the AIADMK for an alliance or merger. Top party leaders also reached out to Rajinikanth for a potential alliance with his yet-to-be-announced party. At the time of writing this article, depending on the outcome of the talks with the BJP leadership, AIADMK is likely to join the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government soon.
Meanwhile, BJP has been regaining the initiative in Goa. After the brief hiccup in the state polls earlier this year, the party found its footing during the Goa panchayat polls in July. Though the polls were nominally party-neutral, the victors were by and large BJP-affiliated candidates, party workers, and members of parties allied with BJP. This demonstrated a strong preference for the NDA in the state – a result much closer to 2014 levels.
This new saffron surge seems poised to take on West Bengal next. The state infrastructure is in a state of severe disrepair – a state emphasised by last year’s collapse of a massive flyover in Kolkata, which killed 26 and injured another 80. Meanwhile, the Trinamool Congress government has been inundated with corruption scandals – culminating in the Narada News sting, in which 13 party leaders and ministers were recorded accepting bribes in exchange for favorable treatment.
All of this is underscored by a state of economic stagnation and a breakdown in law and order condition in the region. This wide-ranging failure of the state government has led to widespread dissatisfaction among the TMC cadres, and a threat of defection by several party ministers. This provides the BJP with an opportunity to build inroads in the region – and further increase its reach on the national stage.
If the BJP manages to keep this momentum for the next two years, it seems a foregone conclusion that it will win the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The only question will be–its margin of victory.
By Akash Kashyap