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Assembly Election results 2017: Who can challenge the BJP nationally now?

LiveMint logoLiveMint 11-03-2017 Abhiram Ghadyalpatil

The results of assembly elections in five states mark another chapter in the larger story of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s rise to becoming the central pole of Indian politics and the decline of the Congress.

To be sure, there are some bright spots for the Congress in the latest election results—Punjab, Manipur, and to some extent Goa. But state- or region-specific reasons need to be factored in for these sporadic instances of success.

The big picture, which started emerging in May 2014 with the advent of Narendra Modi, stays the same and the latest outcome only adds more depth to it.

Also read | Election results 2017 live: BJP’s UP win a victory of Narendra Modi’s agendas, says Amit Shah

In Punjab, the Congress victory could be attributed in equal measures to Amarinder Singh’s leadership and anti-incumbency sentiment against the ruling alliance of the Shiromani Akali Dal and the BJP. And the rise of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in this state takes some of the sheen off the Congress’s victory.

Punjab election results 2017: Live updates

Manipur has been a Congress stronghold, where the party’s performance pales in comparison with the bigger story of BJP’s strong venture into this patch of the north-east after it won Assam last year and installed a government in Arunachal Pradesh. (The two parties are neck and neck in the state at this time, according to Election Commission data.)

Manipur election results 2017: Live updates

In Goa, while the Congress gained in early trends, the BJP has caught up, and there is a close contest underway. In 2012, the Congress had won nine seats in Goa and a number higher than this would be a gain. Yet, it is not clear if the Congress would go on to form a government in Goa.

Goa election results 2017: Live updates

The results reinforce the relevance of a question which was first raised in 2014 and which needs to asked now with a supplementary. What is the future of the Congress as India’s premier national political party? Who is going to be the next challenger to the BJP? These questions become more pertinent as the BJP continues to push the Congress further to the margins. It’s a grim picture that India’s grand old party faces.

In states where the BJP is not in power or is not even a prominent opposition party, it is not the Congress which is ruling. By the end of 2016, the Congress was in power in only six states on its own and two states in a coalition. The BJP was in power in eight states alone and jointly in five.

With the latest round of assembly polls, the BJP has definitely gained two more states—Uttar Pradesh from the Samajwadi Party, which had an alliance with the Congress, and Uttarakhand from the Congress.

The only big state where the Congress is in power is Karnataka, due for elections next year.

Track election results 2017 here

In states ruled by non-Congress, non-BJP parties, it is not the Congress which is waiting in the wings to be the next party in power. For instance, in West Bengal, ruled by the Trinamool Congress (TMC), it is the Left which is waiting in the wings even as the BJP rises.

Last year, the Congress lost Assam to the BJP and Kerala to the Left. In Kerala, the Congress has not recovered from the loss and it is again the BJP, with its violent turf battles with the Left, which is occupying the opposition space. A cursory look at the political map of India reveals that the Congress rules some patches at the margins with only Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh left as the proper in-land states. The 2017 assembly mandate has shrunk India’s grand old party even further.

Who challenges the BJP now? In states where the Congress has not been power for a long time or has lost power recently, the BJP is getting challenged by strong regional players—TMC in West Bengal, Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, Janata Dal (United) in Bihar, Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party in UP, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in Tamil Nadu.

But none of these parties is in a position to pose a national, pan-India challenge to the BJP in 2019 when India heads for the next general election. So, even as the latest round of assembly polls show a widening BJP footprint and a shrinking Congress, it does not answer this question: which party will challenge the BJP now at the national level?

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