Yet another Dance of Democracy

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What is this ‘biggest dance of democracy’? The answer is a resounding ‘elections’. Indeed it is, given the magnitude of spending, rallying, and above all,  people’s involvement in the whole process, which forms the core of the whole democratic process. Yet another dance was performed, this time in four States, viz., Assam, Kerala, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, and a Union Territory, Puducherry. Assam was clinched by BJP in alliance with Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and Bodoland People’s Front (BPF), among others, unsettling the Indian National Congress Government; Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress swept through West Bengal with an overwhelming majority; Kerala witnessed a change, with the Left Front winning the majority; Tamil Nadu saw Jayalalitha retain her government, and Puducherry going over to the Indian National Congress. The elections have sent out a clear message about the unpredictability of the vote share division among the contestants and would play a crucial role in setting a new stage for the national politics. These elections assume further significance given that the ruling NDA coalition does not enjoy a majority in the Upper House, unlike the Lower House and would no doubt be playing a role in augmenting its strength in the Rajya Sabha.

BJP in Assam: A setback for Congress

For Assam it is suggested that it was the wave of anti-incumbency that marked the departure of Tarun Gogoi-led Congress Party. Himanta Biswas Sarma and Sarbanand Sonowal are considered to be instrumental for Bhartiya Janata Party’s victory in the State. Sarma was earlier a part of the Congress Party but left it later on to join BJP. Sarbanand Sonowal was appointed as the Chief Minister of Assam. The agenda of  BJP focused majorly on its ‘pro-development’ approach, besides other issues such as,  completely sealing off  the land boundary with Bangladesh to tackle the issue of illegal immigration  which  has  long affected Assam, causing communal tensions in Assam, employment issues, et al. It shall  however be noted that Assam shares a border of  262 Km with Bangladesh, and this remained one of the primary agendas of BJP’s manifesto. NDA’s stand for separate statehood for the Bodoland will also have to be watched out for. Further, Tarun Gogoi-led government was very frequently targeted upon by the BJP-led coalition on developmental aspects in Assam. Assam has marked a departure and is projected by the ruling NDA coalition as people’s vote for ‘pro-development’ politics in the nation which removed the Congress Party which had ruled the State for three consecutive terms.

TMC retains itself in West Bengal

In West Bengal, the Congress-Left coalition could not materialize its dream of toppling the strong Mamata Banerjee –led TMC, which at some moments appeared weak given the recent instances of corruption which had affected the State. The results however clearly demonstrate that Didi’s undiminished personal appeal to the masses and her never-say-die spirit combined with the development which was quite visible throughout the State guided her to the victory. Congress-Left could not capitalize on the two scams that hit the State. Further, now, questions are being raised on the alliance of the duo, with Left particularly introspecting the viability and as to how its future relationship with the Congress has to be defined. Even though in the 2014 Assembly Elections, the Congress-Left Alliance had posed a stiff challenge to the TMC by mobilizing 39.64% of the total vote share against TMC’s 39.72%, however it could not be repeated in 2016 State Assembly Elections. However, this could be owing to fact that the agendas of both were different. However, at this juncture, the need is  to question  whether people still believe in the ideology of the Left. The declining support for it candidates shows that either its coalition with the Congress did not bode well for it or that its ideology in itself has reached to a stage of demise where people find it obsolete in the current economic, social and political scenario. Indeed a number of instances of corruption could have played a great role, if not in inflicting a defeat, in  putting it in a position where any victory would have been a hard fought victory for the TMC. The development agenda certainly played its part and sent a message that there was no better alternative to Didi.  Her  promising personality also helped  in garnering support.Even though the BJP  could not fetch much seats, it has improved its standing in comparison to the previous elections.

The Unforgiving Voters of Kerala

Kerala was clinched by the Left, perhaps an answer by the unforgiving voters of Kerala to the ruling Chandy-led United Democratic Front (UDF). For long, Kerala’s economy has largely relied on tourism as its source of income. Though the industry is quite a flourishing one, there is a significant lack of industrialization in the State, a concern which has gained significant attention in the recent times.  The  interesting part is that Congress and Left were not in an alliance in Kerala unlike  in West Bengal. The primary question for the Congress to be answered here is that what policies as an opposition would the Congress look for, because it has the possibility of affecting its relationship with the Left in the West Bengal. Certain voices within the Left have called for an introspection in its relationship with the Congress given the outcome of West Bengal polls. Therefore the relationship between the two will  be closely watched out for. BJP was finally able to open its account in Kerala with O Rajagopal’s win, the only seat it was able to win in Kerala. However, this is pretty significant for Kerala as this might mean that BJP has some takers in Kerala for its ‘pro-development’ agenda, something that Kerala has been largely deprived of. There are  chances that BJP may  capitalize on this and play a crucial role in the future of the State-building and it has got to play a deeper role in the development of the State.

A Move away from the Convention in Tamil Nadu

In Tamil Nadu, ending the trend where DMK and AIADMK used to win alternatively, Jayalalitha enjoyed a comfortable win in the State. Elections in Tamil Nadu are largely bipolar in nature, with votes by-and-large divided between AIADMK and DMK, with smaller parties laying their allegiance to either of the two parties. No party before this election had been elected for a  consecutive second term. The opinion polls too had predicted a comeback for DMK. Despite being accused in disproportionate assets case, though subsequently acquitted (appeal now being heard by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India), she managed to win. This can be attributed to the large fan following she had earned during her tenure, especially through the popular tag of ‘Amma’. Development related activities and generation of employment opportunities  played a significant role in voters voting for  her. Therefore, her strong image, its invocation and enthusiasm with which she had led the party, coupled with the development efforts which she had made in the State. However, at two places, Aravakurichi and Thanjavur, the elections were postponed by the Election Commission  as there were reports that huge sum of money and alcohol was distributed among the voters. In this process, the Election Commission has also sent out a strong message.

The Way Forward

These elections assume great significance when looked at in the light of the position of parties at the national level, especially when elections to the Rajya Sabha are round the corner. Though these elections will not give an immediate majority to the ruling NDA Government in the Upper House, yet this could be seen as the setting of the stage for that pursuit. The elections have further sent the message of diminishing support for the Congress party, while at the same time marking a significant increase in the vote share for the ruling NDA across the country. It managed to open its account in Kerala, where it had none before and then further went on to mark a triumphant win in the Assam. Furthermore, it shares cordial relations with the TMC and AIADMK in comparison to its counterpart Indian National Congress. The Congress party could win only in Puducherry, which is largely considered to be insignificant from the perspective of the national politics. Further, the alliance of Congress and Left calls for a serious introspection of the  complexity of the relation, given that both of them stand in opposition to each other in Kerala. Not just at the State level, but the Congress needs to reconsider and seriously introspect its approach against the ruling NDA Government at the central level as well. The vote share of the Congress has suffered a significant damage and therefore its tactics deserve a close relook. It is notable to mention here that as per a study, during these Assembly Elections, majorly in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, it was women voters who contributed largely and led to the respective parties to the victory. Therefore, from all the perspectives these elections assume a great significance. It will have to be watched out for that how the dance of democracy will shake the elephant.

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