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  Opinion   Columnists  09 Jun 2017  In South and East, BJP on Mission Expansion

In South and East, BJP on Mission Expansion

Sanjay Kumar is a professor and currently director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. The views expressed are personal.
Published : Jun 9, 2017, 2:20 am IST
Updated : Jun 9, 2017, 2:20 am IST

There is hardly any doubt that the BJP is gaining popularity among the people of Odisha.

BJP logo
 BJP logo

The BJP’s effort to expand the party’s support base in states like West Bengal, Odisha and Tripura in the east and Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana in the south is clearly aimed more at marginalising the Congress in these states than winning elections. The party’s support base has been low in these states. Even when the BJP registered a massive victory, winning 282 Lok Sabha seats, during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the party only managed to win seven of the 166 Lok Sabha seats which these six states account for. The BJP may find it impossible to win the next Assembly elections in these states, Odisha being the only exception, where it could pose a serious challenge to the Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal, but the BJP is hoping to occupy the space of main Opposition replacing the Congress, which eventually would pave the way for the party’s expansion in these states.

There is hardly any doubt that the BJP is gaining popularity among the people of Odisha. Trends from the local body election clearly indicate that the BJP cannot be ignored as a marginal player in state politics. For the first time in many years, the BJD faced stiff competition in the local body polls. While the BJD led in the civic polls, the BJP stood second by winning 297 of the 853 zila panchayat seats, with the Congress becoming a distant third, winning only 60 seats. These results seem to indicate that the BJP has already replaced the Congress as the principal alternative to the BJD in the state, at least in local body elections. In 2019, the BJD is expected to face greater anti-incumbency and public resentment amidst allegations of corruption against Mr Patnaik and his government.

 

Another state where the BJP is making a serious effort for its expansion is West Bengal. It may not be easy for the BJP to defeat the Trinamul Congress in the next Assembly elections (2021), but the BJP is hoping to occupy the place of main Opposition since the Left Front has already declined and there is hardly any sign of revival of the Congress. The Left Front polled only 30 per cent votes in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and 26 per cent during the 2016 Assembly elections when it contested these elections in alliance with the Congress. The Congress’ performance was no better; it polled 10 per cent votes in 2014 and 12 per cent in 2016 Assembly elections. The BJP’s voteshare did decline to 11 per cent in 2016 Assembly elections, compared to 17 per cent during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, but the party is hoping to capitalise on the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the state.

 

It is not surprising to see the BJP working hard for the party’s expansion in another Left-ruled state, Tripura. The Left Front has been in power in Tripura for 24 years, the Congress being the main Opposition. In Tripura, it may be difficult for the BJP to dream of forming the next government defeating the Left Front, but what the party aims is to dislodge the Congress and at least occupy the space of main Opposition party in the state.

The southern states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala have witnessed bipolar contests when various smaller political parties align with the two fronts. In Tamil Nadu, we have the DMK and AIADMK-led alliances, while in Kerala we have the LDF and UDF as the two dominant alliances. The Congress still remains a dominant player in Kerala, but in Tamil Nadu it is already a marginal player. The Congress polled six per cent votes in Tamil Nadu during the 2016 Assembly elections and four per cent during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The BJP could not perform as well as it may have imagined; it polled three per cent votes in 2016 Assembly elections and six per cent during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, but it is hoping to expand its support base and push the Congress behind it even in Tamil Nadu. The BJP managed to form a third front in Tamil Nadu during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, which collapsed before the 2016 Assembly election. It received three per cent votes contesting alone, but the party is still hoping to make further inroads, specially after the split in the AIADMK.

 

The BJP may have remained far behind the UDF and the LDF with only 11 per cent votes during the 2016 Assembly elections in Kerala, but it managed to open its account in the Legislative Assembly. The BJP has also managed to increase its voteshare in Kerala from six per cent in 2009 to 11 per cent during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The party may find it extremely difficult to replace the Congress in Kerala, but is still trying hard to expand its support base amongst urban voters.

Like in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, where the BJP is trying to expand with the help of forming an alliance, in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, the BJP is making an effort to expand its support base in alliance with regional parties. In AP, the party contested the 2014 Lok Sabha elections in alliance with the N. Chandrababu Naidu-led Telugu Desam Party; it polled 7.2 per cent votes and won two Lok Sabha seats. Similarly in Telangana, the party contested the 2014 Lok Sabha elections in alliance with TDP; it polled 10.5 per cent votes and won one Lok Sabha seat. The BJP may not have performed very well but there are reasons for the BJP to feel happy about it, since it performed better compared to the Congress in AP (Congress polled 2.9 per cent votes), which was once the ruling party in the united AP. The BJP is trying hard to fill the vacuum created by the Congress in these two states and occupy the position of main Opposition as well. The choice of these states for the party’s expansion is clearly aimed at marginalising the Congress than capturing power in these states.

 

Tags: bjp, naveen patnaik, narendra modi, aiadmk, chandrababu naidu