Six Lessons from the 2016 Assembly Election Results

The minutiae of the results – vote shares, percentages, swings and constituency-wise analysis will follow, but till then, here are six major lessons to draw from the results.

Celebrations in West Bengal and Assam after the Assembly election results: Credit: PTI

Celebrations in West Bengal and Assam after the Assembly election results: Credit: PTI

Once again, the results in elections held in five states have confounded pundits and exit polls – barring one, no one gave a chance to AIADMK, for example. Mamata Bannerjee has steamrolled her opponents, Assam has chosen the BJP for the first time and the Congress continues with its contraction. The minutiae of the results – vote shares, percentages, swings and constituency-wise analysis will follow, but till then, here are six major lessons to draw from the results:

  1. Mamata Banerjee now emerges as the strongest regional politician in the country. In a field that includes Jayalalitha, Mulayam Singh Yadav and even Nitish Kumar, Didi is leagues ahead because of the scale of her victory combined with the fact that she doesn’t need anyone’s support – they need her. Though it is already clear that she has moved away from the Congress, the BJP cannot take her support on everything for granted. In most cases she will lean towards the BJP, simply to keep the party in the Centre happy, but she will demand more than her pound of flesh each time. She will also ensure that the BJP does not grow too big in her state. Unlike Nitish Kumar, she is not yet showing any national ambitions, which allows her more flexibility and leverage with the BJP.

  2. Regional parties continue to be strong. Neither the BJP nor the Congress, despite having run governments at the Centre, have the following that the regional parties have in their respective states. In crucial states like West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Telegana, Tamil Nadu and Bihar, the national parties do not enjoy the kind of support the local parties have-a look at the stupendous vote percentages that the latter get as compared to the former will prove that.

  3. The electorate now likes to give full majorities. After the BJP’s victory in May 2014, all elections – barring two – have seen a decisive vote. Delhi voted in AAP and Bihar supported the Mahagathbandhan. In all the five states this time, the verdict has been clear – no room for post-results horse trading or shaky coalitions. The message from the voter is – we will give you a majority, you have to provide governance. If you cannot, we will look for alternatives.

  4. Voters can see through sham coalitions. The Congress and the Left were partners in West Bengal and opponents in Kerala. The Left has been anti-Congress for decades and their new found love in West Bengal didn’t sound right. Adjustments can be made, but full fledged electoral partnerships among long-standing rivals will not wash.

  5. The BJP now has an all India presence. The coalition government in Karanataka in 2005 was its first foray in the south and now it has established a government in the north-east. It has also opened its account in Kerala and has shown it can win in West Bengal. All this should be of great help in 2019, besides the fact that it will enthuse the cadre, which was demoralised after Delhi and Bihar rejected the party. With two crucial state elections – Punjab and UP – coming up in the next few months, this is good news for the BJP. It also allows the government at the centre now to concentrate on pending economic and other issues.

  6. The Congress is now in the throes of an existentialist crisis. It may point to the occasional good performance here and there – and its aggregate total is higher than the BJP – and can also claim it has still got a presence in almost every state, but nowhere is it number one. For it to be happy as the number two party in many states is a cop out. It retains a small support base, but that will keep eroding as more and more voters turn to other alternatives, because the Congress has little now to offer. Fingers can be pointed at the Gandhi family (as much as successes are credited to them too) but the problem is structural and, shockingly, ideological. No one is quite sure what the party’s core values are. The party itself seems confused what it fundamentally stands for. At this rate, the familiar pattern of pre-election defections and a subsequent poor performance will continue even in Punjab and UP and finally in Karnataka.