Assembly Polls A key lesson for both BJP & Congress!

The current phase of assembly elections in Assam, Kerala, Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal may serve as an important indicator of several possible developments. The key one is probably the success that national parties may be expected to secure in assembly elections. It may be noted that as indicated by previous assembly election results, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has practically a negligible presence in all these states. When the 2011 assembly elections were held, BJP was in opposition at the Centre. It is to be watched, whether BJP’s success in the 2014 parliamentary elections has a strong impact on assembly poll results in these five states or not. Unlike BJP, the presence of Indian National Congress (INC) cannot be sidelined in these five states. Given that the INC performed miserably in the last Lok Sabha polls, a key question being deliberated on is whether that will affect this party’s performance in these assembly elections.

Performance of national parties in these assembly polls may be influenced by the progress of regional parties. It may be worth noting that there is a remarkable parallel between the rise of regional parties and decline in political appeal of INC in state politics. Prospects of INC regaining its earlier stature and dominance may be viewed as extremely limited, primarily because of increase in the political reach and influence of regional parties. This factor will also play a strong role in limiting the success of the BJP in the assembly elections. Besides, the limited importance accorded by the BJP to regional factors may also be a stumbling block in its progress in state assembly elections. In addition, the communal tag attached with the BJP’s image can hardly be expected to favour its performance in these polls.  Irrespective of however limited the chances of BJP faring well in these polls may be, if this does happen, it may have a crucial impact in subsequent assembly elections.

Equally important is the possible shift in the Muslim vote in these five states. In Assam, around 10.7 million Muslims form 34% of the state’s population. Kerala’s population is around 33.3 million, of which 26.5% are Muslims. In Pondicherry as well as Tamil Nadu, Muslims constitute six percent of the state population. West Bengal has 24.6 million Muslims, who form around 27% of that state’s population. During 2011 assembly polls, out of 294 members in West Bengal, 59 were Muslims. In Kerala, 36 of 140 assembly members were Muslims. Of 126 members in Assam assembly, 28 were Muslims. Only six were Muslims in the 234-member Tamil Nadu assembly and one in the 30-member assembly in Pondicherry.

At the outset it seems that the Muslim vote is likely to play a crucial role in assembly elections of Assam, Kerala and West Bengal. Interestingly, while this point is supported by the importance of parties, known as “Muslim parties” in Assam and Kerala, this is not the case in West Bengal. The majority of Muslim legislators in West Bengal in the outgoing assembly belong primarily to Trinamool Congress (TMC). These include 25 from TMC and 15 from INC. Considering that Muslim voters in West Bengal opted to vote for the TMC alliance in 2011 polls, their voting behaviour was influenced by same factors as was that of the majority of voters because of which TMC succeeded in defeating the Left front there. This political trend displayed by Muslim voters in this state is supported by the absence of parties found exclusively by Muslims and/or supported only by Muslims. It may be noted that with the key parties in the state floating a considerable number of Muslim candidates, the need for forming a separate political front to voice their respective stand and field their candidates was not apparently sensed by West Bengal’s Muslim populace.

The political situation seems to be totally different in the other four states. The Muslim population in Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry does not seem to be too significant to lead to rise of Muslim-based parties. At the same time, the Muslim population is not negligible enough to be ignored. This is marked by their representation, though small, in these two state assemblies. The reverse is the picture in Assam and Kerala. The performance of Muslim League in Kerala and that of the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) in Assam stands out. Nominally, though the Muslim League claims to be representative of all Indian Muslims, statistically this isn’t the case. Similarly, nominally AIUDF gives impression of being an all India party, politically its importance is confined to some areas of Assam. Besides, though AIUDF does not include religious tag in its name, the party is known to be dominated by key Muslims of Assam.

Interestingly, INC may still be viewed as a key party in Assam as well as Kerala. While BJP is expected to perform well in Assam, the same cannot be said about its prospects in Kerala as well as the other three states. It is to be watched as to how well regional parties fare in these polls, which may be a hard lesson for both the BJP and INC!    

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 May 2016 on page no. 11

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