Beyond BJP and Congress
Regional parties will hold sway on Lok Sabha 2019 as neither BJP nor Congress will enjoy full majority
The regional parties will be the king-makers in the ensuing Lok Sabha polls. Even The New York Times on Sunday pointed out, "Most analysts believe neither Mr. Modi's party, Bharatiya Janata Party nor Indian National Congress Party will win an outright majority. That means regional and caste-based parties will probably become the kingmakers…. ." Despite the massive 'Modi wave,' the combined strength of the regional parties in 2014 was 212 seats, which shows they cannot be ignored. Their vote share also was almost equal. Regional satraps like Mamata Banerjee (West Bengal), Naveen Patnaik (Odisha) and J Jayalalithaa (Tamil Nadu) held their sway over their respective states.
BJP might have a tough time fighting these parties. As a strategy, the party will have to face SP and BSP combine in UP, ally with Janata Dal (United) to take on Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) coalition in Bihar, try to expand in West Bengal and Odisha and wait for a post-poll deal with the Telangana Rashtra Samithi and YSR Congress, as well AIADMK in Tamil Nadu.
Interestingly, going for a straight fight with Congress might be easier for BJP than facing the different regional parties in the states. Confronting the Congress could be just 'Congress- bashing' but it needs different narratives for the different regional parties like Telugu Desam Party, YSR Congress, Telangana Rashtra Samithi, Biju Janata Dal, Trinamool Congress, DMK and AIADMK who have pitted regional narratives to counter the nationalist narrative of the BJP.
In the south, where the regional parties hold sway, the BJP won mere 22 seats in 2014 despite the Modi wave. It has no allies in the southern states. The BJP's attempt for an alliance with the AIADMK and the DMK in the post-Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi era has failed so far. Kerala oscillates between the UDF and the LDF while Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are under the hold of regional satraps.
There is a mushroom growth of regional parties since the caste-based identity politics emerged in the eighties based on caste, religion, and regionalism. They work on four major planks – autonomy (parties like National Conference), statehood (earlier Telangana and now Aam Aadmi party), identity (Shiv Sena), and development. Often they combine two or more of these for their emergence.
There are several reasons for the growth of regional parties like disenchantment with the national parties, craving for development, emergence of strong regional leaders and emotional issues, which catch the attention of the public. In some states like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Bihar, and Telengana the regional parties have succeeded in achieving significant success addressing development and governance. In Tamil Nadu, governments led by the AIADMK or the DMK have performed well in public health. In Odisha and Andhra Pradesh the state governments have done well in dealing with the natural disasters.
The vote-share of these regional parties has also grown in the last two decades. Even in recent Assembly polls in Telengana and Mizoram, it is the regional parties who have performed well, a post-2014 trend clearly visible in states with sizeable presence of non-BJP and non-Congress parties. Also, most of the state Assembly elections BJP lost are at the hands of regional parties. Therefore, it is clear that the regional parties might play an important role in 2019 polls.
Interestingly, some of the regional parties also have national ambitions. While the Andhra Pradesh chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu is working for a national anti-BJP front, his bête noire K Chandrashekhar Rao is aiming to form a federal front of non-BJP, Non-Congress parties to fight BJP.
The SP-BSP-RLD alliance in U.P might hurt BJP in Uttar Pradesh. They have contested the recent Lok Sabha and assembly by-elections together with stunning results. Realising the importance, the Congress is stitching alliances with the regional parties in several states. It is going to be a direct fight between BJP and Congress in at least five major states — Gujarat, MP, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, and Haryana, while in others the regional parties will wield their powers. The Congress has struck alliances with some of them. This includes Maharashtra (NCP), Kerala (UDF), Karnataka, JD (S), Jammu and Kashmir (National Conference) Tamil Nadu (DMK), Bihar (RJD) and Jharkhand (JMM). It is crucial for the Congress and its allies to perform well to cross the halfway mark (272) in the Lower House in the ensuing Lok Sabha polls.
If these alliances hold together during the Lok Sabha polls, the results will be very different from the 2014 elections. Knowing their importance the regional satraps are also flexing their muscles although only the Congress and the BJP can cross the 50-seat mark. It's clear that for the BJP, the winning tally will depend largely on how the party copes with these regional parties, as they are the main challengers. It must go for a state-specific strategy to fight with them.
(The views expressed are strictly personal)