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The Growing Power of the BJP and what that means for India's Regional Parties

The Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in India in 2014 through a win of 282 seats in the general elections.

This led to them being allotted 336 votes with the 38.5% vote coming through the NDA (National Democratic Alliance).

They came into power again in the 2019 elections after they won 303 seats and increased their substantial majority by winning a total of 353 with the NDA comprising of 37.36% of the votes.

After the performance of BJP in the elections held in 2019, the party began to establish its hold and power in many more parts of India like Odisha, Telengana and even West Bengal (all states with a history of being regional and left party strongholds)

The party then began to pose a serious challenge to the authority of a number of regional parties. The BJP then went on to form the majority in government and it is the first time that something like this has occurred since 1971.

This paved way for the party to exert its influence in India.

The BJP’s ‘undiluted’ power has allowed for a huge amount of centralization and this in turn has generated greater disparities between the regional parties and the national ruling party. Between 1984 and 2014, the regional parties in India secured between 43% - 52% vote share and if we extrapolate the results of the 2014 elections from these numbers and the hold and stability that the political parties had over India then we can say that BJP won the 2014 elections only at the expense of the growing unpopularity of the Indian National Congress.

There is a lot of evidence which suggests that the power of the regional parties is inversely proportional to the strength of those which operate polity wide

These parties are those which prefer to govern alone and only venture towards coalition when they feel that they don’t have their desired influence over a particular state, which then leads them to join hands with the regional ruling party forming a coalition government. Polity wide parties have only one goal, which is to reduce their dependence on state-based regional parties and cover as much territory as they can to improve their influence.

The state-based regional parties, across the country, are then caused to keep a united front so that they can keep the polity wide parties wind up tied down and dependent on regional parties so that coalition and power-sharing can take place in certain states. The biggest example of a polity wide party in our country is the BJP which was preceded by the Indian National Congress.

Towards the latter half of 2018, a set of political parties from different parts of the country attempted to come back into power in the Centre and tried to recede the power of the ever-growing BJP. Five parties, the Telugu Desam Party, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi, the Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and the All India Trinamool Congress at times appeared to work together, sometimes against each other and sometimes separate from each other to push the cause and the strength of the state-based parties towards the Centre. They saw that polity wide parties such as the most prominent one and the ruling party at the time being, BJP were falling short of a majority, hence, they decided to grab this opportunity and position themselves as the main, strong, key players. With 17 Lok Sabha seats the leader of Telangana Rashtra Samithi, Chandrashekhar Rao, decided to call for the preponement of the elections that were to take place in 2019 to take place in 2018, with the state and national elections set to happen together, the main focus was to be on the central government and its leadership. When this could not take place, the separated elections still appeared to be a political advantage to him as the focus would now be on his state, party and leadership. Similarly, the leader of the Telugu Desam Party, Chandrababu Naidu, decided to hit the ground running and join hands with the Congress.

His aim was to form a coalition of parties whose only motive of unity was to rally a contingent against the BJP.

Then, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party decided to join hands, putting aside years of bitterness and cutthroat rivalries while, in the East, the leader of the All India Trinamool Congress, was made the face of the movement that wished to establish it's dominance at the Centre while building a ‘’United India’’ rally in Kolkata.

West Bengal was a critical state in the minds of the State leaders as BJP did not have a very strong hold there the time.

The 2019 election results shocked these regional party leaders and crushed their big dreams of being leaders at the Centre. From the mid – 1990s till 5 years ago, national politics were affected to a huge extent because of state level differences which reflected in the increase in number of political parties across states and that displayed heterogeneity across states.

There are 2 kinds of regional parties, the regionally located and the regionalist. The regionally located do not have any regional or state specific agenda and are regional because they only compete and win in limited, specific territories. The regionalist party has a clear vision and plan for the states they contest. They contest on the basis of 3 claims ; the national parties are incapable of addressing the concerns of the state, the language, culture, pride etc. should be protected and that the Centre should give out more powers to the states.

Polity – wide parties emphasize commonalities to play the role of an aggregator while parties always stress upon differences and have questions about the position of their state in various matters. Though, BJP has succeeded in places with strong regional parties such as Assam and Jammu. They were able to convert the regionalist battle into a nationalist project.

In many ways, between 1996 – 2014, many main demands of the state-based parties were fulfilled paving the way for a new age of federalism. Raising state – specific issues were no longer considered wrong or anti-national and it added a new perspective to the decision making process at the national level. The power base of the states lay with them and not the parliament and they could not be run down by anyone now. The parliament also started looking at states as associates and not secondary. There was also reduced central intervention with the decline of the use of Article 356.

Dominance is not permanent, it is established over a long period of time but once the dominant leaders or parties stop taking action, it can diminish very easily. The BJP currently dominates the country. While this dominance may diminish over time, waiting for it to naturally happen without action will not be the most fruitful strategy for regional parties looking to expand their influence beyond their states and regions.

Authored by Surabhi Kumar

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