It is unprecedented. Probably for the first time, a national party failed to win a single seat in a Lok Sabha election. But the BSP is not alone. Two major regional parties — the DMK and the National Conference — suffered the same fate. Add to the list two national — the SP (5) and the CPI(1) — and two regional outfits — AAP (4) and JD(U) (2) — who together won just 12 seats. In 2009, these parties sent 89 MPs to to the Lok Sabha. If you take out the newbie AAP from the equation, that is a loss of 81 seats.
Those who surfed the wave — the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu or the Trinamool Congress in Bengal — cannot sit smug either. They are grappling to contain the saffron surge that may upset all equations in the next Assembly polls. The BJP has won a seat in Tamil Nadu with an overall vote share of 5.5 percent, while the BJP-led six-party alliance won another and came second in five constituencies. The headache for Mamata Banerjee is bigger in Bengal, where the BJP bagged two seats and its vote share almost trebled to 17 percent.
Soon after the results were announced on 16 May, both Amma and Didi swung into action. Despite an emphatic sweep in 37 of the 40 seats in the state, J Jayalalithaa sacked three ministers and six district heads for the party’s loss in Kanyakumari, Dharmapuri and Puducherry to the BJP and its allies PMK and AINRC, respectively. With Assembly polls due in two years, it was a clear message to her party rank and file that no laxity would be tolerated.
In Bengal, local MLA Malay Ghatak was made to step down as agriculture minister to discourage infighting that apparently compromised the chances of the party’s Asansol candidate Dola Sen, considered an outsider, against the BJP’s Babul Supriyo, who won by a margin of over 70,000 votes. Mamata was furious that a Trinamool rally on 5 May failed to attract even a 15,000-strong crowd at the same venue where Narendra Modi addressed about 1.5 lakh people the previous day.
If the winners with home runs are so unforgiving, one cannot blame the losers for venting their anger and frustration on party functionaries. On 20 May, Mayawati dissolved the party’s zonal committees, headed by her close confidants and prominent Muslim faces such as Naseemuddin Siddiqui and Munquad Ali, and the district committees. Instead, she appointed coordinators in charge of each of the 80 parliamentary constituencies of the state. She said those candidates who gave up the fight and did not come even second or third would not get tickets in the next election.
The same day, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav dismissed 36 SP leaders who enjoyed the status of a minister of state. The move came a day after party president Mulayam Singh Yadav pulled up his son for the party’s pathetic show. “When I was the CM, we won 36 seats in 2004 and three in the bypolls. This time, he (Akhilesh) is the CM and we won five seats. Why? With whom will I sit in Parliament?” Yadav fumed at a party meet where a number of defeated candidates apparently complained that several of Akhilesh’s ministers sabotaged their chances in the General Election.
In Bihar, JD(U) president Sharad Yadav gunned for Nitish Kumar, who was forced to step down as CM, and briefly reached out to Lalu Yadav’s RJD in a bid to reoccupy the non-BJP, non-Congress political space in the state. In Tamil Nadu, M Karunanidhi’s heir apparent MK Stalin resigned from all party posts, taking responsibility for the DMK’s rout, after he had handpicked candidates for the state and Puducherry, but withdrew it within hours on his father’s insistence. Elder brother MK Alagiri, expelled ahead of elections, predicted the “drama” the moment Stalin resigned.
The unexpected electoral drubbing has also drove AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal to apologise to Delhiites on 21 May for relinquishing responsibility as CM after a 49- day stint and signal fresh polls as the only way out. Never mind that a day earlier, he had requested Delhi Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung not to dissolve the Assembly before he held public meetings to seek the people’s opinion on forming the government again. But this time, the Congress refused to extend support.
With Assembly polls due in six months, the NC government in Jammu & Kashmir is desperate to win people’s trust back. On 20 May, it ended the four -year- long SMS ban on prepaid cell phones. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah also tweeted that he would propose scrapping the New Recruitment Policy with immediate effect on 21 May.
Junking the job policy that entitles new appointees in Class-III and Class-IV categories only to a fixed salary equivalent to 50-75 percent of the basic pay during the first five years of service will cost the exchequer dearly. Also in the pipeline are populist measures such as reduction in power tariff for domestic consumers, removal of ban on hiring casual labourers and filling up of 70,000 vacancies in government departments.
The chicken run notwithstanding, how grave is the saffron challenge on the ground? Take Bihar, for example. Between them, the RJD (20 percent) and the JD(U) (15.8 percent) have as much vote share as that of the BJP (29.4 percent) and the LJP (6.4 percent). In Tamil Nadu, the DMK has suffered a serious setback but still commands the second largest vote share of 23.6 percent behind the AIADMK. In Kerala, the BJP vote share has crossed the 10 percent mark but the Left still retains nearly as much support base as the Congress.
In Bengal, the once-invincible CPM’s vote share has crumbled to a shocking 22.7 percent, just six percentage points above the BJP. But rather than worrying about the saffron surge, the party has been complaining about the strong-arm poll management strategies the TMC inherited from its predecessor in power. If the BJP’s consolidation and the Left’s organisational rout continue in the state, the latter may well have to relinquish the principal Opposition space in the 2016 Assembly polls.
The NC also faces its toughest challenge in J&K, where its vote share has dwindled to a mere 11.1 percent. Together with the Congress, the UPA vote share of 34 percent is almost 19 percentage points behind the BJP (32.4 percent) and the former NDA ally PDP (20.5 percent). Omar will need a miracle to continue in his office after the Assembly polls due later this year.
In Uttar Pradesh, both the SP (22.6 percent) and the BSP (19.6 percent) have lost ground. But the vote share does not reflect the total rout that the seat share suggests. In fact, the Congress took two seats in the state with a vote share of just 7.5 percent while the BSP returned empty-handed with more than two -and- a-half times the support. Though it does not have a single MP, the BSP has emerged as the third largest party, nationally, with a vote share of 4.1 percent, behind the BJP and the Congress.
AAP may not have won a single Lok Sabha seat from Delhi and, in fact, lost 60 out of 70 Assembly segments to the BJP, but the party’s vote share went up by 4 percentage points in the state. Under pressure within the party, Kejriwal even tried to form the government again. Now that AAP cannot impress with governance, it faces the uphill task of reassuring the middle class by persuasion alone.
In the following pages, TEHELKA correspondents have reported from across the country the upheavals in the regional parties that were hit by the Modi tsunami and what they may yet be able to salvage in time for the next battle. It is not going to be easy, certainly not during the customary honeymoon period the Modi sarkar is entitled to at the Centre.
Jay Mazoomdaar is an independent journalist