Yesterday, the ruling Congress Party in India was dealt a huge blow by losing four state elections in India. The more-liberal Congress Party, which has been the primary ruling power in India since its independence in 1947, lost handily to the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People’s Party). The BJP is an emerging conservative party, with a Hindu-nationalist, self-sufficient platform, which offers an alternative to the liberal social ideologies of the Congress Party.
The BJP was able to maintain its power and influence in the Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh states, but surprised Indian political pundits with their victories in the western Rajasthan state and Delhi, India’s capital. In Rajasthan, the BJP won 162 of the 200 seats, with Congress only winning 21.
However, the biggest surprise came with the elections in Delhi. The Congress Party had been the ruling political power in Delhi for the past 15 years. Sunday, however, they lost control of the nation’s capital, winning only 8 of the 70 seats. The BJP party came out as the winning party in Delhi with a total of 31 seats. The surprise, however, was the rise of the Aam Aadmi Party, or Common Man’s Party, which won an unprecedented 28 seats.
The almost-victory of the AAP comes as such a surprise because the party was founded just one year ago. The AAP was born out of the recent unrest in India due to severe political corruption, surging food prices, and a stagnant economy. “Our democracy has been subservient to political parties governed by caste, religion, money power, muscle power and corruption for too long. People were exhausted with this kind of politics and decided to contest elections themselves,” stated Arvind Kejriwal, the leader of the AAP who defeated Sheila Dikshit, the reigning three-term chief minister and representative of the Congress Party in Delhi.
The election results comes as a huge blow to the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that has dominated Indian politics for nearly 70 years. Sonia Gandhi, the Italian-born leader of the Congress Party, has conceded the importance of such a vote: “We have to look into the way we took or did not take our message to the people… people are obviously unhappy, otherwise they would not have given such results.” Her current Vice President of India and heir-apparent to the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, Rahul Gandhi, has also voiced lessons learned from the trouncing handed to the Congress Party by the BJP: What we need to do as a party is to move ahead of just talking about good governance and move to a paradigm, to a place, where we are actually giving serious space to the common man. I am going to put all my efforts into transforming the organization of the Congress Party.”
While many political pundits are discussing the impact these state elections will have on the future of Indian governance, research from a Bank of America Merrill Lynch report shows that correlation between state and national elections in India is weak. The report states several reasons as to why the victories of the BJP may not translate to national victories next year. First and foremost, the four states in which the BJP won only represent 13% of the national vote. Secondly, much like elections here in the United States, these state elections are only indications of where the people stand, not firm-indicators of party-allegiance. When national elections roll around next year, people will still vote for individual candidates. Last, the success of the AAP demonstrates that regional parties will still be very influential, meaning coalition governance will still be prevalent despite the successes of the BJP.
If the Congress Party wants to maintain its control over Indian politics, it only has until 4 months to turn its fortunes around as general elections for the Lok Sabha take place in April.[Image via Twitter]