Congress-ally Jharkhand Mukti Morcha’s big win in the state’s recent assembly election, coupled with the BJP’s failed attempt to form a government in Maharashtra despite bending the constitutional machinery in its favour, has tempted some political analysts to begin talking of a “turnaround”. But a look at the national picture shows that this is far from true.
The BJP is now in power in 11 states and in the ruling alliance in another five; in a seventeenth state (Tamil Nadu), the party has no presence, but the party ruling the state is part of the National Democratic Alliance at the Centre. The Congress, meanwhile, is now in power in five states and in the ruling alliance in another two. The Congress may be in better shape than it was at the end of 2016 – having come to power in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Punjab since, and making it to the ruling alliance of Jharkhand and Maharashtra – but it has also lost power in some states, including Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Assam. This year, the Congress lost Arunachal Pradesh and Karnataka, and gained Maharashtra and Jharkhand.
The Congress’ recent successes also hide how deep a hole it really is in. An aggregation of the party-wise strength of MLAs across India shows that the BJP is still in the second-best position that it has ever been in, with 1,319 MLAs nationwide. (For 2019, the number of MLAs for both the BJP and the Congress for Jammu and Kashmir has been taken as zero.) This is second only to its 2017 position. Since Narendra Modi first swept to power, the BJP has largely held on to its position of having over 1,000 MLAs nationwide. In 2014, the party for the first time overtook the Congress in the nationwide tally of MLAs.
Even at the height of its dominance during the UPA-I era, the Congress did not have the nationwide strength of MLAs that the BJP now enjoys. [For this analysis, data is considered from 2008 onwards only to reflect the current strength of assemblies set by the 2008 delimitation exercise.] Historically, the Congress has always enjoyed a far bigger nationwide imprint.
As a result of the BJP’s growing dominance, the impact of regional parties – despite the recent successes of the Shiv Sena and the Nationalist Congress Party in Maharashtra and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha in Jharkhand – has reduced in the last three years. The share of MLAs held by regional parties has fallen to below half that of the total assembly constituencies in the country since 2017 – for the first time since the 2008 delimitation. Historically, since 1994, the number of MLAs belonging to regional parties have outnumbered the combined strength of the Congress and BJP. That trend was overturned in 2017.
Does this mean that there has been no revival of the fortunes of the Congress and regional parties? It’s difficult to say whether the momentum of these recent wins will carry forward. In 2020, Delhi and Bihar will have assembly elections, one a state where a regional party is a dominant force but was wiped out in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, and the other a state where a Congress alliance won the previous election but was later upended. As of the end of 2019, though, the BJP’s position is indeed still one of dominance.
The author is a Chennai-based data journalist. Views are personal.