Though there were no really big surprises in the latest round of assembly elections, apart from J Jayalalithaa beating anti-incumbency for the first time in the state since 1984, the really big takeaway is that prime minister Narendra Modi’s dream of a Congress- mukt Bharat just got that much closer. Even when it got a drubbing in the Lok Sabha in 2014, the Congress still ruled in 13 states; it is down to six now, of which only Karnataka is a truly large state—just 6% of Indians live in these six states. While the RSS has been working in Assam for close to three decades, illegal immigration from Bangladesh has been an issue the BJP has been closely associated with and the party leadership did get into important alliances with the Asom Gana Parishad and the Bodoland People’s Front before the election, the lion’s share of the credit for the BJP’s victory has to go to Rahul Gandhi. When dissidence in the party rose over the prominence given to Gaurav Gogoi—the son of the sitting chief minister Tarun Gogoi—in preference to the party’s rainmaker Himanta Biswa Sarma who was seen as the next CM candidate—Gandhi failed to act on it; the result was Sarma joining the BJP a year ago and helping his new alliance win a massive 86 seats thanks to an increase in vote share of nearly 10%.
The BJP and allies would be disappointed by just getting six seats in West Bengal, but its vote share is up to 11% as compared to 4% in the last elections—the party did get a 17% vote-share in the Lok Sabha election, but the two are hardly comparable. Though it got just one seat in Kerala, with a 15% vote share, up from a little over 6% the last time around, the erstwhile cow-belt party can truly claim to have gone national—without the Assam victory in which Gandhi played more than a small part, though, the BJP would not have been celebrating in the manner it was on Thursday, with the prime minister also coming out to make a statement. Perhaps learning from its debacle in Delhi and Bihar, the party projected a local leader in Assam—whose reputation flows from having successfully petitioned the Supreme Court to repeal the IMDT Act that helped illegal immigrants—and, with Modi just visiting the state three times, the focus was very clearly on local issues.
The victory comes as a shot in the arm for both Modi and party president Amit Shah whose magic was seen as waning after Delhi and Bihar setbacks, and possibly the party’s changed strategy will help in future elections. Whether the Congress will draw any serious conclusions from the losses remains to be seen—Sarma had harsh things to say about the treatment meted to him by Gandhi, on national television after the victory—but there is little doubt the changing composition of the Rajya Sabha that was under way even before these elections will make life easier for the BJP. While finance minister Arun Jaitley is confident of being able to pass the GST Bill in the monsoon session, the passage of the Bankruptcy and Real Estate Bills among 22 others in the last session—a total of 90 bills have been passed in the last two years—makes it clear the legislative logjam has been eased to a large extent.