The results of the Maharashtra and Haryana Assembly results have shown the door to wannabe political outfits seeking relevance in the two States. Both the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Swaraj India failed to open their accounts in Haryana, while Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) and Prakash Ambedkar’s Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) proved to be duds in Maharashtra.
Only six years ago, the AAP led by Arvind Kejriwal had grand dreams of making forays in Haryana, besides Punjab. These States are contiguous to Delhi where Kejriwal rules as Chief Minister. The 2014 Lok Sabha election gave the party some hope after it picked up four Lok Sabha seats from Punjab. Thereafter it began to go downhill, partly due to internal factionalism and partly due to the gains made by the Congress, which ensured that there was no political space for more than two parties — the BJP-Shiromani Akali Dal being the other. Kejriwal and the team did nothing right in trying to reverse the trend over the years.
Raj Thackeray tried in 2014 to gain some heft after he came out in open support of Narendra Modi and remained one for some months after Modi became Prime Minister.
It can be safely assumed that the AAP has given up, at least for now, on its political ambitions. The aim had been indeed high once upon a time; Kejriwal had even gone all the way to Varanasi to contest against Narendra Modi in 2014 and lost resoundingly. Suitably chastened, he returned to Delhi and began to concentrate his energies in consolidating his party’s hold in this quasi-State.
Delhi votes for a new Assembly early next year, and the AAP is unlikely to repeat its astounding 2015 performance when it won 67 of the 70 seats, decimating the Congress and leaving just three seats for the BJP. Most observers believe that the AAP is still strongly placed, but it has a fight ahead. The BJP, enthused by its wins — although muted as compared to 2014 — in Haryana and Maharashtra, will push ahead with the advantage and hope to return to power in a state that it lost to the Congress’s Sheila Dikshit almost two decades ago. The Congress, while in somewhat of disarray with the death of its tallest leader Sheila Dikshit and wracked by factionalism, is hoping to regain some lost ground. It may not be a pushover this time around.
Matters were made worse for the AAP after it sacked some of its founding members including Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan. Yadav, a former psephologist and now a political commentator, floated Swaraj India to test its political fortunes. But Yadav’s efforts have been an electoral disaster so far. It contested 40 seats in Haryana and failed to make a mark in any one of them. Its founder may seek to downplay the defeat by claiming that he was “just laying the foundation of a new electoral discourse”, but the fact is that Swaraj India has not been able to seize the voters’ attention. Yadav is seen more often in television studio debates, dishing out electoral knowledge to everyone who cares to listen, but none of that understanding seems to have helped his party do much on the ground. Yonder Yadav has been reduced to being a paper tiger.
In Maharashtra, Ambedkar’s VBA drew a blank, despite Prakash Ambedkar’s parental lineage. Not only did it fail to win a single Assembly seat, but its vote share as compared to the last Lok Sabha polls also dipped; it had secured over seven percent votes in the 2019 general elections. Prakash Ambedkar had approached the voters by projecting himself as the most credible campaigner for the interests of the Scheduled Castes, but he was rebuffed. Perhaps he had realized early on that his party was too weak on its own to make an impact, which is why he was desperate for an alliance with the Congress. But the Congress, already in a pact with Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party, had no space for him, and it ignored his pleas. He thus went to the voters, ranting against both the Congress and the BJP.
It is clear that Prakash Ambedkar‘s repeated attempts to occupy political space by riding on the Scheduled Caste votes, will not work. For one, other parties such as the Congress and even the BJP have managed to win this segment over. Besides, there is the Republican Party of India (Athawale), whose leader Ramdas Athavale is in alliance with the BJP and the Shiv Sena in the State, and which also targets the Scheduled Castes and other backward class votes. it has been a pretty good job, aided by the organizational might of its partners.
The Raj Thackeray-led MNS’s fate was almost as bad. It picked up just one Assembly seat and saw a drop in its vote share. Its best days were in 2009 when it had won 13 seats and secured nearly six percent of the votes. But it has been downhill since then, partly because no one is sure of this Thackeray’s political ideology. If it is that of his uncle Balasaheb Thackeray, then that ideology’s inheritor is the Shiv Sena and its incumbent chief Uddhav Thackeray — Balasaheb’s son. In the tussle for political might, the gentler Uddhav seems to have won the day whereas the more aggressive and by some accounts a closer imitator of Balasaheb, has lost his way.
Raj Thackeray tried in 2014 to gain some heft after he came out in open support of Narendra Modi and remained one for some months after Modi became Prime Minister. But, later on, having realized that he wasn’t getting the attention he believed he deserved, from either Modi or his confidants including Amit Shah, he began to turn against the Prime Minister, discovering issues to criticize. When the Shiv Sena adopted a confrontational posture against the BJP some months ago, many believed that Raj Thackeray and Uddhav Thackeray could forge some sort of understanding to checkmate the BJP and Prime Minister Modi, but that did not materialize.
The latest poll results have shown, therefore, that smaller outfits need to reinvent themselves in a way that gives them a unique character. Wannabes will not work.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.