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What’s fuelling BJP’s dominance in Indian politics?

BJP

In electoral terms, the BJP has become the central pole around which politics revolves. The decisive majority it earned in 2014 — coupled with an impressive string of state election triumphs over the past four years — arguably represents a critical juncture in the evolution of India’s party system.

The BJP’s emerging hegemony should not be conflated with electoral invincibility. As recent elections have demonstrated in states such as Bihar, Delhi and Karnataka, the party is fallible.

Four years after coming to power at the Centre, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is methodically crafting a new political hegemony. This newfound predominance, as argued by political scientist Suhas Palshikar in a recent issue of Economic and Political Weekly, is built on two foundational pillars: elections and ideology.

Ideologically, the BJP’s twin emphasis on Hindu nationalism and a “new developmentalism” has saturated the world of ideas at a time when the Indian National Congress’s legacy of secular nationalism has fallen out of favour. The popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has further propelled the BJP’s ideology into the national spotlight.

While Palshikar is principally concerned with the BJP’s nascent ideological hegemony, its progress in the electoral domain is equally important. In electoral terms, the BJP has become the central pole around which politics revolves. The decisive single-party parliamentary majority it earned in 2014 — coupled with an impressive string of state election triumphs over the past four years — arguably represents a critical juncture in the evolution of India’s party system. And while the party’s expanding footprint is unmistakable, equally stunning is its principal rival’s reversal of fortune. The Congress party’s loosening grip on state assemblies has coincided with a serious drop in its share of state legislators and representatives in the Rajya Sabha. The BJP and its allies, meanwhile, have been steadily picking up steam.

However, the BJP’s emerging hegemony should not be conflated with electoral invincibility. As recent elections have demonstrated in states such as Bihar, Delhi, and Karnataka, the party is fallible. Furthermore, its ability to replicate in 2019 the electoral rout it achieved in 2014 looks unlikely given the burden of anti-incumbency in India as well as the Modi government’s mixed economic track record. Future electoral setbacks are a distinct possibility. However, while the BJP’s political influence will certainly ebb and flow, it will not fade easily. Like the Congress before it, the BJP’s present position has a system-defining quality. Both state and national elections are regularly fought in reaction to the BJP (either in favour or in opposition).

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