The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) consolidated its position as the premier national party of Indian politics in 2016, breaking new ground in some states. The coming year poses fresh challenges for the party due to assembly polls in five states and uncertainty over the impact of demonetisation at the grassroots.
The outcome of the assembly polls in the crucial state of Uttar Pradesh, along with those in Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur, is likely to be seen as a kind of referendum on demonetisation.
The impact of banning Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes also has ramifications for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s image, given that he is the prime mover of the sudden announcement on November 8 — and is also the party’s main vote puller.
In both Punjab and Goa, the Aam Aadmi Party’s presence has changed equations and the BJP will be keen to deny victory to a party with which it has an uneasy relationship in Delhi. The Congress also poses a potent challenge in Punjab and Goa while it is in power in Uttarakhand and Manipur. The BJP will also be keen to defeat the Congress in the poll-bound states as it would make it even more difficult for the main opposition party to revive itself after its debacle in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, when it could win only 44 seats against the BJP’s 282 in the 545-member house, where two MPs are nominated.
The elections will also be a test of BJP president Amit Shah’s poll strategy. Shah has been able to shore up his authority in the past year due to electoral successes and also silence those who had begun to gun for him following the reverses in 2015.
The BJP increasing its footprint in the southern and eastern parts of the country is also seen as a strategy to counter any losses it would face in parts of northern and western India, where it had done exceedingly well in the last Lok Sabha polls.
The BJP last year became part of the government in Arunachal Pradesh, led by the People’s Party of Arunachal (PPA). The developments on Thursday, which saw a change in the Chief Minister, have not affected the party’s fortunes.
The death of J. Jayalalithaa has changed electoral dynamics in Tamil Nadu with the present AIADMK leadership expected to warm up to the BJP-led central government.
The BJP has also sought to increase its social base with appointments of state chiefs, including in Punjab and Bihar, where the incumbents belong to the Dalit and backward communities. Shah sprang a surprise by appointing first-time MP Manoj Tiwari as Delhi BJP chief. The party faces tough municipal polls next year.
The BJP scripted history in 2014 by getting a majority in the Lok Sabha and then forming governments in several states. However, the winning momentum was disrupted in 2015 and seems restored in 2016. The electoral battles next year are likely to decide the course of the party’s politics for the next general election.