The Aftermath of India’s 2017 State Elections

The state election results of Goa, Manipur, Punjab, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh were announced on the 11th of March, ending an election campaign that had started since the first week of February. There was an anti-incumbency wave that was evident in the results, with the ruling parties in each state, be it Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or the Indian National Congress (INC).

For instance, the incumbent BJP lost eight seats in comparison to the 2012 elections in Goa, with the INC actually gaining eight seats. The INC, which ruled Manipur meanwhile, would lose 19 seats in this election, while the BJP gained 21 seats in Manipur in contrast. Similarly, in Punjab, the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal lost a whopping 41 seats while the INC gained 31 seats on their way to electoral victory in Punjab. The story is the same in Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh too, with the incumbent INC in Uttarakhand and Samajwadi Party being voted out of power with a significant loss of seats in both states. 

So the election results show gains and losses for both the BJP and the INC that seem to be based on anti-incumbency lines rather than anything else. At the same time however, owing to their clear cut victories in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, there has been discussion on the impact on the Rajya Sabha math these results will have.

And it is not just the BJP’s victory in Uttar Pradesh that contribute to that, but also their results in Goa and Manipur. The BJP will create the new state governments in both Goa and Manipur, despite the INC gaining more seats than them in these two states. This is down to the fact that no party passed the majority mark in either state, meaning that coalition governments would need to be formed. In both states, state level parties have decided to commit to the BJP and not the INC, as a result handing the BJP the governments in four out of the five contested states (the exception being Punjab, where the INC and Amarinder Singh will take power).

Meanwhile, although the BJP’s formation of government is going ahead smoothly in Manipur, things are not as smooth in Goa. The INC has taken matters to the Supreme Court as they claim that Goa’s governor did not invite them to form a government despite the INC having won the most seats during the elections. The BJP on the other hand, owing to Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar, an extremely popular figure in Goa, were able to quickly have the smaller state parties coalesce around them and submit their request to form a government to the Governor. Meanwhile, the INC despite claiming to have enough support to form a government, were told by the Supreme Court that they did not submit enough proof of this support. However, the INC also say that they sent in a request to form the government to the Governor, but they claim they were never allowed an appointment. As a result, the Supreme Court has ordered a trust vote within the next two days.

Nevertheless, despite these victories for the BJP, they will still find it difficult to gain major ground in the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian Parliament. That is due to the nature of how the members of the Rajya Sabha are elected. The members of the Rajya Sabha are elected by state legislatures, hence making the control of a state during Rajya Sabha elections crucial.

Furthermore, although Uttar Pradesh has 31 seats in the Rajya Sabha, the BJP will only be able to influence the election of the 10 retiring members from Uttar Pradesh in 2018. This is certainly not insignificant, as a swing of 10 seats to the BJP in the Rajya Sabha would see the BJP overtaking the INC as the largest party in the Rajya Sabha. However, gaining 10 seats will still keep BJP (and their coalition) far from the mark needed for a full majority in the Rajya Sabha. The results will however make life slightly easier for the BJP in the Rajya Sabha nevertheless.

Final Takeaways

The BJP’s dominant victory in Uttar Pradesh seems to have cut across vote banks, with castes that usually voted for either the Samajwadi Party of the Bahujan Samajwadi Party turning in favor of the BJP as well. BJP President Amit Shah has claimed that these election results “paves the way for politics that doesn't involve caste or religion.” However, the Vishva Hindu Parishad, a part of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, are talking up the Ram Mandir case once again. The BJP will need to make sure that groups such as the VHP do not become overconfident in their agendas, in order to ensure that politics continue not involving caste or religion.

The INC will be disappointed with their elections results, although things could have been worse. Clear victory in Punjab, where exit polls had suggested the Aam Aadmi Party might have taken votes away from the INC, is a major positive for the INC. Strong showing in Goa however has been undercut by their failure to move quicker than the BJP in forming a government. Furthermore, their loss in Manipur will sting, especially given that Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh had been in power in the state since 2002. Making it more disappointing will be the fact that the BJP has once again eaten into INC’s foothold in the North-East, after the INC’s previous loss in Assam.

The elections in Uttar Pradesh have shown that Prime Minister Modi’s demonetization move did not harm his prospects at all in the state. And election results elsewhere, especially the BJP creating four governments out of the five states that went to the polls, creates positive momentum for the BJP as we head into the general elections of 2019. At the same time, the general anti-incumbency pattern that these state elections have displayed, especially given the few gains that the INC too made in Punjab and Goa, means that there is still plenty of room for error and reason to not be overconfident from the BJP as we head into 2019’s general elections.