ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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New Trends in Regional Politics

Reflections on Assembly Elections in Telangana

The failure to reimagine federalism for our times has led to elections being perceived as zero-sum competitions between national and regional parties. A differentiated strategy which selectively emphasises or deflects the national–regional divide is called for, as non-alignment and post-poll bargaining is a decreasing possibility for regional parties.

The recently concluded assembly elections in Telangana have resulted in a convincing victory for the Congress, which won 64 seats in a house of 119 members. The ruling Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) could win only 39 seats, down from 88 in the outgoing assembly. The shift is also evident in the vote share secured by the two parties: The Congress increased its vote share to 39% from 28%, while the BRS managed only 37%, down from 46%. It may thus be argued that the election results constitute a mandate for the Congress. How then do we interpret the mandate? A possible answer is that party systems in states are undergoing a transformation. Within states, party competition may be argued to have become increasingly polarised between national and regional parties, making alliances between the two more difficult. The political space available to regional parties for non-alignment with either of the national party-led coalitions is decreasing. In this context, the BRSs failed transition from a regionalist party, whose support and identity lay in the separate statehood movement, to a national party at the head of a non-aligned third front, is one of the main reasons for the partys defeat. It would be interesting to watch if the party would seek to return to its regionalist identity in the aftermath of this defeat.1

Is the Congresss victory in Telangana an outlier, or are there broader similarities in the partys approach to state elections compared with those in the four other states? Is Telangana an outlier to the trend of a consistent decline of state level leadership? While the two questions require a more systematic analysis, it may be noted here that the Congresss campaign in Telangana amounted to a near reinvention of the party made possible by an autonomous state party unit led by the state president Revanth Reddy. However, the unexpected defeat of the Bhupesh Bhagel-led government in Chhattisgarh and the continued factionalism and infighting in Rajasthan lead one to debate if the party leadership will continue with this strategy of decentralisation or be redrawn into managing state-level elections. With the crucial Lok Sabha elections to be held in 2024, there have been attempts to extrapolate trends from the assembly elections for clues. With the lone exception of Mizoram, the defeat of the BRS leads one to ask: What are the choices facing regional parties? How may the assembly results change the relationship between Congress and the regional parties within the opposition alliance? Some scholars argue that, in the longue dure, the Congresss turn to coalition politics since the 1990s, and especially under the presidentship of Sonia Gandhi in 2004 and 2009, eroded both the national character and the ideological ground of the party. A Congress revival, therefore, requires the party to compete on its own in 2024 (Kapila 2023).

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Published On : 9th Mar, 2024

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