The rise of pro-incumbency politics in India

2022 has been a year of 7 state elections and overall, it has proven to be a good year for the BJP despite some setbacks like Himachal Pradesh. At the start of the year, it stunned conventional calculations by becoming the first party to win a second term in UP in 4 decades, retaining a state like Uttarakhand which never repeats incumbents and winning in Goa where everyone thought it was floundering. The convincing victory in Manipur was a shot in the arm for the Party’s expansion in the Northeast as well. The end of the year brought cheer from the western coast where Gujarat has given a record 7th win for the BJP, which makes it 5 out of 7 state election wins. Even in Himachal, though Congress won the elections the vote share difference between both the parties is only 1%.

Much has been written about how the BJP has forever changed electoral politics in India. One of the defining shifts is the pro-incumbency vote which PM Narendra Modi is getting. The BJP retained its governments in the spring of 2022 and also retained Gujarat convincingly. This is a pro-incumbency vote, where the voters have expressed satisfaction with the local and central government. The Prime Minister’s favourite phrase of “double engine” has found resonance with the voters who see benefits in keeping the same party at the state and national level.

A double engine government means different things to different people. In states such as Assam and Manipur, it means a thumbs up to ending decades of neglect of the Northeast and ensuring better connectivity projects. In Uttar Pradesh, it means improved law and order, non-corrupt government and the end of family-driven parties. In a small state like Goa, it means better access to central funds for the state’s development. In Gujarat, it is linked to the bond with PM Modi and the track record of the work done in the last two decades.

In contrast, the Congress and AAP have shown to struggle in managing incumbency. The Congress has not retained a single Government for a decade now (Karnataka was a coalition and Congress was second) while AAP fared dismally in the Sangrur by-poll within months of taking office. The MCD elections though won by AAP also have a clear warning for them as despite 3 terms of incumbency BJP managed to hold its 2020 AE vote share of 39% whereas AAP shares dropped from 54% to 42% and at the same time the BJP MCD vote share increased from 36% in 2017 to 39% in 2022.

During the Gujarat campaign, PM Modi addressed over 30 rallies but the core of his messaging was development. In Saurashtra and North Gujarat, he spoke at length about how water in the region has helped people. He also highlighted the work done in power reforms. In Southern Gujarat, he highlighted the work done for the tribals, in opening schools and hospitals and helping the farmers. His speeches in the cities delved into a futuristic vision of where to go from here and about taking India to the next stage of development. At a time when it is easiest to exploit fault-lines, PM Modi said that Gujarat’s development is closely linked to India’s progress and that Gujarat is drawing people from all over India. This is in contrast to the nativist card we often see among sections of the political class. Unlike PM Modi, the Opposition preferred to go down the conventional path of negativity and we have seen in the past that shrill campaigning is not liked by the people.

Go all around Gujarat and you will see that the people are happier than where they were 20 years ago- there are gains in healthcare, education, irrigation and infrastructure. This is what the people credit the BJP for. For a state where curfews and caste unrest were common, the last twenty years have brought peace and progress. This was not missed by the voters when they went to vote.

One hopes that this trend of positive and development-oriented politics continues in the coming times. After all, negativity will only divide us further and not lead to anything concrete for the people. PM Modi has shown that pro-incumbency as a thought exists, it is now for others to follow and keep India shining.



Views expressed above are the author’s own.


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