By Prashant Sood & Brajendra Nath Singh
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.
If the move, which affects every Indian, is seen to bring positive results to the economy and improve the life of the common person, the BJP can hope to break new electoral ground among poorer sections that are seen to stay away from it.
But if the move does not significantly curb corruption and black money or bring a meaningful change in the lives of the working class, the BJP may have to pay an electoral price. Some of its traditional support base, including small and big shopkeepers, could shift their loyalties due to their business losses owing to demonetisation.
It was otherwise a comeback-year for the BJP as it had scored resounding success in Assam after losses in Delhi and Bihar in 2015. The party scripted an alliance with the Asom Gana Parishad which helped it reap electoral dividends. It also performed well in a number of civic elections held in the past year. The party is seen as replacing the Congress as the central pole of national politics.
The BJP can also derive satisfaction from its expansion in areas it was regarded as weak. The party made its maiden entry in the Kerala assembly, getting 10.5 per cent votes in this year's state election. It got three seats in West Bengal, more than doubling its vote share at 10.16 percent over its figure in 2011.
While Uttar Pradesh presents a major challenge for the party due to its complex caste equations and multi-cornered contests, the BJP also faces tough test in the other four states. It is in power in Goa and is junior partner of the ruling alliance in Punjab with the Shiromani Akali Dal.
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.
Last year, the BJP 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.
(Prashant Sood can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and Brajendra Nath Singh at email@example.com)