Aam Aadmi Party head Arvind Kejriwal (right) celebrates victory in the state elections in India's capital New Delhi on February 11, 2020, after a sweeping win against Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP. The AAP also secured a strong mandate in Punjab in 2022. Photo: AFP / Muzamil Mattoo / NurPhoto

The recent elections in five Indian states had some surprising results. The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) retained Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa, and made history in Uttar Pradesh by seeing the saffron-clad monk Yogi Adityanath re-elected as chief minister after serving a full term, which had not happened since 1957. 

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), a relative novice in Indian politics, handsomely won the agrarian north Indian state of Punjab.

What do these results mean for Indian democracy?

First, the BJP remains the primary pole of Indian politics. The party either maintained or marginally increased its vote share across all five states, indicating that it succeeded in adding new voters while losing few.

Having secured convincing wins in four of the five states, the Narendra Modi–led BJP has signaled that it is favorably positioned to win the 2024 general elections. 

The strong verdict in BJP’s favor has not only strengthened Prime Minister Modi’s leadership but also dashed the hopes of India’s fractured opposition of being able to rally together to challenge him. The mandate can also be considered a referendum on the agenda and governance style of the party. 

Second, the opposition space in the country has a new addition in the Aam Aadmi Party, a regional entity for now. If the AAP manages to do in Punjab what it has achieved in the national capital Delhi in terms of education and, to some extent, health care, it may well become a significant force in a few other states. 

If the AAP does manage to extend its political reach to be a significant player beyond Punjab under its chieftain Arvind Kejriwal, it could become the second contender for a national role after the Indian National Congress (INC) party.

Third, the Congress party is in a precarious position. Its decimation in Punjab and Uttarakhand, and its continued irrelevance in Uttar Pradesh, should worry the INC. 

The Congress has a strong ground-level organization in many states and cannot be written off. However, the road ahead will be tough. Leave alone opposing the BJP, even the party’s efforts to be a constituent of the national opposition are now under severe threat.  

Finally, the recent election results show the potential challenges that the BJP will have to face sooner or later. Concerns such as inflation, agrarian distress, and rising fuel prices, among other issues, can no longer be brushed under the carpet. And the BJP very well knows this. 

The BJP and AAP have gained huge momentum ahead of 2024. The AAP’s durability as a viable national alternative will be put to the test. So far, it has not shown either the organizational strength or the political vision to be a national-level player. 

The elections in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Manipur and Goa are, thus, not mere electoral wins or defeats. They portend an emerging new brand of politics in India.    

Anish Esteves

Anish Esteves is a student of mass media and journalism based in Mumbai, India. He has written for The Goan, Navhind Times and OHeraldo, among other Indian publications. He tweets @AEthejourno.