It is generally believed that an incumbent government finds it difficult to hold on to its base. In the recent past, with increasing competitive political space, it is more visible in Indian politics. If we take the case of ongoing Assembly elections and trends emerging in them, we find two dichotomous incumbencies working. While BJP led Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh are retaining their popularity, there is a strong anti-incumbency against the governments in Congress ruled states.
One obvious reason attributed to this can be, BJP has successfully executed the generation change and Modi with his customised appeal to the masses is gaining popularity day by day. The incumbent State governments are indirect beneficiaries. On the other hand, Congress is still grappling with the generation change in its leadership with Rahul Gandhi taking control of the organisation without any responsibility and the old horses still holding on the structures. That is why the ‘policy paralysis’ at the Centre is creating double anti-incumbency for the Congress governments in Delhi, Rajasthan and Mizoram. On the issues of corruption, inflation, leadership and security, utter failure of the Centre is also going against the Congress led State governments. However, there are deeper structural reasons that make State Congress leaders it difficult to deal with anti-incumbency.
The nature of family run politics at Centre is the root cause of absence of governance model in Congress ruled states. Rajasthan was the first State where UPA’s flagship programmes implemented. This is true from Panchayati Raj to Food Security Bill. Congress is generous in funding its State governments for implementing Central schemes. Still, Ashok Gehlot government could not deliver on many development fronts. Delhi had a chance to achieve new landmarks in infrastructure development during Commonwealth Games preparation but what achieved was ‘development of corruption’. Besides a thumping majority, Pu Lalthanhawla in Mizoram could not make any mark on key issues of development and employability. On the other hand, despite the antithetical Government at the Centre, BJP governments could come up with their own styles of governance as per their State requirements. The Public Distribution System in Chhattisgarh has become a role model for the nation and even the Centre adopted some of the features while launching its food security programme. Madhya Pradesh is regarded as the best governed among the BIMARU states and Shivraj Singh Chouhan silently managing the difficult terrain. People friendly faces of the BJP Chief Ministers also show this difference.
This inherently exemplifies that the BJP's models of leadership and governance are more in tune with the developmental needs of India. With policies of ‘hit and run’, appeasement and appropriation of national leaders, a family glued party cannot respond to the local aspirations. Incumbency factor is a complex mixture of national perceptions and regional adaptations. At present, both these elements being pessimistic for the Congress, the results of these elections will certainly set the tone for upcoming general elections in 2014.