Here are the biggest political highlights of India in 2022:
The year ended as it started for the BJP — with resounding wins in two major assembly polls. It swept Uttar Pradesh with 255 seats out of the total 403 in March and did the unthinkable in Gujarat by winning 156 of the 182 seats, maintaining its unbroken run since 1995.
It coasted to victories in Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa but the close defeat in Himachal Pradesh and the loss of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi will rankle.
There was again a bittersweet parting with Nitish Kumar‘s Janata Dal (United) in Bihar but on the flip side, a rebellion in the Shiv Sena led by Eknath Shinde provided it the opportunity to stitch up a new government in Maharashtra.
The party organisation remains robust and the leadership has frequently reasserted its commitment to its pet issues like the Uniform Civil Code, as it prepares for a slew of state polls next year and the big one the year after.
Another lost year for the grand old party with no seeming direction or energy visible. It ended with two deflating losses — in UP and Gujarat. Though nothing was expected of the party in UP, its two seats and 2.3% vote share showed how far it has fallen in the country’s most populous state.
What was more humiliating was its performance in Gujarat, frittering away the 77 seats and 41% vote share of 2017 to a lamentable 17 seats and 27% vote share.
The lack of fight was jarring, in the event giving the BJP a free run and letting Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party get a toehold in the state.
An elected president for Congress
Mallikarjun Kharge, 80, became the first to be elected party president in 24 years when he defeated Shashi Tharoor in a one-sided contest.
Though the Gandhis claimed that they were neutral in the election, the veteran was seen as the establishment’s candidate and romped home.
Tharoor, who performed better than expected, came out of the contest with his credibility and reputation enhanced. He was the sole reason the election was seen as legitimate and not an elaborate charade.
The election was preceded by some drama as the Gandhis’ first choice, Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot, opted out of the contest before it even began, fearing that his bete noire Sachin Pilot would be handed over the reins in Rajasthan.
Bharat Jodo Yatra
Whatever it ends up achieving, the fact that the Congress and its reluctant spearhead Rahul Gandhi embarked on an ambitious 3,570-km Kanyakumari-Srinagar yatra was enough to enthuse those ranged against the BJP and its brand of politics.
Proposed to cover 12 states in 150 days, the yatra showed that the Congress was ready to go to the people and engage with them directly, a far cry from the indolent image it has acquired.
Rahul has steadfastly maintained that the yatra has no political purpose and is meant to hear what the people have to say, but nothing a political party does can ever be apolitical. To that extent, it is a smart move but what was surprising was the moribund’s party’s conception of the idea and Rahul’s determination to do the hard yards.
AAP wins Punjab, goes national
The Aam Aadmi Party started the year on a stupendous note, winning 92 seats out of 117 in Punjab, with 42% vote share. That was some improvement on the 20 seats and 23.72% vote share it had returned the last time around.
The crisis-ridden Congress imploded, going from 77 seats to 18.
AAP did reasonably well in Goa, winning two seats but was a wipeout in Uttarakhand, where it had high hopes, and in UP.
The party ended the year on an upbeat note, getting five seats and 13% vote share in Gujarat, where it had campaigned extensively and noisily, and wresting the Municipal Corporation of Delhi from the BJP.
Throughout the Gujarat campaign, it maintained that it was winning the polls but the party will be mightily pleased with its performance in a traditionally two-horse race. In the process, it became eligible for the ‘national party’ tag, something Kejriwal and his supporters have made a big thing of.
In the midst of the euphoria, the measly 1% of vote share in Himachal Pradesh would have come as a rude reminder to the limits of the party’s municipal approach to elections and politics.
The big Shiv Sena split
The party that Balasaheb Thackeray built on a nativist plank 56 years ago split wide open with Eknath Shinde, a long-time Sainik, walking away with a majority of MLAs and forming the government with the BJP.
Uddhav Thackeray, Balasaheb’s son and political heir, and the CM at the time, could only watch as the party crumbled. On the day of the trust vote, the Shinde camp had 40 MLAs while Thackeray had only 15.
The two factions have assumed different names while the Election Commission decides which one gets to be called the ‘real’ Shiv Sena.
The split had strange ramifications, starting with the Thackeray family itself. Uddhav’s former sister-in-law Smita, the former wife of his older brother Jaidev, sided with the Shinde faction. So did his nephew Nihar, son of his other brother Bindu Madhav. Uddhav, however, got the support of Jaidev’s son Jaideep.
A similar saga unfolded in the family of the late Anand Dighe, the legendary Thane-based Sainik whom Shinde invokes frequently. Uddhav appointed Dighe’s nephew Kedar to lead the party in Thane district while Dighe’s sister Aruna Gadkari went with Shinde.
JD(U) dumps BJP, again
The king of flip-flops, Nitish Kumar, pulled off another of his signature about-turns by dumping the BJP again, and traipsing off with the RJD and the Congress. The same RJD that he had called ‘corrupt’ in 2017 while parting ways to rejoin the BJP.
The JD(U) had contested and won the 2015 elections as part of the Mahagathbandhan with the RJD and the Congress.
The latest move was seen as Nitish positioning himself for one last shot at the prime minister’s job, though he has been vehement in denying it.
What the new alignments have in store for the parties involved — JD(U), RJD, BJP and the Lok Janshakti Party — will be the most interesting political watch in the next Lok Sabha election and beyond.
TRS becomes BRS
Formed by K Chandrasekhara Rao in 2001 as Telangana Rashtra Samithi to fight for the creation of a separate state of Telangana, the party changed its name to Bharat Rashtra Samithi, ostensibly to signal its ambition to expand outside the southern state and enlarge Rao’s footprint in national politics.
How exactly it plans to do so remains unclear given that the party’s appeal is limited to Telangana and it has zero support outside. The move is seen as part of the jostling among regional satraps to emerge at the head of whatever opposition bloc emerges after the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, that is if the BJP does worse than widely expected. Rao’s calculation is that a name change might give his party a better chance of landing a few seats outside Telangana, bolstering his leadership claim.
India gets new president and vice-president
The year saw India getting a new President and a new vice-president. Draupadi Murmu was elected President by a huge margin, defeating the opposition candidate Yashwant Sinha. In the process, she became the second woman and first tribal to be elected to the top office.
Hailing from the Santhal tribe, she was born in Mayurbhanj district of Odisha. Before entering politics by contesting local body polls, she was a teacher. Murmu later became an MLA and served in the Biju Janta Dal-BJP government between 2000 and 2004. She went on to become Jharkhand governor.
A couple of months later, Jagdeep Dhankhar was elected vice-president, defeating Margaret Alva. A former governor of West Bengal, Dhankar was earlier with the Lok Dal and then Congress. He joined the BJP in 2008. Born in Rajasthan’s Jhunjhunu district, Dhankar went to Sainik School before graduating in physics and acquiring a law degree. He practised for over 40 years in Rajasthan High Court and the Supreme Court.
He was a Lok Sabha MP from Jhunjhunu (1989-91) and was the junior minister for parliamentary affairs. He was elected to the Rajasthan assembly from Kishangarh in 1993. As West Bengal governor, he was involved in near-daily verbal skirmishes with the Mamata Banerjee government.