The upcoming assembly elections in five states, which will play out for more than a month beginning February 4, will be a stern test not only for Prime Minister Narendra Modi but also for the political forces opposed to him.
The Election Commission of India on Wednesday announced assembly election dates for five states. The states that are going to the polls are Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Goa, Manipur and Uttarakhand.
“Polls will be held for 690 legislative assembly seats in all. Over 160 million voters will participate in the election. Nearly 100 pc of the voters have electoral photo identity cards. There will be complete accountability of photo voter slips. Colourful voter guides will be distributed to each family,” Chief Election Commissioner, Nasim Zaidi told a crowded press conference in the national capital.
Stakes in the five assembly elections are very high for the ruling BJP at the centre as well as the opposition parties. The results will determine the nation’s future political course, especially because another set of crucial assembly elections are to be held by the end of the year in key states, including the prime minister’s home state, Gujarat.
Let us look at the scenarios that we can expect in the five states that go to the polls beginning next month.
Dubbed as India’s tourist paradise, the tiny state of Goa will go to the polls on February 4 to elect 40 members of the legislative assembly. Torn by an internal feud and a tussle with ideological fountainhead Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ruling BJP has its task cut out in the polls.
Goa RSS chief Subhash Velingkar and co-ordinator of Bharatiya Bhasha Suraksha Manch (BBSM) has been agitating against the BJP-led state government, demanding that the mother tongue be made medium of instruction in elementary education. Congress party on one side and Delhi chief minister and Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal are trying to woo the locals with an eye on filling the breach.
Located in the lap of the Himalayas, the state will witness polling for 70 assembly constituency on February 15. Uttarakhand was in the news last year after the BJP failed to dislodge the Congress government, after rebel MLAs belonging to the Vijay Bahuguna camp revolted against Chief Minister Harish Rawat. However, the party was able to prove its majority on the floor of the House. Now, Rawat is under the scanner on the charge of negotiating a deal to buy support from Congress MLAs to save his government in 2016.
The northern state will witness polling for 117 assembly constituencies on February 4. Most political pundits in India are betting on the anti-incumbency factor playing out against the decade-long rule of Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal and his family. Several issues of corruption, high-handedness, drug addiction, agrarian distress and the emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party in Punjab could prove costly to the Shiromani-Akali Dal government.
Also, Captain Amrinder Singh, president of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee, is trying to make a comeback.
Polls to 60 assembly constituencies in Manipur in the North East bordering Myanmar will be conducted in two phases, first on February 4 and then on February 8. There is an economic blockade of the state by the United Naga Council after the recent announcement of formation of seven new districts by three-time chief minister, Ibobi Singh. However, BJP is trying all it can to pull off a hat-trick by winning Manipur by pursuing a simple strategy by stitching alliances with the regional parties.
Last year, BJP president Amit Shah inaugurated the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) conclave at Srimanta Sankardev Kalakshetra in Guwahati. The chief ministers of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Sikkim were present at the conclave. A key strategist in the region is Himanta Biswa Sharma, NEDA convener and in-charge of Manipur. He will seek to implement BJP’s call for Congress-mukt Bharat (Congress-free India).
The battle for 403 assembly constituencies in the most populous state in the country, Uttar Pradesh will witness seven-phased polling beginning February 11 and ending on March 8. Unlike the other four states, Uttar Pradesh will witness multi-cornered contests involving key players – the ruling Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, the Congress and of course BJP. The stakes are very high for all the players as Uttar Pradesh is a key to dominating the Indian political landscape.
Electoral alliances are yet to take concrete shape as a family feud in the Samajwadi Party is on between its founder, Mulayam Singh and his son and the current chief minister, Akhilesh Yadav. However, it is widely believed that Akhilesh Yadav and Congress vice president, Rahul Gandhi are keen on a pre-electoral pact while BJP may forge some kind of post-electoral understanding with the BSP, led by Mayawati.
Assembly elections or Referendum?
For more than one reason the assembly elections in the five states are crucial. To begin with, the assembly polls will be held after the demonetisation of high value currency notes on November 8. In case the BJP sweeps all the states, it could be a stamp of approval from the people for the Modi government and its policies.
Modi’s popularity and his aggressive campaign swayed the people to his side in the 2014 parliamentary election. Does this still hold good post-demonetisation?
Even as it is a litmus test for Modi, his close confidant and party president, Amit Shah’s political agility in these elections too will be put to test. Knives could be out in the ruling part if the BJP does not perform too well in the state elections.
Similarly, stakes are also quite high for the opposition parties. If they are able to ensure that the BJP is out of power in these states, it could pave way for political alliances for the 2019 General Elections.
Also, Rahul Gandhi’s status as the unquestioned leader of the party and his attempts to reinvent himself will both be tested in these elections.
Though local issues, caste considerations and community factors will dominate the political campaigns, the results of five assembly elections will give us a real sense of the popularity of Modi and the rising stocks of Rahul Gandhi.
Another significant factor is Delhi chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, who is the most vocal opposition leader. With an eye on Goa and Punjab, Kejriwal is playing the spoilsport for both the Congress and BJP.
Interestingly, the assembly elections have been scheduled within three days of the presentation of the Union Budget by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on February 1. Will the Modi government not announce enough sops to voters to woo them?
Already 16 Opposition parties, including the Congress, have written to President Pranab Mukherjee and the Chief Election Commissioner claiming that the move to advance the Budget is an attempt to influence the voters.
Now that the Election Commission has announced the dates of polls, one has to wait and watch whose fate will voters make or break? Hold your breath till March 11, when the votes will be counted and the verdicts reached.