India will witness five crucial assembly elections in November and December this year, before the mother of all electoral battles—the general elections 2019.
Flanked by election commissioners Sunil Arora and Ashok Lavasa, chief election commissioner Om Prakash Rawat announced the poll schedule for five states on Saturday, at the Election Commission of India headquarters in the national capital.
The state of Chhattisgarh will vote in two phases on November 12 and 20; Madhya Pradesh and Mizoram will go to polls on November 28, while Rajasthan and Telangana will vote on December 7. The results for all five assembly elections will be out on December 11.
Assembly polls or semi-finals
With the announcement of election schedule in five poll-bound states, there will be more momentum and heat in the election campaign. Unlike many of the assembly elections since 2014, the elections to these five states will have significant impact on the political scene ahead of the 2019 general elections.
One, the poll outcome will affect the electoral calculations for the big battle next year. Two, it will reflect the mood of the voters. Three, it will be a yardstick to measure the success and popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government and policies, as he still continues to be the sole campaigner for the party. Four, depending on the poll outcome, the grand alliance against the BJP could be further tested. If the Congress performs better in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh it can look at further revival. If the BJP survives, then Modi and BJP will have a smooth ride in the 2019 general elections. This is because, the BJP achieved big victories in the 2013 assembly polls in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan and it went on to significantly improve its performance in terms of both seat share and vote share. The Bharatiya Janata Party won 72.5 pc of assembly seats in these three states in 2013. This increased to 95.4 pc of the total Lok Sabha seats in these three states in 2014. In Chhattisgarh, the BJP won all the 11, in Madhya Pradesh it won 26 out of 29 seats and in Rajasthan it won all the 25 Lok Sabha seats. Its total victory in terms of seats was 61 out of 65!
Therefore, the stakes are quite high for both the BJP and the Congress. While the former has to arrest the downslide it witnessed in the by polls conducted in recent months, for the latter it is a make or break situation as it has been decimated in most states except for Punjab and Puducherry.
The BJP is in power in three Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, and is facing an anti-incumbency test. The Congress is in power in Mizoram. In Telangana, the Rashtra Samithi which was in power dissolved the assembly eight months ahead.
Both the Congress in Mizoram and TRS in Telangana are also not in a comfortable position. The assembly polls will be a ‘do or die’ for them as well.
Power has been alternating between the BJP and Congress in Rajasthan. In Mizoram, it is a direct contest between the Congress and the Mizo National Front, while in Telangana; K Chandrasekhar Rao’s Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) will face fight from the Opposition-led Congress alliance. In Chhattisgarh, there will be a triangular contest among the ruling BJP and political rivals — Congress on one hand and the newly-formed electoral alliance between the Bahujan Samaj Party of Mayawati and the Janata Congress of Ajit Jogi.
Conduct of polls
The two-phased poll in Chhattisgarh is on account of violence in Left Wing Extremism (LWE). The first phase will be held on November 12 covering LWE-hit districts over 18 constituencies. The second phase will happen on November 20, when polling will be held in 78 constituencies.
Rawat announced voters’ assistance booths to be set up by the Election Commission. He also shared that there will be all women polling stations where even security personnel will be women. The electronic voting machines and the voter verifiable paper audit trail machines to be used for the elections will be of the latest Mark III model and produced by Bharat Electronics Limited. Mock polls will also be conducted before the actual elections.
Ceiling for assembly expenditure in MP, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan is INR 2.8 million, while for Mizoram, it is INR 2 million. Polling slips will also be issued in Braille because the poll panel aims to make the election process accessible to all.
In the coming weeks these five states will witness a lot of heat and dust created by India’s political leadership. It remains to be seen how the electorate responds to their rhetoric.