With eight states going to the polls in the New Year, will the saffron surge hold its sway over voters or will it boost Congress prospects ahead of the 2019 elections?
Fierce political battles will be fought over the next 12 months, ahead of the General Elections in 2019. Many challenges and prospects will surface for India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as well as the Congress party.
Elections to eight states, including Nagaland, Meghalaya and Tripura, are scheduled this year as the terms of their assemblies come to an end in March. Polls will be held in Karnataka in South India in May, while the year-end will witness elections to assemblies in Mizoram, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh.
The recent victory in Himachal Pradesh has put the BJP and its allies in power in 19 states. This translates to power in 77 per cent of India, with 68 per cent of the country’s population! Therefore, the forthcoming elections will further define India’s political landscape as there will be a direct contest between the BJP and the Congress.
Addressing the BJP national executive meet at Bhubaneswar in April last year, party’s national president Amit Shah had unveiled his grand dream of ‘one nation, one people, and one leader’. The year 2018 will give immense opportunity to realise this grand dream.
Buoyed by its performance in Gujarat, the Congress is hoping to cash in on the anti-incumbency factor in the BJP-ruled states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, and retain Karnataka and Mizoram.
The BJP, on its part, is eyeing Karnataka and looking to grab Tripura, Meghalaya and Mizoram. As its political fortune has peaked in North India, the party is strategising to expand its footprint in South India. Similarly, the BJP and its allies are ruling in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Manipur although northeast has been a traditional bastion of Congress.
But the road to victory may not be smooth after the BJP’s victory in Gujarat was halted by a double-digit victory. It won only 99 seats in the recent assembly election in that state compared to its tally of 115 in the 2012 elections. It was a loss of 16 seats for the ruling BJP. Also, the overall BJP vote share in Gujarat came down from nearly 60 per cent in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls to 49 per cent in the 2017 assembly polls, in a state where the BJP considers itself invincible.
On the other hand, the Congress’ share spiked to 41.5 per cent against 33.45 per cent in 2014.
Acid Test: According to political observers, elections to the eight assemblies will be keenly watched. “Assembly elections including those in the major states, such as Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh will be the acid test for both BJP and Congress. They are likely to set the tone for the 2019 General Elections,” says Vinit Wahi, a Delhi-based political commentator.
Challenges: Is the magic of Modi working on the principle of diminishing returns? No doubt Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his man Friday, Shah’s juggernaut has slowed. Will it be halted, despite winning Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh?
Rajasthan: The road to retaining power in Rajasthan may not be smooth. The Vasundhara Raje Government is plagued by internal party conflicts, caste conflicts, reservation issues, resentment of various government employees, the angst of the youth and farmers and rise in women-related crimes. All this could spell trouble for the government there. In fact, power has alternated between the BJP and Congress in the state.
Unlike Gujarat, where the Congress lacked organisation and party leadership, the party is well entrenched in Rajasthan. It also has a promising youth leader in Sachin Pilot, besides the political acumen of Ashok Gehlot, who showed his prowess as in-charge of Gujarat.
Chhattisgarh: With 14 years of rule, the Raman Singh government has enough crises facing the farmers and the growing rural discontentment in the state. Congress lost the 2013 elections with just a 0.7 per cent gap. Therefore, besides Rajasthan, Chattisgarh is the best bet for the Congress.
Madhya Pradesh: Congress has a chance in Madhya Pradesh, which has been ruled by the BJP for the last 15 years if the party is united. At present, there are too many factions in the Madhya Pradesh Congress.
Karnataka: Unlike the aforementioned states, Karnataka has a strong, third political party—Janata Dal (Secular). The current Congress Chief Minister Siddaramaiah may tie-up with JD (S).
Tripura: The tiny north-eastern state of Tripura has always been a Left bastion. The BJP looks all set to give the CPM government, led by Manik Sarkar, a strong fight if not dislodge it from power.
Mizoram: With Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur in its kitty the BJP is serious about winning in Mizoram. In December 2017 Modi visited Mizoram and Meghalaya to inaugurate various development projects and address rallies.
Meghalaya: Ruled by the Congress over the last six terms, including the current one under Chief Minister Mukul Sangma, will Meghalaya go to the BJP? The saffron party is making all attempts by fielding KJ Alphons, Union Tourism Minister and a Christian to assure the locals that the beef ban will not be imposed in the region.
Nagaland: A bastion of regional parties, both the Congress and the BJP will have to look for the right partners to win the state.
Therefore, the stakes are high for both the BJP and the Congress, on the one hand, and for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Shah and the Congress President Rahul Gandhi on the other.
“Neither Modi nor Rahul are going to leave any stone unturned as their personal images will be at stake,” adds Wahi.
Will the Modi-Shah juggernaut continue to hold sway over the voters in the face of growing rural dissent, farmers’ protests, loss of jobs and demonetisation? Considered to be the mini general election, it is a precursor to the 2019 General Election. Just wait and watch!