By Kalyani Shankar
Stage is set for the high stakes elections to five states — Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Mizoram and Telangana — this week. The BJP and the Congress are engaged in an almost direct fight in most of these states. Though the results would be known only on December 11, there is a lot of election related excitement in the rest of the country as these are seen as mini general elections, a dress rehearsal for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and will shape the national mood. In 2013 the BJP winning the three states – Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh made it easy to win a majority in 2014 though the state and national polls are not aligned. The BJP has ruled M.P and Chhattisgarh for the last 15 years. In 2013, the BJP had won 165, 163 and 49 seats in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh assemblies respectively, with the Congress securing 58, 21 and 39 seats. The strength of these assemblies are 230, 200 and 90.The continuation of the BJP rule will mean certain endorsement of the BJP’s policies. Mizoram is the only northeastern state where the BJP is not in the government either on its own or with allies. Winning the tiny state with the regional ally would mean the BJP conquest of the entire region. In Mizoram, the Congress has been in power since 2008. With 40 Assembly seats, Congress has been in fight against regional parties Mizo National Front and Mizo Peoples Conference. The BJP is a minor player.
Political pundits are projecting various scenarios. There is no wave in any of the states. The issues are more or less state- specific but by and large they are power shortage, water, tribal welfare, Naxalism, anti-incumbency, agrarian crisis, petrol price hike, Rafale, demonetization and GST.
In Rajasthan, chief minister Vasundhara Raje is facing double anti-incumbency — including an anti-Vasundhara wave. The Congress is united with a team of former chief minister Ashok Gehlot, PCC chief Sachin Pilot and former minister CP Joshi. If there is no sabotage the Congress could win the state.
In Madhya Pradesh, despite the severe anti-incumbency, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan is seeking power for the fourth time. But his personal popularity is intact. Here the Congress could win if there is no internal sabotage as many senior leaders like Digvijay Singh, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Kamalnath are heading various factions. The BSP going it alone in MP may affect the Congress chances.
In Chhattisgarh too, the chief minister Raman Singh is popular despite several corruption charges and Maoist menace. The Congress votes will be split in view of the alliance formed between former chief minister Ajit Jogi and BSP supremo Mayawati.
There are four scenarios emerging from the states. The best-case scenario for the BJP is the party gets three out of five, or even four with the northeastern ally in Mizoram. For the BJP, retaining power in the Hindi heartland is important to give a message that its base is in tact ahead of 2019 and it can go to 2019 polls with supreme confidence.
The second scenario is that the BJP loses one of the three states but keeping two states is not bad. The third is that the BJP loses two of the three big states and manages to retain only one, most probably Chhattisgarh then it will be a setback for the party. The fourth is a worst-case scenario if the BJP loses all three, which will be a severe setback as there will be a cascading effect on the loss in the 2019 polls.
As for the Congress, high stakes are involved for the party as well as its president Rahul Gandhi who has been campaigning hard for the past couple of months and more. This will be the first mini general election under his leadership after he took over the reins in March. The Congress winning two of the three states would mark a sense of revival, and enable Rahul to emerge as a challenger to Modi and also unite the opposition. It will be a bonanza if it manages to get the two big states Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Winning one of the three is also not bad for its morale. Losing all is the worst- case scenario. The party is also trying to retain Mizoram. The TRS is fighting a grand alliance of TSP, Congress and the CPI. The chief minister K Chandrashekhar Rao is confident of overcoming anti incumbency. In Telangana, TRS surprised everyone by advancing the Assembly polls. The Congress-TDP-CPI alliance may find it difficult as the TRS is enjoying tacit support from the BJP. In Mizoram, the Mizoram National Front, an ally of the BJP, challenges the present regime of the Congress.
It is indeed crucial for both the national parties to perform. If they get even, then there will be no loss of face for either but it seems to be farfetched. December 11 will show which way it goes. (IPA Service)
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