By Harihar Swarup
Local issues have been dominating the poll rhetoric in the five poll-bound states, but the results will have major national implications for both the Congress and the BJP. Inability to win, at least, two major states by the Congress could seriously handicap its preparations for 2019 Lok Sabha election. But multiple wins in the head-on fights with the BJP could give it the critical momentum. For the BJP it is important to retain, at least, two of the three major Hindi speaking states. In Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, the BJP is not happily placed and in Chhattisgarh one has to keep one’s fingers crossed.
The first round of polling for Chhattisgarh assembly election threw up a welcome surprise. Of the 18 constituencies, 10 exceeded or, at least, matched the previous figures of 2013. The overall turnout percentage from this phase stood at 76.28% despite a poll boycott call by Maoists and violence in the run up to voting. The high turn-out clearly exemplifies a yearning for normalcy even in Maoist affected areas of Bastar and Rajnandgoan. Ballots are cleared preferred to bullets here.
The massive victory of 2914 onwards, BJP has generally batted on the offensive, but Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan will really test defensive game. Next year, it will have to defend its record in several more states and the centre.
Despite the temptation to see the contests taking place over next month as sort of semi-finals for 2019 assembly polls generally reflect popular opinion of state governments and elected representatives. In Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the BJP has ruled for 15 years, while Rajasthan boasts of running a 20-year-record of tossing out incumbents. BJP denying tickets to many sitting MLAs, offers a good barometer of local flavor in these assembly elections. With large rural population in these states, Congress is seizing upon farm distress to make a pitch for farm loan waivers and jobs.
This is an election about strong state chief ministers: Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Raman Singh, K. Chandrashekhar Rao, Vasundhara Raje and Lal Thanhawala. They are seasoned campaigners who are ruthless in exploiting opposition weaknesses. Pitted against Chouhan, who charms the pan-MP electorate with the “mamaji next door” appeal, senior congress leaders Jyotraditya Scindia, Kamal Nath and Digvijaya Singh do little for their reputations with dogged ticket bargaining for factions instead of taking the battle to the opposition ranks.
In Chhattisgarh, Raman Singh, was on a weaker wicket than previous years, but after the Ajit Jogi-Mayawati tie up, opinion poll predicts another close call, as in 2013. In Rajasthan, Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot seem to have in on Raje and pollsters have captured a strong anti-Raje mood among voters. Congress leadership have decided to give ticket to both Gehlot and Pilot. However, the BJP will like to believe it has an ace up its sleeves in Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose last minute campaign have indeed a big difference at times. But his asmita card will be weak wherever there is significant local dissatisfaction with agriculture or caste alignments or security or jobs. (IPA Service)