#Winter Polls: Search for winning formula
Both the BJP, which is ruling at the Centre as well as in most states, and the Congress have major stakes in the yearend Assembly elections in four states, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh and Mizoram. The BJP is ruling in the three Hindi heartland states while the Congress is in power in the North-Eastern state of Mizoram.
The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance Government is looking for ways to consolidate its power base in the fifth and last year of its rule at the Centre. National elections are 10 months away but the Assembly polls coming a few months before the Lok Sabha contest are expected to set the tone for that. The BJP and the Congress are the two main parties in the electoral fray in these four states.
In the Hindi heartland states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh, the fight is primarily between the BJP and the Congress. The BJP has been ruling Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh for 15 years and Rajasthan for the last five years. The Congress is a strong contender for power in Rajasthan where no party has returned to power for the second term during the last quarter century. The Congress and the BJP have been in power alternately in the state. In the Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh and Chhastisgarh in the past, difference of only a few percentage points has separated the BJP and the Congress vote share. The fight is expected to be tough in both the states.
In Mizoram, the Congress has been in power for decades but the BJP is making a strong effort to dislodge it after tasting success in other North-Eastern states like Assam, Tripura, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh.
National as well as State Level Impact
Assembly elections in the four states will decide the fate of not only these states but will also have an impact on the Lok Sabha elections to be held by May next year. If the Congress is able to wrest power from the BJP in one or more of the Hindi heartland states, it will energize the party cadres and also set the mood for the national elections. But if the BJP is able to beat back the challenge from the Congress in these three states, it will make its victory march in next year’s parliamentary elections virtually impossible to stop. Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party, BSP, is expected to play a significant role in the Assembly elections in the three Hindi speaking states. If negotiations between the BSP and the Congress on an alliance or seat sharing bear fruit, it will be a major step towards ousting the BJP from power there. The move will also have an impact on the thrashing out of state level alliances for the Lok Sabha elections.
State of Political Parties on Election Eve
The BJP, as always flush with funds and the backing of organised cadres of the party as well as the RSS, is in a much better shape than others in taking up the electoral challenge. This is clear from what happened in the recent Gujarat Assembly elections where the party fought off a determined challenge from the Congress to emerge victorious, though with a reduced number of seats than in the previous Assembly. In the elections held in Karnataka earlier this year also, the BJP put up a creditable performance emerging as the single largest party despite a strong challenge from the Congress.
The Congress, which lacks organised cadres largely, depends on swinging the public mood and on campaigning by its top leaders. A handicap which the party faces often is the shortage of grassroots workers and lack of a proper booth level management mechanism.
The BSP has an organised worker base which faithfully obeys the dictates of the party central leadership, which primarily means BSP supremo Mayawati. Whether or not the party enters into a seat sharing deal with the Congress, it is expected to have a decisive impact on the outcome of the elections. If the BSP enters into a deal with the Congress, it may result in a Congress cake walk to victory. On the other hand if the BSP fights alone, it is going to split the opposition vote, increasing the BJP’s chances of returning to power.
While different political parties may try to rake up state level issues, the main fight in the elections is likely to be on bread and butter national issues like rural distress, unemployment and the harmful effects of demonetization and what the opposition calls a badly implemented Goods and Services Tax regime. While the BJP is expected to put forth the line that inflation is low and the economy has progressed, the opposition parties will naturally focus on debunking the BJP claims.
The lynching phenomenon is also expected to figure significantly during the election campaign. Opposition parties, especially the Congress, are likely to focus on the BJP Governments’ failure to take action to avert such incidents. The BJP is expected to be on a defensive pitch on this issue. But the party is known for converting its weak points into issues of strength.
The BJP is not afraid of polarization of voters. It may not formally support such incidents but history has shown that the BJP gains wherever and whenever such incidents take place.
The BJP has also prepared the pitch for raising the issue of construction of a Ram temple at Ayodhya. The matter is being heard by the Supreme Court and nobody knows when the apex court will deliver its judgement on the issue but a couple of BJP leaders have been saying that construction of the Ram temple at Ayodhya will start before the Lok Sabha elections due to be held by May next year. It may also be a polarizing issue in the campaign for the winter Assembly elections.
Impact on Political Alignments
The results of the Assembly elections will have a major impact on political alignments in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections and even later. If the Congress is able to check-mate the BJP, it will be in a much better position to enter into alliances or seat sharing deals with regional outfits for the Lok Sabha elections. It would have greater leverage in negotiations with parties like Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party, NCP, Akhilesh Yadav led Samajwadi Party, Mayawati’s BSP, Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress and the Left parties. But if the Congress fares badly in the Assembly elections, the regional outfits will have the upper hand in negotiations for alliances and seat sharing.
The BJP of course will be in the seventh heaven and the path to a second term for Prime Minister Narendra Modi will become clear.
The results of the Assembly elections will have a decisive impact on the economic scenario and economic policies. Already in the run-up to the Assembly elections, the Narendra Modi Government has been forced to take steps to allay rural distress and help the poverty ridden segments of the population. The recent move to increase the support prices of major crops has to be seen in this light. More such steps may follow the Assembly election results, whatever the outcome. Some state Governments of the BJP have already taken steps to write off crop loans or at least provide some debt relief to farmers. More such steps may be coming.
The Narendra Modi Government’s hands may also be tied on letting oil marketing companies to increase petrol and diesel prices on the basis of their cost and international crude prices. Though the Government has been saying that oil marketing companies are free to price the products they sell on the basis of their costs, everybody knows that this is fictional. During the Karnataka Assembly elections held recently, the oil marketing companies held the prices steady for more than a fortnight, without giving any reason for their action. A similar development may take place in the run-up to the Assembly elections and later, the Lok Sabha polls.
There is a distinct possibility of the Narendra Modi Government adopting populist measures in the run-up to the Assembly elections and after the results are announced. These will help the common man, especially the rural communities but may have a harmful effect on the economy. Such measures leading to volatility in the stock markets cannot be ruled out.
The BJP broke its coalition with the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, recently in Jammu & Kashmir. This has been followed, at home, with tough action against separatist elements in the Kashmir valley. The Government has also been trying to give the impression of tougher action against infiltration attempts from across the line of control in Jammu & Kashmir and the international border. But there has not been much impact of these measures on the situation in Jammu & Kashmir. Peace continues to elude the Kashmir valley.
Relations with Pakistan have not seen much improvement despite the on-off policies adopted by the Narendra Modi Government. There is not likely to be much difference in the near future as Pakistan is going in for general elections under a caretaker Government.
Relations with Pakistan will virtually remain at stand still till the formation of a new Government in Pakistan after the elections there. Whatever the results there, there is no likelihood of the Pakistan Army playing any lesser role in foreign policy matters, especially relations with India.
The Narendra Modi Government is likely to continue with its policy of building closer relations with the United States, without getting much in return. With China, the Government is likely to continue the policy of making the effort to improve relations. What is to be seen is whether it leads to greater access for Indian goods in China.
The relations with Russia have been a causality under the Narendra Modi Government. In earlier times, Russia accounted for the bulk of the purchases of military hardware and equipment from abroad. But with India diversifying the sources of arms imports, it is no longer so.
India’s leverage with neighbouring countries excepting Bangladesh has also come down under the Narendra Modi Government. This is clear from inroads made by China in Sri Lanka and Maldives at the cost of India. New Delhi has no longer any leverage with the Maldives, a country with whom there were very close relations in the past.
Far reaching impact
The way in which the winter Assembly elections are fought and their results will have far reaching impact on the political scenario of the country. One immediate effect is that they will set the tone for the Lok Sabha elections which would follow within a few months. The Assembly election results will also decide the future role of Rahul Gandhi in the Congress party and the Indian polity as a whole. On the other hand, if the BJP loses the polls decisively, knives will be out in the BJP for Narendra Modi’s scalp. This is clear from what happened after BJP’s defeat at the hands of the MAHAGATHBANDHAN of Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Nitish Kumar led Janata Dal United and the Congress in the last Bihar Assembly elections. At that time, the MARGDARSHAK mandal, to which vetrans like Lal Krishna Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Yashwant Sinha had been pushed, came alive to question the ruling duo of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah on the factors which led to the party debacle. Such a thing happening again cannot be ruled out.
All in all, the results of the winter Assembly elections will have a decisive impact on the roles which Congress President Rahul Gandhi and Prime Minister Narendra Modi would play in Indian polity in the future.