Assembly polls in five states – a virtual semi-final?   

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“Things do not happen. Things are made to happen.”

– John F. Kennedy


Setting the ball rolling for five Assembly elections, the Election Commission last week announced the dates for polls in the states of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram, Rajasthan and Telangana. While voting will be held in November (7, 20, 28) and December (7), results for all five states, seen as a bellwether for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, will be announced on December 11. The upcoming election in the five states, months before the Lok Sabha election mid-next year, is one of the most crucial Assembly elections this year. The year 2018 had begun with Assembly elections in four Northeastern states followed by Assembly elections in Karnataka. Both national parties –BJP and Congress– will hope to build momentum ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, which will be held five months after state poll results are announced. Incidentally, the five states together send 83 members to the Lok Sabha, and the outcomes are likely to impact the general election in 2019.

The BJP being the ruling party in three out of the five states, there’s a likelihood of it facing the anti-incumbency factor. For the Congress, sending BJP packing from Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan is essential to prove that it still has the firepower to take on the onslaught of BJP. At the same time it will enhance Congress’ negotiating capacity with smaller parties for the grand-alliance-in-the-making for 2019.  For the BJP retaining power in the three States is important to give a message that its base is intact ahead of 2019. A victory for the saffron party in a majority of the states will allow it to go into 2019 with supreme confidence and boost the morale of its already motivated cadres. So, without any doubt the results will have a bearing on how the issues are framed and the campaign is run in 2019, not to speak of the effect on the morale of party functionaries and workers.

In Madhya Pradesh, Congress’ failure to keep BSP of Mayawati in its fold has come as a blessing for the BJP as the party has decided to go it alone. Though BSP does not have much presence in MP or Rajasthan, Congress needed it to eat up some Opposition votes.  In Chhattisgarh, the present regime headed by BJP leader Raman Singh had also faced a number of corruption allegations. But in 2018, its major drawback will be the formation of a new party, Chhattisgarh Janata Congress, by former chief minister Ajit Jogi. The BSP has aligned with Jogi’s party. But the Congress appears to have its best chance in Rajasthan, which chooses alternately between it and the BJP. In Telangana, TRS surprised the opponents by going early for the polls as chief minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao did not want go along with Lok Sabha polls. Rao may not find going tough as it is enjoying a tacit support from the BJP too. In Mizoram, ruling Congress should not take lightly the Mizoram National Front, an ally of the BJP.  Only time tell who will have the last laugh in the virtual seminal before the before the parliamentary elections of the following year.

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