What does the crystal ball predict for the year 2017? Politically, it is certainly going to be an eventful year. For one it will be the beginning of the second half of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first term. He has already started making efforts to expand his party’s base as well as his pro-poor image and also preparing for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
It will be a crucial year for the BJP, the Congress, the Akali Dal, Samajwadi Party, BSP and the AAP who are bracing to fight their electoral battle. It is a struggle for survival for the SP and the BSP in UP. It is a gamble for expansion for the AAP in Punjab and Goa. For the Congress, it is a question of revival while for the BJP it is essential to prove that the Modi wave still continues.
The year would begin with elections to UP, Punjab, Goa, Uttarakhand, and Manipur. The BJP is a coalition partner in Punjab and ruling in Goa. The Congress is ruling in Uttarakhand and Manipur while the Samajwadi Party is at the helm of affairs in U.P. It is crucial for the BJP and Modi personally to ensure a good showing, particularly in UP. Riding on the Modi wave, it won 72 of the 80 seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. If the BJP wins UP, it will have a cascading effect on the other eight states, which are going to the polls in 2018 including Karnataka and Gujarat.
The fate of the Samajwadi chief Mulayam Singh and that of the BSP supremo Mayawati will also be known after the polls. Mayawati has been down since 2014 Lok Sabha polls when her party got zero seats. As for the Congress, any improvement in UP and elsewhere will go a long way for lifting it’s sagging morale and also its leadership. An alliance between the Congress and the SP might help both, but it has not been clinched so far.
In Uttarakhand too, the BJP, which has been alternating in power with the Congress is waiting to capture power again. With the controversy about the dismissal of the Harish Rawat government earlier (which was restored by the courts), it is not clear whether the Congress would retain it.
Punjab is another critical state as the Congress depends on anti-incumbency faced by the Akali-Dal–BJP combine. A win for either would go a long way in improving their kitty. The AAP party is eyeing to make an entry in Punjab and Goa as well as Gujarat later as an alternative to Congress and the BJP. The anti-incumbency is staring in the face of BJP in Goa and the Congress in Manipur. ‘Irom Sharmila’ could impact the upcoming elections as she has decided to contest the upcoming polls. The national parties also will start preparing for the Assembly polls for eight states scheduled for 2018 including Gujarat and Karnataka. Winning Gujarat, the home state of Modi is a matter of prestige. Retaining Karnataka is vital for the Congress.
It is important for Modi to retain the good will he has earned from the poor on his measure of demonetisation. But he should win back the middle class, lower middle class, women, the small traders and farmers who have been disenchanted with the measure.
The year 2017 is of particular importance because the presidential and vice presidential elections are due in July. Both President Pranab Mukherjee and Vice President Hamid Ansari are retiring next year. Already some names like Speaker Sumitra Mahajan and Urban development Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu are doing the rounds for either of the posts.
Since it is the legislators and MPs who elect the President and Vice President, it would be easier if the BJP could improve its position in the next year’s Assembly polls.
For the Congress, it may be an eventful year if Rahul Gandhi takes over the reins of the party. Sonia Gandhi has already taken a back seat, projecting her son. If that happens, Sonia Gandhi, who has established a record of being the party president for 18 years, may become the mentor of the party. It will be a significant generational change for the party, which is right now facing a leadership crisis.
There are at least three other parties braving for a generational change. The DMK patriarch Karunanidhi is ailing. He has already hinted that his second son Stalin would be his political heir. It is not known whether it will be a year of turbulence or stability for the AIADMK in the post-Jayalalithaa period. Although Panneerselvam has taken over as the Chief Minister, the party is yet to settle down in the aftermath of the Jayalalithaa period. There is already a demand that Sasikala should become the Chief Minister.
The Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal is also is fighting his last electoral battle this time, and he may eventually hand over the baton to his son Sukhbir Badal. Similarly, although not announced, the SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav might hand over the party to his son Akhilesh Yadav.
In Jammu and Kashmir, the coming year will be a test for Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s governance. The AAP government will also be completing two years next February.
The post-Assembly poll scenario might result in some political realignment in the opposition as well as the ruling NDA depending on the results. The million-dollar question for the Prime Minister will be whether he will get strengthened or weakened in 2017. In short, the coming year will be crucial to all parties concerned.
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)