Assembly polls test for ruling BJP
Stakes are high for the Congress, BJP, and the Left as well as the regional satraps in the ongoing Assembly elections to five states – Kerala, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry and West Bengal. The BJP has never been in power in any of these five states. Opinion polls conducted by various poll agencies have predicted a big win for the ruling Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, lead for the ruling AIADMK in Tamil Nadu, win or lead for the BJP-AGP alliance in Assam and a resounding victory for the CPM-led LDF in Kerala.
The Congress seems to be on the backfoot in both the states where it is currently in power – Assam and Kerala. Assam is the most interesting among the five states. The BJP is reportedly on the upswing. One poll survey has predicted a neck-to-neck race between the BJP and the Congress in Assam. The India TV-Cvoter poll shows that the BJP is ahead. According to ABP News opinion poll, the BJP-AGP alliance is expected to register a clear victory in Assam. It predicts 78 seats out of 126 for the BJP-AGP alliance with a 44 percent vote share. It says the ruling Congress could end up with just 36 seats and 34 percent of the votes. The anti-incumbency factor could go against the Congress. However, incumbent Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi is a good manipulator. In the event of a hung Assembly, he could form the government with the help of the AIUDF, which is expected to do well.
As far as West Bengal is concerned, despite the corruption charges and sting operations against the Trinamool, the party might sail through. Mamata Banerjee is expected to triumph but with a reduced majority. The BJP might improve slightly while the Congress- Left alliance might do better.
Even if Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa wins with a reduced majority and vote share, it will be the first time since the days of MG Ramachandran that a ruling party would secure consecutive terms. Since the nineties, the DMK and AIADMK, have alternated in controlling the state government. Two pre-poll surveys — India TV-Cvoter and Loyola College — have predicted a return for the incumbent chief minister. Jaya has the advantage of a split in the opposition votes, a multi-cornered contest and her government's good work in the relief and rehabilitation after the unprecedented floods in Chennai. The DMK front including the Congress may not do as well as it expects.
Kerala should bring cheers to the Left Front as many polls believe that it will form the government defeating the ruling Congress-led UDF. The UDF and the LDF have alternated in securing power in Kerala. A win would perhaps make sure that the left parties will not disappear from the Indian political scene. However, the Left and the Congress have entered into a strange agreement to fight the TMC in West Bengal.
In Pondicherry, the incumbent Chief Minister N Rangaswamy, who left the Congress and launched the NR Congress five years ago, is likely to secure another term. The prediction is based on the last parliamentary elections and current trends. He is depending on the government's programmes and schemes in building by infrastructure projects. The NR Congress-led government also paved the way for free education in government schools and the implementation of mid-day meal schemes.
The BJP, which witnessed an alarming slide in 2015 after losing heavily in both Delhi and Bihar, is desperate for a win. If it can improve its presence in these states, the party can lay claim to a pan-India status. Incidentally, the BJP has been depressed with the results of the civic polls in all these states. It lost five of the eight urban civic body polls. In Gujarat, the home state of the Prime Minister the Congress surged forward by winning 21 of the 31 panchayats. Even in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and West Bengal, it did not do well.
Even with a little improvement the BJP can claim success and break this bad spell. Moreover, the BJP also wants to improve its position in the Rajya Sabha where it is in a minority. Next year, the country will also witness the presidential polls.
For the Congress it is a question of survival. After an impressive show in the 2015 Bihar polls, it is desperate to show some improvement even if it does not retain the two states it is ruling. Ground realities have made the Congress opt for alliance partners, as a prelude to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Its prominence in the 2019 poll as a viable alternative will depend on its performance in the 2016 and 2017 Assembly polls. That was why it has tied up with the Left in West Bengal and with the DMK in Tamil Nadu. Both had been its old allies during the UPA regime.
The regional satraps are keen to ensure their hold on their fiefdom and by and large they may succeed including in Pondicherry. In short these elections are a curtain raiser for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and also whether the Modi magic continues. The 2017 Assembly polls to Punjab and Uttar Pradesh will further indicate the fortunes of the national as well as the regional parties.
(The author is a political analyst. View expressed are strictly personal)