Tough task ahead for all the winners
The excitement after the five state Assembly polls is slowly dying down after the newly elected Chief Ministers have taken their oath. Mamata Banerjee (West Bengal) and Jayalalithaa (Tamil Nadu) have retained their respective states.
The other three have become Chief Ministers for the first time. It will be an acid test for the new Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal to perform in his first term. Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has to keep the Left flag flying. Similarly, the Puducherry Chief Minister V. Narayanaswamy brings cheers to the Congress, which is almost in the ICU.
One common challenge for all of the latest incumbents is to deliver on their extravagant promises to the electorate and find the requisite resources. The voters want immediate results. There would be challenges, more so for leaders like Mamata and Jayalalithaa who also nurse national ambitions. Except Sonowal, the rest are non- BJP Chief Ministers.
For Mamata Banerjee, the big margin of victory comes along with massive expectations. The biggest challenge for Didi would be to tackle the financial burden the state has been facing for the past five years. Her attempts to get a special package for West Bengal have not been successful either with the UPA or the NDA. Despite serious efforts at tackling the debt left behind by the previous Left Front government, challenges remain.
The second challenge is to attract investments from national and international investors. Bengal held global investors meet last year but follow-up needs to be done. The economy also needs a further boost. On the political side, she has to establish that there is no alternative to TMC rule in West Bengal. She would also need to take action against those ministers and party men whose names have been dragged in various scams.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa also needs to deliver on the tall promises she had made during the campaign. In her first file signed after taking charge as Chief Minister, she waived crop loans up to March 31, 2016, payable to co-operative banks. Government estimates suggest that the farm loan waiver alone will cost the exchequer about Rs 5,780 crore.
Jayalalithaa’s second order was to provide 100 units of free power for all households in the state. This will entail an additional payout of Rs 1,607 crore as grant to the Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation (TANGEDCO).
She also ordered the closure of 500 state-run retail liquor outlets and cut short working hours of bars. Politically, the DMK will give her a tough time in the legislature as well as outside. Moreover, her disproportionate assets case is still pending with the Supreme Court. Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has to do a fine balancing act between various factions.
The succession was smooth even though there were murmurs from the rival faction. Vijayan’s first task is to ensure law and order, particularly after the killing of two BJP workers recently. The new government may face cash constraints for capital and development expenditures because just three expenditure heads -- salaries, pensions, and interest payments – amounted to over two-thirds of the state's total budgeted revenue of Rs.84,000 crore for this fiscal.
Vijayan will also have to re-look at over 800 decisions of the previous government, and the controversial liquor policy. But the biggest challenge will be how to erase his alleged personal shaky past in the SNC Lavalin multi-crore rupees scam when he was the state's power minister in 1997.
BJP’s first Chief Minister in Assam, Sarbrananda Sonowal has the biggest challenge of maintaining the momentum till the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. In 2014, the BJP got seven out of 14 seats and this time with the party in power, it has to move up. The second is to contain fringe elements as he had maintained that the BJP was secular in Assam.
The third serious challenge is the illegal immigration from Bangladesh. Maintaining law and order, keeping the allies happy and finding money for development works, are the other challenges.
Puducherry Chief Minister V. Narayanaswamy is an old warhorse and an experienced Congressman but this is the first time he has become the Chief Minister. Winning Puducherry is the silver lining for the Congress, which is demoralised. Though it is a small state, it is politically important. His installation as Chief Minister has already raised dissent within the local unit. He should try and take every faction along. Puducherry has only one Lok Sabha seat.
From the day they have assumed charge, these Chief Ministers have to start working for the 2019 polls to sustain their popularity. In another three years, they would have crossed the midway and people might begin to get impatient.
Mamata has been talking of a federal front with other non- BJP, non-Congress Chief Ministers and has already been making efforts along with her counterparts Nitish Kumar (Bihar) and Arvind Kejriwal (Delhi) to challenge Modi. They have to be on the right side of the Centre while criticising the BJP. It is often said that in politics one week is long. Next Lok Sabha polls are three years away. So who can predict?
(The author is a political analyst. Views expressed are strictly personal.)