Battle for the States has begun in the backdrop of ‘mahagathbandhan’, the much touted alliance of different parties read regional parties with Congress seems crumbling. It is ironic that the BJP has been able to stitch ties and close ranks with allies while the Congress is off to a false start.
What makes the contest in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Telangana and Mizoram even more interesting is that these will witness a direct fight between the BJP and the Congress, the principal players at the national level. The Congress is a big player in Telangana and Mizoram too, raising the stakes in this round further.
Already results of an opinion poll have given an edge to Congress. In fact it has given thumbs up to Congress in Rajasthan with a clear majority while it shows edge in Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh. Without a doubt, the results will have a bearing on Lok Sabha polls and run up to 2019. However, reading too much between the lines would be a fallacy because state elections and elections to Lok Sabha have different issues to egg on.
Still much is at stake in the polls in these three states as the BJP and the Congress are in a direct contest. The saffron party had trounced its arch-rival Congress in 2013 and then went on to decimate it in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls as well. Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and its president Amit Shah, the BJP has since 2014 got better of the Congress in every major state polls where both were the main rivals thanks to the image of Modi. However, in Karnataka the BJP despite emerging single largest party could not do much to form a government.
The walk out by allies shows they are still not sure of Rahul Gandhi’s leadership. It is not only Mayawati, the BSP supremo who has dumped Rahul Gandhi but Akhilesh Yadav too has followed suit. Though Rahul Gandhi and his team has said that alliance would still be a possibility in 2019, yet this makes this contest very interesting. Not only the BSP is going apart from Congress in Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh but in Haryana too it has announced a tie up with Indian National Lok Dal of Chautalas. The Samajwadi Party too has decided to go solo in Madhya Pradesh. In 2013, the BJP had won 165, 163 and 49 seats in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh assemblies respectively, with the Congress securing 58, 21 and 39 seats. The relative strength of these assemblies are 230, 200 and 90 respectively.
In Telangana, the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi is seen to be going strong and will face contest from the Congress and the BJP. After winning 63 seats in the 2014 assembly polls,
the TRS’ ranks have swelled with members of rival parties joining it over the years. The state assembly has 119 seats. The ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) had dissolved the assembly on September 6, paving way for early elections. In Mizoram, the Congress has been in power since 2008. In the hill state with 40 assembly seats, Congress has been in fight against state parties Mizo National Front and Mizo Peoples Conference. Election in Mizoram is important as it would decide whether the Congress manages to hold its lone fort in the northeast or not. Telangana is the new State added to this batch of elections as Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao chose to recommend dissolution of the Assembly almost nine months before its term was to end.
Mizoram, where the contest has traditionally been between the Congress and regional formations, is unlikely to see a drastic change although the Northeast is one of India’s most politically volatile areas and the BJP has encroached upon the Congress space in parts of the region.
Question mark over EC
Meanwhile, the timing of the Election Commission’s announcement itself came under political scrutiny with the Congress alleging it was put off by hours to allow Prime Minister Narendra Modi to complete his speech at a rally in Ajmer. The Election Commission of India gave several reasons for the postponement, including a late request from Tamil Nadu to defer the election citing the monsoon. As one of the most important institutional pillars, the ECI will have to be above all suspicion.
While Chhattisgarh will go to the polls in two phases on November 12 and 20, the Madhya Pradesh and Mizoram Assembly elections will be held on November 28. Polling in Rajasthan and Telangana will be held on December 7 according to Chief Election Commissioner OP Rawat. Rawat announced that VVPAT EVMs will be used for voting during the State Assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Mizoram. Counting of votes in all the five states will be held on December 11, he said. With the Election Commission’s announcement, model code of conduct has come into effect in all these states. The tenure of Rajasthan State Assembly, which has strength of 200 members, expires on January 20, 2019. The 230-member Madhya Pradesh Assembly will expire on January 7, 2019. Mizoram Assembly, with 50 seats, expires on December 15, 2018. The term of Chhattisgarh Assembly, with 90 MLSs, ends on January 5, 2019.
Road to 2019
What has made this election even more intriguing is the fact that Congress had again proved to be a laggard in finalizing seats adjustment with parties thus making them to solo or join hands with others? The BSP announced its candidates in Madhya Pradesh and joined hands with Ajit Jogi in Chhatisgarh while Congress was still dilly-dallying its strategy. The question is when regional parties can cobble support why Congress could not be accommodative? When BJP could appease its allies without showing any hesitation why Congress showed big brother attitude? If the BJP can ally with a party like PDP in a state like Jammu and Kashmir to be in power why Congress failed to form alliance. It is in indeed paradoxical. More questions would be raised in coming days as to why allies were shy of joining hands with Rahul Gandhi. The one answer would be the results of Assembly elections in five states on December 5 that would make or mar Congress led much-touted ‘mahagathbandhan’ for 2019 general election. Indeed much at stake for all the political parties as 2018 is a semi-final for 2019.