BJP’s win would extend its advantage heading into the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. However, a win for Congress would boost its image
The assembly elections in five states are being pegged as the ‘semi-final’ before the all-important 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram, Rajasthan and Telangana will all be heading for assembly polls in November-December. Counting for all five states will happen on December 11.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is fighting against an anti-incumbency tide in three of the five states. Politics in the three states — Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan — have witnessed largely binary contests between the BJP and the Indian National Congress. However, the third front and other parties now want a piece of the cake.
Opinion polls so far suggest a possibility of a tough battle between BJP and Congress in Madhya Pradesh.
Also read: Key trends from the state’s binary politics
Since the saffron party stormed to power at the Centre in 2014, it has been on an election-winning juggernaut. It has wrested several states from the Congress and other parties over the course of four and half years.
However, the ‘Modi-Shah election machinery’ has still been largely untested when it comes to defending states already held.
In 2016, BJP lost Punjab — a state it had governed along with the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD). It won lesser number of seats in Goa, and nearly lost it. The saffron party had a near-miss in PM Modi’s home state of Gujarat. In Nagaland, BJP, which was part of the ruling alliance, tied up with the second-largest party after polls and retained power.
The polls in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan will test PM Modi and BJP National President Amit Shah’s ability to hold states.
After 15 years in power and recent state-wide agitation against the government, the BJP is expected to record substantial losses in the state.
Also read: A look at how various regions voted in 2013
A win here, against odds, would give BJP a major boost ahead of the 2019 general election. It would help the saffron party counter claims of farmer distress and the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes (SCs/STs) turning against the government.
The win would help Chouhan secure a fourth term in office — a rare feat in Indian politics.
The BJP could then also hope to repeat such a performance in the general election.
However, BJP losing Madhya Pradesh could also question Shah’s image as a successful election strategist and dent PM Modi’s aura as an invincible campaigner.
A win in Madhya Pradesh would help Congress pose as an umbrella party within the united opposition ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. It would also send out a message that there could be no opposition alliance without having the Congress on board.
Congress currently has governments in four states and Union Territories — Punjab, Karnataka, Pondicherry and Mizoram (which is also heading for polls). A win in MP would elevate them from a dismal position.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi has been campaigning intensely in the state and is expected to hold more rounds of public addresses as the polling date nears. A win in MP, considered an organisational playground of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), could boost Gandhi’s popularity as it did during the Gujarat election campaign in 2017 (even as Congress lost).
Gaining popularity could help him square off against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a possible presidential-style battle in 2019.
Also read: Key factors likely to impact the election
In 2014, the BJP had won 26 out of the 29 parliamentary seats in the state. Congress had won three. If Congress wins Madhya Pradesh, it would fancy its chances of winning a larger share of seats in six months’ time, thereby directly denting the BJP.
However, it cannot be assumed that people will vote for the same political party in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls as they do in these state polls.
Voters may hold different opinions about the government in the state and the Centre.
A series of opinion polls by India Today-Axis My India suggest that the popularity of the central government continues to be higher than those of the state governments, in most cases. The same set of surveys also show that PM Modi is more popular among the respondents compared to several BJP chief ministers.
A slogan being picked up by political observers in Rajasthan is, ‘Modi se bair nahi, rani (Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje) ki khair nahi (We have no issues with Modi, but we will not spare ‘The Queen’ (Vasundhara Raje)’.
The prime minister and the Centre’s popularity cannot, however, guarantee that the people would vote for BJP in 2019.
A loss for Congress’ in Madhya Pradesh would raise questions about its effectiveness as an opposition party. It would be seen as Congress not being able to win an election despite anti-incumbency against a 15-year government.Questions would also be raised about Congress’ ability to handle alliances and if it faltered by not allying with Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Such a situation would help Mayawati gain further influence during the 2019 seat sharing negotiations.
Assembly Elections 2018: Read the latest news, views and analysis here