Expert Speak India Matters
Published on Nov 02, 2018
Assembly elections: Crucial for both BJP and Congress

Outcome of the forthcoming five assembly elections, particularly of the Hindi-speaking States of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh (MP) and Rajasthan, is very crucial for both the ruling BJP as well as the Congress because it would determine the course of national polity for the times to come and the fate of national and regional parties.

The Election Commission of India has scheduled elections to five assemblies in Chhattisgarh, MP, Rajasthan, Telangana and Mizoram for November and December. The counting of votes will take place on December 11 after which the election results will be declared.

Voting is scheduled in Chhattisgarh on 12 and 20 November. The Naxal affected areas comprising 18 assembly will elect their representatives in the first phase and election and 72 constituencies will go to polls in the second phase. Elections in MP and Mizoram have been scheduled for November 28 while the electorate of Rajasthan and Telangana will have the privilege of exercising their franchise on December 7.

Though preparation for the elections had begun quite in advance with important leaders launching the respective party campaigns much before the announcement of election schedule, yet contest appears to be wide open, as the electorate is yet to decide which way it wants their respective State to go.

In Chhattisgarh, the ruling BJP has been in power for the last 15 years and obviously there is a strong anti-incumbency against the government of Chief Minister Raman Singh. In the 2013 election, the BJP had won 49 seats polling 41.04 percent popular votes while the Congress had 39 seats in the 90-member assembly and had 40.29 percent of the electorate rooting for it. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) of four times UP Chief Minister Mayawati had won one seat with 4.27 percent popular votes. There was one independent candidate.

Both the BJP and the Congress are locked in a fierce battle with the ruling party leaving no stone unturned to beat anti-incumbency and retain power while the main opposition party is presenting a serious challenge to wrest power. Electoral battle has become even more unpredictable with the BSP and former State Chief Minister Ajit Jogi’s Janata Congress forming an electoral alliance and turning the battle in some 30 odd constituencies into a three cornered contests.

Whether the alliance between the BSP and the Janata Congress damages the BJP’s prospects more or that of the Congress is going to determine the outcome of the electoral battle. Initial assessment of the ground political realities suggests that the alliance has been formed with the objective of stopping the Congress’ march to power. The BJP top leadership is the prime motivator of the alliance using all possible means and methods of persuasion and coercion to bring the two together. It is an open secret that Jogi and Raman Singh share a close rapport.

In MP too, the ruling BJP is suffering anti-incumbency of 15 years, though Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan remains a credible force to reckon with. In the 2013 elections, the BJP had won 165 seats, polling 44.88 percent votes, while the Congress had just 58 seats in its bag with 36.39 percent of popular votes.

Corruption, Vyapam scam, agricultural distress and farmers suicides along with the rising unemployment are some issues which have put the ruling BJP on the defensive. The BJP is depending upon its strategy of dividing Congress votes by encouraging smaller parties to enter the electoral fray.

The Congress, for long, has suffered from factionalism in MP where three dominant groups within the party have been damaging the party. Three important leaders, namely present State party chief Kamal Nath, former Chief Minister Digvijay Singh and former Union Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia, have been working at cross purposes for over a decade.

In this State, the prospects of the Congress are relatively more promising this time despite its several handicaps. There is a sense of unity among the faction ridden Congress as there seems to be a realisation among the three dominant factions that differences among them can seal their respective political future. Reports hint that a truce of sorts between the warring factions has been arrived at by the efforts of Congress President Rahul Gandhi who has impressed upon respective leaders that the party’s win is equally crucial for their own relevance and survival. The party, therefore, is showing unity of purpose.

The country’s oldest party, therefore, is giving a spirited display of unity and it is reflected in the confidence of State leaders who have refused to buckle down to the unjustified demands of many possible alliance parties like the BSP, SP and the NCP which have decided to contest large number of seats. These parties, which are potential alliance partners in the Lok Sabha polls, are keen to keep the Congress down so that they can strike good bargains in the general elections.

Prospects of the Congress are the brightest in desert State of Rajasthan where the ruling BJP is not only suffering from anti-incumbency but also from a bitter fight between the national leadership and State Chief Minster Vasundhara Raje who has refused to surrender to the diktats of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP national president Amit Shah.

However, the central leadership and Raje have struck an uneasy truce and have closed ranks to retain power for the time being but it has not made much difference. The Chief Minister’s over two-month-long Gaurav Yatra across the State that will conclude in the first week of this month has failed to enthuse either the cadres or the people.

On the contrary, the Congress has been able to demonstrate that it can oust the BJP from power. State party chief Sachin Pilot and former Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, though opposed to each other, have closed their ranks to throw a serious challenge.

Even here, the BSP, SP and the NCP are proving to be spoilsport in their desire to damage the Congress chances of victory so that they have an upper hand while negotiating for seats in the Lok Sabha polls.

Results of elections in Telangana and Mizoram are crucial for assessing the national mood. The political fate of State Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao, who has played a gamble by going in for early elections by dissolving the assembly prematurely, is dependent on his return to power.

In order to understand the ground political situation in the State, a look at the outcome of the assembly elections of 2014, which were held along the Lok Sabha general elections, is necessary. The Telengana Rashtriya Congress (TRS) had won 63 seats in a 119-member strong assembly while the Congress had won 21 seats and the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) had won 15 seats. The BJP, AIMIM, YSR Congress and BSP had won five, seven, three and two seats respectively. The CPM, CPI and independent had one seat each.

The TRS had polled 34.0 percent votes while the combined votes polled by the Congress and the TDP stood at 39.5 percent. The BJP had seven percent while AIMIM and YSR Congress had 3.7 and 3.4 percent votes respectively. The BSP had 1.3 percent and the combined vote percentage of CPM and CPI was 2.8 percent.

However, the Chief Minister had increased TRS’s number of seats in the assembly from 63 to 82 by poaching in TDP and Congress MLAs but the big question here is whether voters who elected the deserter MLAs have also crossed over to the TRS? Normally, it does not happen as voters feels cheated when their chosen representative deserts them.

The Congress and the TDP are contesting the election in alliance while the smaller parties have reached an electoral understanding. This has made the contest three cornered and the electoral battle seems to be wide open still because voting is six weeks away and many moves and counter moves are going to be made to woo the electorate.

In Mizoram, the Congress is faced with anti-incumbency factor and is fighting the election with its back towards the wall. The BJP is making a determined effort to wrest power from the Congress to wipe out the Congress from the northeast.

If the Congress ultimately emerges victorious in three Hindi-speaking States or at least in two, despite the machinations and several handicaps, the credit would squarely go to the electorate that is becoming wiser with every passing election. People at large see through the games that political parties and their leaders play.

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.


Satish Misra

Satish Misra

Satish Misra was Senior Fellow at ORF. He has been a journalist for many years. He has a PhD in International Affairs from Humboldt University ...

Read More +