Chief election commissioner VS Sampath announces the Assembly election dates in New Delhi on Friday. (PTI)
New Delhi, Oct. 4: The last slew of Assembly elections before next year’s Lok Sabha finale will pit the Congress and the BJP in straight contests in four of the five states up for grabs.
Popularly labelled a “trailer” ahead of the big fight next summer, the November 11-to-December 4 exercise will test parties’ and pundits’ claims and counter-claims on hard terra firma.
Narendra Modi will face the first real test of his “charisma and credibility” outside Gujarat when Delhi votes on December 4, since the BJP is banking on him to deliver the capital from the Congress in the absence of a powerful local leader.
Rajasthan has never returned an incumbent in recent history, barring the 1993 elections. The state BJP, buffeted by factionalism until the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh cracked the whip, is looking to unseat Congress chief minister Ashok Gehlot.
The BJP will be battling to defend Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, where it won the last two elections, against any surprise sprung by the Congress. In Mizoram, the Congress will strive to hold on to its government.
Congress spokesperson Meem Afzal played down talk of the Assembly polls being a “semi-final”. PTI quoted him as saying: “There is nothing like semi-final or quarter-final. For us, every election is a finalů. We will go to the elections on our programmes and policies.”
The agency also quoted an upbeat tweet from Modi: “I welcome announcement of polls in the five states. Elections are a celebration of our democracy. We look forward to a healthy and spirited elections.”
Contest No. 1
The national capital perhaps poses the biggest test for the Congress and the BJP.
The Congress has ruled the Union territory of Delhi uninterruptedly for 15 years. The BJP, saddled with an army of self-anointed leaders but no “identifiable” face, has not been able to dent the Congress’s base so far although it registered a two per cent increase in its vote share in the last election.
Nor does anti-incumbency seem to be posing too hard a challenge for the Congress, thanks to the leadership of Sheila Dikshit, Delhi’s “Aunty Number One” who has transformed the city’s infrastructure.
Still, things could take a downturn for the Congress this time as Delhi grapples with corruption, price rise, crime and administrative stagnancy — some of these perceived to be of the UPA’s making.
“I am totally confident of the Congress’s victory. We are fully prepared,” PTI quoted Dikshit as saying.
The debut of a “third force” in the shape of the Aam Admi Party (Aap), built on a “hate the political class” sentiment, has foxed the main two parties.
Led by Arvind Kejriwal, who had hitched his stars to Anna Hazare’s wagon before dumping him, Aap is fighting all the 70 Assembly seats.
It can cut into Congress and BJP votes because the middle classes, as well as the lower classes in the jhuggi-jhopadis, see it as an “alternative to the political cynicism and chicanery” of the traditional political class.
In Rajasthan, the BJP has put former chief minister Vasundhara Raje at the helm of the party after a spell of uncertainty and manipulation.
In 2008, intra-party opponents and the Sangh had sabotaged Vasundhara’s prospects. Wiser now, she has brought her critics on board and has the Sangh’s support as well.
Gehlot swung into action as soon as Vasundhara entered the scene, handing out freebies such as free health care for the poor and subsidised bus fares for women.
But these have come at the fag end of his tenure and have led to complaints about the benefits not reaching their targets, creating a perception that his efforts may be “too little too late”.
In the end, though, the outcome in Rajasthan could hinge on who gets the caste equations right and bags the maximum votes from the powerful Jats, Meenas and Gujjars.
In Madhya Pradesh, the Congress’s move to project Union minister Jyotiraditya Scindia — though only as campaign panel chief so far — has been the new element in an election that had looked like a cakewalk for the BJP.
Scindia is young and holds sway over the Chambal region. His ability to make a difference will depend on how united the state’s top-heavy Congress unit remains and how well he reaches out to party workers outside his turf.
The BJP is playing on a royalty vs commoner theme that positions chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan as everyone’s favourite “uncle” (mama) as opposed to a leader sequestered in a palace.
Back to Jogis
In Chhattisgarh, the Congress lost a phalanx of leaders to Maoists last May. It is again dependent on the father-son duo of Ajit and Amit Jogi, whose alleged machinations and highhandedness have hobbled the party in the past.
On the flip side, murmurs are audible in the BJP that it’s time chief minister Raman Singh, a Thakur, made way for a tribal leader. The tribal versus non-tribal rumblings could cost the BJP seats in Adivasi-dominated areas. A one per cent swing is enough to tip the scales.