By Vijay Darda | 06-02-2017
The stakes are high for each political party in the elections to the five states. For instance in Punjab, the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP alliance is battling a two-term anti-incumbency in the face of a two-pronged challenge from the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party. The Congress chief ministerial candidate Amarinder Singh has declared that this would his be last election. So, he is contesting from two seats, his traditional Patiala seat and the SAD chief minister Parkash Singh Badal’s turf, Lambi. He has to do this to dispel the notion as alleged by the AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal. It also shows that the Aap was running a tough campaign which the Congress could not ignore.
In the coastal state of Goa with just 40 seats, the Congress seems to have an upper hand vis-a-vis the BJP as the incumbent ruling party is marked with challenges from its alliance partners. Then there is the persona of the Union defence minister Manohar Parrikar. He has not been able to come to terms with his move to Delhi and is really itching to go back to Goa capital. But in a dynamic political situation, things have changed on ground for Parrikar. Besides, AAP has also made its presence felt during the Goa campaign. For the Congress revival plans ahead of 2019 would make sense only if the party registers big wins in Punjab and Goa. Electoral setbacks in these two states would certainly take the shine off the Congress, make Rahul Gandhi look like a lessor leader.
However, the toughest and the most crucial battle of all states is being fought in the Hindi region of Uttar Pradesh. It is worth remembering that this most populous state with the largest number of seats 403 up for grabs. One logic for those polls, is that you do not stretch yourself too much when you have solid data from the past. In 2014, the BJP swept the Lok Sabha polls bagging 73 out of the 80 seats and this translates into 365 seats. Pollsters argue that even if there is a ten percent decline in the BJP’s vote share it is assured of convenient majority. But others argue that this logic does not hold valid due to the changing dynamics of the political situation and the fact that the conditions that are applicable to one state election are not necessarily true for the parliamentary elections in the same state. It is this factor that makes an alliance between the Samajwadi Party and the Congress an exciting affair.
The Congress has just 8 per cent vote in the state, but when added to the Samajwadi vote share it can work a magic figure as victory margins in four-cornered contests are usually in the range of 5,000-10,000 votes. The Bahujan Samaj Party is also in the fray banking on its solid Dalit vote and hoping to get enough Muslim votes that would change the game. This approach did seem workable as long as the SP-Congress alliance was not in place but after that this idea is a non-starter as the Muslims would solidly back the alliance.
So, ahead of 2019 polls the parties that do well in 2017 should be rationally considered as strongly positioned for the next general elections. As a mature leader, the Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav is not interested in jumping the gun and making all kinds of statements about the future. For him everything that matters is 2017.
The BJP of course has higher stakes in Uttar Pradesh. In the first place they have to secure an absolute majority in UP in order to keep the credibility of their claims in 2019 alive. This is directly related to prime minister Narendra Modi’s credibility. He is the campaigner in chief and it is on his shoulders that the BJP has notched up successive electoral victories. A dent did appear when the BJP lost to AAP in Delhi and the grand alliance in Bihar. But now Modi has the surgical strikes and demonetisation issues to pulverise the opposition. The fact that people have continued to show faith in Modi’s leadership despite the pain of demonetisation should be an asset for him in these elections. But the question now is how much an issue would demonetisation remain in Uttar Pradesh by the time people go to vote?
The other two states are Uttarakhand and Manipur which have Congress-ruled dispensations. In case the Congress manages to retain both these states it shall get a morale booster ahead of 2019. As things stand, the Congress is on a weak wicket in Uttarakhand, and reasonably well placed in Manipur. But the campaign can make a difference. These regular elections-every year in a few states, are a gentle reminder of the accountability process. The ruling party at the Centre, will always claim that the state elections are not a referendum on any central decision or policy matter, but the fact is that when more than 20 crore people vote on an issue it does become a referendum some way. Anyway, it is a matter of political convenience, if the ruling party wins the state elections then it does not mind if the contest is billed as a referendum.
The frequent reality checks for the party in power as well as for those in opposition are a welcome route to assessing their popularity among the masses. Of course the governments to run the states are also elected but that is now becoming the secondary concern. In all these elections, the main concern would be: who wins in Uttar Pradesh – BJP or the SP-Congress alliance; in Punjab either the Congress or AAP; likewise in Goa either the Congress or a hung Assembly trying to cobble a majority. The high stakes political games would continue irrespective of the outcome. It is India’s most fascinating spectacle sport. It is one in which the interest never goes down. As long as we have elections, then irrespective of their level, the interest in their outcomes shall continue.
Before I conclude…
In this year’s railway budget which is now a part of the general budget, Union railways minister Suresh Prabhu has been reportedly very generous in his allocations for pending projects in the state. He has allocated Rs 5,958 crores for various projects with the Nagar-Beed-Parli section getting Rs780 crores and the Wardha-Yavatmal-Nanded section getting Rs 738 crores. With these allocations, the issues of time and cost over-runs for public projects and their resultant impact on the people’s lives comes under sharper focus.