With the Election Commission of India announcing the schedule for crucial state polls this year, the campaign has now swung into full swing for elections that will set the tone for the Lok Sabha campaign which is six months away. However, a note of caution.
As the last election demonstrated, results of state polls don’t necessarily mean the general election will go the same way. Increasingly, we are seeing local issues taking centre stage at the state level while national politics has a different response altogether.
That explains what the Aam Aadmi party or the AAP is the dominant force in the Delhi assembly but failed to win even a single Lok Sabha seat in the national capital, all of which went to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Ahead of the 2019 general election.
In December 2018: the congress had won Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. It lost badly in the Lok Sabha polls barely months later.
Therefore, to call these state polls a semi finals won’t be accurate. But they will put the INDIA alliance to the test and the issue of a caste census will take centre stage, a sort of testing ground with voters before the general elections. The states where elections will happen over November and December are Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Mizoram. Counting is on December 3. Here is the state of play in the key states:
The Congress Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot is trying hard to ensure that the typical revolving door pattern in his state is not repeated this time i.e. a change of government every five years, which is what has been happening since 1993. It doesn’t help that recently Rahul Gandhi sounded less than confident about the Congress party’s chances, saying he expects the election to be “very close”.
Over the course of the last few months, Ashok Gehlot has launched a number of new welfare schemes including one for health insurance, cheaper gas cylinders for the poor, a social security scheme and reintroduction of the old pension scheme that affects over 7 lakh government workers and their families. He also announced a caste survey just before the model code of conduct kicked in. With these measures, Gehlot hopes to beat anti incumbent.
Things with his arch rival Sachin Pilot have cooled down for now, at least in public. How this plays out now is anyone’s guess. For the BJP, there are problems as well. The party is not projecting a chief ministerial candidate and faces factionalism. Former chief minister Vasundhara Raje has been sidelined by the central leadership for some time. The party has fielded as many as 7 MPs in the first list of candidates.
The Congress won the state last time with Kamal Nath becoming Chief Minister but his government fell after Jyotiraditya Scindia walked off to the BJP with over 20 MLAs. Shivraj Singh Chouhan took the reins for the BJP again. The four time Chief Minister is now facing major anti incumbency and voter fatigue. This is clearly why the BJP is not projecting him as their face again and keeping its options open by fielding union ministers to contest the assembly polls.
Several BJP leaders, from the Scindia camp in particular, have gone back to the Congress in recent months. meanwhile Kamal Nath has been busy trying to steal the Hindutva plank from the BJP by organising religious meetings. Buoyed by the Karnataka win, the Congress has been working hard on the ground and may just have the edge at the moment.
This is one state where the Congress looks most comfortable at the moment. Their government lead by Bhupesh Baghel is widely seen as pro farmer, pro tribal. Several welfare schemes have contributed to the Congress party’s popularity and Baghel’s hold over the OBCs and rural voters is another plus point.
But the Congress also faces factionalism in the state which may spill over into the campaign. The BJP meanwhile faces leadership issues. They’ve changed the state chief three times since 2018, while former chief minister Raman Singh has been totally sidelined.
The contest has turned quite interesting in Telangana where the BRS takes on both the Congress and the BJP. Chief Minister KCR is trying to win a third straight term but he faces a stiff challenge. Internal surveys show much discontent with his government. Despite that, KCR has retained most of its MLAs in the list of candidates, Over the last decade, he has focused on welfare schemes in a big way.
In the process, the BRS also decimated the Congress. But in the last Lok Sabha polls, the Congress made a better showing with three seats. They are better prepared this time and have announced six guarantees for the people.
Then there’s the BJP which had a good showing in the Hyderabad municipal polls and has been working hard to improve its standing at the grass roots. But it has been rocked with problems having to replace its state chief and losing much of the momentum it had earlier.