India’s prime minister Narendra Modi and his political capital could become the stuff of legends, potentially clearing the road for an unprecedented third term if the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wins West Bengal and holds on to Assam in states going to the polls in weeks from now.
Even those who worship the personality cult that is brand Modi are only hoping to register a BJP presence in Tamil Nadu and Kerala and cobble together a majority in Puducherry.
Similarly Rahul Gandhi, former president of the Congress party, and in contention to be the Uber Congress leader again needs to chalk up big victories in Assam, Kerala and be in the winning alliance in Tamil Nadu.
Gandhi who now represents Wayanad in Kerala in the Lok Sabha has literally thrown himself in the contest — swimming with fishermen, comparing push-ups and brandishing a six pack much to the delight of some sycophantic congressmen who gushed embarrassing Gandhi public display of effection on social media.
Huge stakes for Gandhis
Gandhi has huge stakes in these assembly polls. If he can’t deliver a boost in Kerala and Tamil Nadu and win Assam where he has extensively campaigned, the ginger group of Congress leaders dubbed the G 23 and who are openly against Gandhi’s leadership will get a fresh handle to attack him.
Gandhi hopes to return in triumph to replace his mother Sonia Gandhi, who is the interim Congress president but, has to display that he can win something to a very restive party which is in imminent danger of implosion and electoral irrelevance.
Assam, which was dismissed as a one sided walkover for the BJP, has turned out to be an interesting contest with the Gandhi siblings campaigning extensively. Priyanka Gandhi, Congress general secretary (Uttar Pradesh) has for the first time campaigned outside UP, kicking off her campaign on March 1 with prayers at the Kamakhya temple in Guwahati.
The Congress party has made an unequivocal commitment that if the party wins Assam, the contentious Citizen Amendment Bill (CAA) which seeks to give a religious filter to Indian citizenship will not be implemented.
The Congress in a rare dispute of political smarts has also made a series of sharp local alliances to claw Assam back from the BJP. The party has tied up with Badruddin Ajmal’s All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF).
The Congress central leadership (read Gandhi family) overcame resistance to the tie up, which a section of the party was saying would lead to the consolidation of the majority vote to the BJP. The Muslim vote is around 34 per cent in Assam and could see a consolidation specially with the BJP’s shrill CAA rhetoric.
The Assam equation
The Congress also got a BJP ally Bodoland People’s Front to break up with them and ally with the Congress camp after what they termed a “BJP betrayal”. All is not well in the BJP Assam camp as the rivalry between chief minister, Sarbananada Sonowal and Congress turn coat Himanta Biswa Sarma who practically bought the BJP to power in Assam.
Sarma had announced he would not be contesting the assembly election in the expectation of a powerful central role. His hopes were dashed and he is now contesting. A local powerhouse, Sarma has not got many rewards for his switch to the BJP and that is now a frequent taunt to his camp. The Congress is hoping to capitalise on Sharma’s disenchantment with the BJP.
In Tamil Nadu, the state Congress faced a humiliating seat sharing exercise which saw intervention from Sonia Gandhi after which the M K Stalin led DMK allotted 25 assembly seats and the Kanyakumari Lok Sabha seat to the Congress.
Given the Congress’s below par performance last time when it had won eight seats out of the 41 allotted in the 2016 assembly polls, the DMK drove a hard bargain. Gandhi has a lot to prove to his allies in the South and the Congress is fervently hoping his muscle flexing and push ups result in some election wins.
Nothing is more exciting than Indian elections to the political junkies and of course dear readers of Swat analysis I will bring you a blow by blow and push up by push up ringside view.
As of now the battle is on between titans like Modi and Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal and dynasts who have a point to prove like Gandhi, Stalin and Gaurav Gogoi in Tamil Nadu and Assam.