First time voters
First time voters show their fingers marked with indelible ink after casting votes for the Assembly elections, at a polling station in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, on Wednesday, Nov 28, 2018. Image Credit: PTI

As the big fight of 2019 dawns, there are bellwether assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh in the Hindi heartland. Telangana and Mizoram will also be important pointers to who will rule Delhi.

Sensing huge anti-incumbency in Rajasthan against the Vasundra Raje-led government in a bi-polar polity, the Congress has patched up internal divisions between the young, hard-working and charismatic state chief Sachin Pilot and erstwhile Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot. Both want to be chief minister, but both being canny politicians sense that that fight can wait. Pilot, a second generation heirloom politician, has proved his detractors wrong by staying put in Rajasthan and putting the Raje government on the mat.

Rajasthan Congress president Sachin Pilot
Rajasthan Congress president Sachin Pilot during election campaign for the state assembly at Tonk, on Saturday, November 24, 2018. Image Credit: PTI

Senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders say Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, who have serious differences with Raje, not finding her deferential enough, may not be too unhappy if Raje loses.

And, this is the biggest trend of these important assembly polls.

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The BJP is assiduously ensuring that if they lose in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, the loss will be attributed to the local leadership of Shivraj Singh Chauhan and Raje, not the party’s über campaigner Modi.

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan
Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan campaigns in support of BJP candidate Rameshwar Sharma, in Bhopal, on Monday, November 26, 2018. Image Credit: PTI

This message has been the main headline management of the BJP. The idea being that Modi and Shah cannot be responsible for any loss.

Madhya Pradesh is another state where Chauhan, fondly called “mamaji” (uncle), has ruled for 13 years. It is voting today and gives the best chance to the Congress to make a comeback in a heartland state. Madhya Pradesh has huge issues of agrarian distress and the massive Vyapam scam and yet there is anti-incumbency against the BJP, but not the affable Chauhan.

Congress President Rahul Gandhi
Congress President Rahul Gandhi offers prayers during an election campaign at Jagatpita Brahma Temple, in Pushkar, Rajasthan, on Monday, November 26, 2018. Image Credit: PTI

Congress satraps, Jyotiraditya Scindia, the state chief 71-year-old Kamalnath and former Chief Minister Digvijaya Singh have tried to present a united front, but it’s been patchy. Scindia, who has put his all in the campaign forsaking Delhi and canvassing across the state, says: “It is now or never for the Congress.”

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Equally committed is Kamalnath who sees this as his last chance to become chief minister. The nine-term Member of Parliament from Chindwara has been visible along with Scindia in Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s temple run across the state as the Congress campaigns on a Hindu lite or MeToo Hindutva issues.

Vasundhara Raje
Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje addresses an election rally in support of BJP candidate Shankar Singh Rawat, in Beawar, on Tuesday, November 27, 2018. Image Credit: PTI

Digvijaya Singh has in an interview to me ruled himself out of the chief minister stakes, but his supporters know of his visceral antipathy to “Maharaj” as Scindia is known. Will the decision not to tie up with Mayawati and her Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) cost the congress in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh? The answer will be known on December 11 when the results will be out.

If the Congress wins Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh and puts up a decent showing in Chattisgarh, it will be Gandhi’s first emphatic win after taking over as Congress president. It will raise his profile to finally have a win in his curriculum vitae currently riddled with defeats. Gandhi and the Congress will appear more attractive to putative allies. Three wins will also give him bargaining power with fractious allies such as Mamata Banerjee and Sharad Pawar. In Uttar Pradesh, the two regional heavyweights Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav may concede the Congress a seat at the high table.

Rahul Gandhi
Congress President Rahul Gandhi obliges his supporters for selfies during an election rally in Champai, Mizoram, Tuesday, on November 20, 2018. Image Credit: PTI

Conversely, for Modi and Shah, a defeat in the three assemblies may not mean much. Despite Modi’s presidential style, he has limited his rallies in all these states. And, as for Chauhan, if he wins a fourth term, he will emerge as a rival. That is something Modi and Shah don’t want.

The Congress is fighting to keep Mizoram its last bastion in the northeast.

Security personnel
Security personnel stand guard as voters stand in a queue at a polling station during the state Assembly elections, at Kanhmun, Mizoram, on Wednesday, November28, 2018. Image Credit: PTI

So with the economy in a downward spiral, the contentious GST roll out, a huge jobs crisis and agrarian distress are these the issues the parties are focusing on?

Not a bit. It’s the endless low level of campaign, with Modi holding forth on Gandhi’s “dada, dadi” (grandfather, grandmother) and Congress leaders hitting back with petty insults. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has taken the cake of polarity when he said the Madhya Pradesh elections were about “Ali versus Bajrangbali”

And, can an Indian election happen without EVM glitches. No, as we saw today in Madhya Pradesh. The Election Commission needs to get its act together because such glitches are not good as they caste a doubt on democracy.

Swati Chaturvedi is an award winning print and broadcast journalist. Her book “I am a Troll - Inside the BJP’s secret digital army” has received international acclaim. Her twitter handle is @Bainjal.