Dress Rehearsal for LS poll?
News analysis

Dress Rehearsal for LS poll?

K. Gopalakrishnan

On December 11, 2018, the mood of the Indian electorate, particularly in the Hindi belt, would be known as results of the five assembly polls will come out that day. It may give a hint of the possible outcome of the Lok Sabha elections scheduled in the first half of 2019. There could be repositioning by political parties taking advantage of the outcome of the polls to 5 state assemblies. Results may lead to political realignments and change of alliance partners for better performance in the Parliamentary polls, not uncommon in the game of the art of the possible.

The challenge is mainly for the two national parties BJP and Congress. The BJP primarily has the handicap of anti-incumbency in three states - Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh and the Congress in Mizoram. In Telangana it is the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) that is facing anti-incumbency.  In the past anti-incumbency was not a major factor in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh as it did not affect the assembly polls in the last three elections. But various matters within the states and central policies like demonetization, GST and weakening rupee could go against the BJP in these states. Jobless growth and increasing prices, particularly of petroleum products, are two factors which can influence voting. The GST has alienated at least a section of shop keepers and traders, who are the backbone of the saffron party and that too could influence results.

For the Congress, the situation is not comfortable in Mizoram as some senior leaders have already deserted the party and the rule of Lalthanvala has not enhanced the image of the state government. Chandrashekhar Rao of TRS still retains some sheen due to his role in the formation of the state of Telangana but his autocratic ways and increasing political ambitions of his family do not augur well.

The recent developments were not as per the Congress plans; Mayawati independently forging an alliance with Ajit Jogi in Chhattisgarh and the threat of going on its own or with non-Congress allies in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan; the Samajwadi Party leader, Akhilesh Yadav walking out on the party indicates that seat sharing is not easy with regional satraps. It is possible that there could be some understanding even now as the two parties do not have a formidable presence in MP and Rajasthan. But the two expected that the anti-BJP sentiments of Congress could make it sacrifice anything to avoid vote split. Strategy for the power bid in New Delhi could be different and mood of the Hindi belt voters may provide a major input to take a final view.

The Congress high command cannot ignore the state leaders in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, the two states where the party has a strong organization and a popular base. Rahul has been concentrating on these states and the leaders are now working together in spite of differences and clashing ambitions.

In Madhya Pradesh, Kamal Nath, Digvijay Singh and Jyothiraditya Scindia are expected to put up a stiff fight. Sachin Pilot and Ashok Gehlot too are expected to give sleepless nights in Rajasthan to the BJP leadership. The Congress has problems in giving major concessions in Karnataka. Above all, the Congress high command is aware of the moves of Machiavellian Amit Shah ever ready to poach! In Chhattisgarh too, the Congress has a fighting chance but lacks strong leadership. The party is not sure of Mizoram, though it is keen to keep its last bastion.

For the BJP, these elections are very important, particularly coming as they are on the eve of Parliamentary polls. A victory would give its image a big boost and confidence to fight the LS polls. It is aware of the tough fight in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. The party is mainly dependent on the image of Narendra Modi. In Mizoram and Chhattisgarh the party managers seem to be hopeful, though a fourth time victory in Chhattisgarh is not easy.  But the triangular fight expected in the state with Mayawati dumping the Congress provides the basis for hope. In Mizoram, party managers have been working for some time mainly to win over the Congress leaders, which has been the successful party strategy in eastern India in the recent elections.

What Modi and Shah want is to make a mark in Telangana. Talks are on with TRS leaders who have been positive towards the BJP in the past few months and siding with the party on national issues and voting in Parliament. Needless to add everyone is looking towards Amit Shah’s strategy and tactics for these elections. For him, this is the biggest test as the BJP after four and half years of rule at the Centre is not all that popular, for various reasons, amongst the masses.

Though many have already written the obituary of the Mahaghatbhandan even now one has to wait.  Primarily Mahaghatbhandan, or the Grand Alliance, is planned for removing BJP from the centre. And serious work on it will begin only before LS elections. The results of the assembly elections will enable every political party to realize its own strength in their areas. LS seat adjustments will only be meaningful after that.

Only in UP the position is clear that an alliance between BSP and SP can dislodge BJP.  Similarly Mamta has the most formidable political presence in Bengal as is the case with Patnaik in Orissa.  So is the case with TDP in Andhra and TRS in Telangana. Alliance between the NCP and Congress is a force in Maharashtra.  Congress is strong in Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Its presence in Haryana and Andhra Pradesh cannot be ignored. The BJP has overall dominance in the Northern belt and in the South it is keen to improve its position. This is the broad picture.

In the case of Grand Alliance the actual position will be known after the LS election. If BJP and alliance partners fail to get a majority, the Mahaghatbhandan would come to play. Till then one has to wait. The limited objective is to remove BJP from power. They will try to stick together once power is a distinct possibility. Till then the game would be to get maximum seats in the Lok Sabha. The struggle for that objective has now begun.

Given the scenario, the state assembly elections would be a dress rehearsal before the LS polls.  It will give an indication of things to come in the parliamentary elections.