Both BJP and Congress will be tested on their ability to overcome anti-incumbency fatigue and several other issues.
The electoral semi-final in five states before the big fight during the parliamentary election in 2024 will test both the two national parties–BJP and Congress–on their ability to tide over incumbency fatigue and test the effectiveness of emotive issues like Hindutva, welfare, corruption, women’s quota, agrarian distress, Mandal politics or nationwide caste census and revival of the old pension scheme.
The BJP’s new experiment of fielding heavyweights, including Union ministers and MPs, while not naming a chief ministerial face in Assembly elections reflects a churn within the party. This time round, the party’s think-tank announced candidates for a section of seats, including those reserved for SC/ST, in some states before the announcement of the voting dates. It also is trying to test its election machinery’s capability to win back reserved seats which it had failed to retain in the last outing.
The Congress is eager to build on the success in Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka Assembly elections, but issues like corruption against the party’s sitting chief ministers and internal party frictions pose a big challenge. Overcoming the regional hold of parties like BRS in Telangana and MNF in Mizoram also may not be easy.
In the three major Hindi heartland states–Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh–the road to chief minister’s office passes through constituencies dominated by SC and ST voters. The reserved seats in these three states add up to 520 and out of these 180–almost 35 per cent–are reserved. In 2018 elections, the Congress managed to win two-thirds of these 520 seats. In Rajasthan, the BJP had won 32 out of the 34 reserved seats in 2013 but in 2018 it could win only 11. The Congress pocketed 21.
Among the ST reserved seats in Rajasthan, the Congress won 13 seats in 2018 as against 7 in 2013. The BJP won only 10 seats in 2018 as compared to 13 in 2013. In MP, 47 tribal seats (almost 20% of the total 230 Assembly constituencies) have always been the deciding factor for any party gaining majority. In 2018, the Congress won 31 of these tribal reserved seats. The infamous urinating incident in Sidhi district during Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s rule has been weighing heavily on the BJP campaign.
In 2018 elections in Chhattisgarh, the BJP could win only 6 out of the 39 SC and ST reserved seats. The Congress’ promise of getting caste census done in all states after winning elections is striking a chord with OBC voters. The party’s trusted plank of revival of old pension scheme—which paid rich dividend in Himachal Pradesh elections—also seems to have many takers among government employees in the Hindi heartland.
In almost all states going to elections, anti-incumbency against sitting chief ministers and their teams will be a major factor as they strive to win a second innings for themselves. Ashok Gehlot in Rajasthan, Shivraj Singh Chouhan in MP, Bhupesh Baghel in Chhattisgarh and K.C. Rao in Telangana are all aware of his factor. It remains to be seen if the welfare schemes and freebies announced by the BJP government in MP and BRS government in Telangana will undo the fatigue factor as they look to win a term beyond a 10-year stint.
As for references to corruption and poor law and order during electioneering, the Opposition parties are relying on these issues in almost all states to run down the ruling dispensation and claw back to power.
Smaller parties or regional outfits are set to disrupt the vote matrix of the big two – BJP and the Congress. In a bid to enter the MP poll arena, the BRS is backing small parties like the Jai Adiwasi Yuva Sangathan, Gondwana Gantantra Party, and the Azad Samaj Party. In 2018, the Congress encashed JAYS’s popularity in the Malwa-Nimar region and this time the small outfit plans to contest 43 seats in west MP. The Samajwadi Party and the BSP may also influence voters in north MP’s Bundelkhand region and disturb other parties’ plans. Arvind Kejrawal-led AAP has also increased its footprint in MP by winning civic seats and plans to woo Chhattisgarh Assembly election voters with its guarantee of free electricity, education and health facility. In Rajasthan, Rashtriya Loktantrik Party and Bharatiya Adivasi Party can also dent chances of candidates from bigger parties on some seats.
In Mizoram, the strife in neighbouring Manipur is likely to be a key poll plank and both the BJP and the Congress may want to rely on regional players like Mizo National Front, Zoram People’s Movement and the People’s Conference to take the lead in winning over voters in the Christian-majority state.
Whether issues like the success of Chandrayan-3 and the successful conduct of G20 Summit by the Narendra Modi government resonate with the 60 lakh first time voters, out of the total 16.2 crore electors, will also be known on December 3 when the results of the five Assembly elections will be declared. Gehlot’s free smartphone for women and girls and free scooty for meritorious girl students can win over young voters. In MP, chief minister Chouhan’s promise to generate job opportunities and to impart skills to the youth is also seen as an attempt to keep young voters happy.
Five electoral bouts
Barring Chhattisgarh, all states are set for a single-phase election and the results for all five will be declared on 3 December. In the case of Rajasthan, the EC has revised the voting date from 23 November to 25 November.
Voting for 40-member Mizoram Assembly will take place on 7 November. On the same day, the first phase of election in Chhattisgarh will also be held. The second phase of the Chhattisgarh election for its 90-member Assembly will be held on 17 November. Madhya Pradesh’s new 230-member Assembly will also be elected on 17 November. Telangana voters will elect a new 119-member Assembly on 30 November.