BJP is hoping to do better in the Hindi belt than last time and carry the winning momentum to the LS contest.
As over 6 crore electorates set out to press the EVM button in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh on 17 November, the democratic exercise in five states—seen as the virtual semi-final before the parliamentary election next May—shall reach the crucial halfway mark. With voters in these two states, along with those in Mizoram, sealing their verdict by Friday next, electoral action will shift to Rajasthan and Telangana later this month as part of the remaining leg of the Assembly elections.
The declaration of results on 3 December in all the five states, including the key Hindi belt states Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan (voting due on 25 November) and Chhattisgarh, could make or mar the future of political biggies in both the BJP and the Congress. Of course, the results in Telangana (voting due on 30 November) and Mizoram (voting held on 7 November) will also influence the national politics as these five states collectively send 83 MPs to Lok Sabha.
Through the experiments carried out and promises made in the Assembly elections so far, the BJP appears to be searching for the right mix of competitive welfarism and development agenda and firming up the strategy to retain its dominance at the national level. Success – broadly seen by some BJP insiders as victory in at least two Hindi belt states – in the current outing may reaffirm the fire power of “Brand Narendra Modi” while a poor show would force a rethink over the strategy of fielding Union ministers and MPs in Assembly elections. A good show in Assembly elections may also demoralise the Opposition camp for the 2024 general election.
The Congress, on the other hand, has tried to replicate its campaign style from Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh Assembly elections and spiced up its offering to the electorate with local issues, including corruption, as it looks to script the perfect recipe for an inviting dish that it wants to serve before voters in the Lok Sabha elections. If the Congress manages to dominate the Assembly elections in the Hindi belt, it may get that additional bargaining chip for cornering a majority of Lok Sabha seats under the I.N.D.I.A. bloc for the 2024 contest. In personal terms, the Assembly election results will also define Rahul Gandhi’s future. A good showing by the party, is going to see a growing clamour for his return as Congress president and projection as a PM face.
For Chief Ministers Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Ashok Gehlot and Bhupesh Baghel the electoral outing could deliver another stint in the top post or nudge them toward the road to national-level assignments. For party stalwarts and former Chief Ministers like Kamal Nath, Digvijaya Singh, Vasundhara Raje Scindia, Raman Singh and Chief Minister aspirants like Sachin Pilot, Kailash Vijayvargiya and Jyotiraditya Scindia, the Assembly election verdict could open the door to a new opportunity or leave them wiser and better prepared for Lok Sabha elections, and possible Union Cabinet berths.
In Madhya Pradesh, Union ministers and BJP veterans Faggan Singh Kulaste, Prahlad Singh Patel and Narendra Singh Tomar and four other Lok Sabha MPs are contesting in the Assembly election. Tomar, a former state BJP chief, the convenor of the party’s election management committee in Madhya Pradesh, is a three-term parliamentarian who served as a legislator twice till 2008. Patel is a five-term Lok Sabha MP and has never been an MLA, while Kulaste has served in Lok Sabha for six terms and in Rajya Sabha on one occasion. These BJP heavyweights could also be in the race for the Chief Minister’s seat if the BJP manages to get a clear majority on 3 December. In Rajasthan too, Union minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat and MPs like Diya Kumari and Jaipur Rural MP Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, have been tasked to win important Assembly seats. They may get key assignments in the state government if the BJP manages to wrest the state from the Congress.
At the national stage, a good showing by the BJP in state elections will be seen as a precursor to its return to power at the Centre in 2024. A dream performance by the Congress – cornering at least three out of the four big states (which appear to be an uphill task – may see the birth of Rahul 2.0 and force Modi and his team to take the Opposition challenge in Lok Sabha elections more seriously.
Political analysts differ on the bearing that the Assembly election results may have on the Lok Sabha election’s outcome. Some of them may be tempted to conclude that the loser in Assembly elections may be unable to bounce back in the parliamentary contest. Whether it is the BJP or the Congress that conquers the Hindi belt, the over 16 crore voters in these five states will expect quick results, in terms of freebies and welfare promises, from the new governments. A poor performance or corruption by the new regimes will surely anger the voters and benefit the rival parties in the Lok Sabha election.
As for Modi magic, some forecasters indicate that the BJP on its own may look at a more realistic and lower tally in the 2024 Lok Sabha election than the current 303. However, if the party manages to achieve its target of winning 50% vote, a third term for Prime Minister Modi would not be difficult, regardless of the party’s performance in the current Assembly elections.
A BJP national spokesman cited the example of the 2018 Assembly elections in which the Congress captured Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh and ruled Madhya Pradesh for the initial 15 months, yet the Modi wave brought back the BJP at the Centre in 2019 with a bigger margin as compared to 282 seats in 2014. However, in the current Assembly elections the BJP is hoping to do better in the Hindi belt than last time and carry the winning momentum to the Lok Sabha contest.
As for the ongoing Assembly elections, after the completion of voting in Madhya Pradesh (230 seats), Chhattisgarh (90 seats) and Mizoram (40) by 17 November, the electorate will cast votes on 25 November to pick a new 200-member Assembly in Rajasthan and on November 30 to elect a 119-member Assembly in Telangana.