The Election Commission has sounded the poll bugle in five states – Kerala, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Assam and Puducherry where polling will be held from April 4 to May 16 in phases. It is almost a mini general election and crucial to almost all the players. While a national party like the BJP is looking for a booster dose, the Congress is looking to revive its lost magic and the regional satraps want to maintain their hold over their respective states.
Why are these elections important? The Congress is ruling in Assam and Kerala while the regional satraps like Mamata Banerjee (West Bengal) Jayalalitha (Tamil Nadu) and Rangaswamy (Puducherry) rule the other three states. The BJP would like to improve its performance and is even dreaming of forming a coalition government in Assam; in other states it is a marginal player.
The Grand Old Party is hoping to remain relevant and for this the Congress has to do reasonably well in Assam and Kerala. This is difficult in Assam where the present chief minister Tarun Gogoi is seeking a fourth term in a row. It will be a miracle if Gogoi wins for the fourth time with anti-incumbency staring in his face. Despite many odds, his advantage is that the opposition is not united.
In Kerala, where the Congress-led UDF is ruling, so far the UDF and LDF have been alternating in power and this time it is the turn of the LDF. For both the Congress and the LDF, it will be hard to explain to the voters their alliance in West Bengal while they face a direct fight in Kerala. The Congress is a minor player in Tamil Nadu and has lost its magic in West Bengal while in Kerala it will be fighting to retain its hold.
As for the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the stakes are high. The elections are coming at a time when the BJP is facing a slide in its approval ratings. The Prime Minister&’s popularity has dipped in the past two years and more so after humiliating defeats in Assembly polls in Delhi and Bihar in 2015. Modi is under pressure to deliver on the tall promises he made during the 2014 poll campaign.
The Prime Minister is unable to bring in economic reforms due to a lack of majority in the Raya Sabha. A good showing in the ensuing Assembly polls will go a long way to help him. The international community as well as Indian businessmen are waiting to see how Modi will ensure reforms, which are already delayed. Also it is crucial for the BJP to prove that the Modi magic is not waning.
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee is working hard to prove that she is not just a one-time winner. So winning the state for a second time is imperative for her. Although she has not fulfilled all her election promises, she has not committed any big blunder despite the Saradha scam embarrassment. Her advantage is the weak opposition. Mamata is all poised to return for a second successive term if everything goes according to her poll calculations.
Jayalalitha in Tamil Nadu too is poised to make a comeback despite the corruption cases in which she was convicted for four years. Although the Karnataka High court had acquitted her, the case is pending in the Supreme Court. Her main problem is her health, which is not allowing her to move about even for the campaign. Since the party depends entirely on her charisma, it is imperative for her to prove her administrative capacity after the rain havoc last year.
People of Tamil Nadu had forgiven her corruption cases in 2001 and 2011 when they elected her party to rule. Her advantage, too, is a weak opposition. The Congress and the DMK have come together but the arithmetic so far is not against her. The ageing DMK supremo M. Karunanidhi leads the main opposition but he is facing family feuds as well as health problems. The BJP, on the other hand, is aiming to expand, buoyed by its 2014 success. With the splintering of the opposition votes, it will not be difficult for Jaya to make a comeback.
Kerala is a peculiar case for both the Congress and the Left Parties. It is crucial for the LDF to win the state this time as the ruling Congress is fast losing ground. In any case it is the turn of the Left to capture power. But it is unable to explain the Left-Congress tie up in West Bengal. The Congress chief minister Ommen Chandy is involved in controversies and the Congress is not united. The BJP too is trying to expand in the state by wooing the Ezhavas.
In Puduchery, which is a sort of satellite state of Tamil Nadu, the ruling AINR Congress chief N. Rangaswamy is facing a tough test. Since the time Rangaswamy left the Congress in 2011 and launched his own outfit he had held his own and even joined the NDA as a partner. His problem is how to keep the DMK-Congress combine and the AIADMK at bay and come back to power.
In such a scenario these Assembly polls are projecting an interesting scenario where the fortunes of all the players are at stake. If the Modi magic fails this time, it will be a setback for the saffron party. Similarly, for Rahul Gandhi this is the time to prove that he is a leader who can revive the Congress.