Now that the much-awaited elections to five state assemblies are over political parties are already looking ahead and have begun their preparations for the big Lok Sabha elections in 2019. The dates for the polls are likely to be announced sometime in February or March.

Of course the results of these five states – Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Telangana and Mizoram – will provide some indications and also have some impact on the Lok Sabha polls. But that is only part of the story as Lok Sabha elections are different and votes are cast looking at the national issues and who the people think will take the country forward.

The fortunes of the Congress might look up if it wins Rajasthan as is being expected and along with that some other states. The results will test Congress Party’s bandwidth and depth of its organisation. The morale of the party workers will go up even with a win in one state. Interestingly, Congress President Rahul Gandhi has to only win one state to show his leadership while Prime Minister Modi has to win majority of the five states to prove his party’s winning streak.

Notwithstanding the Assembly results, the major political parties are already in election mode. Both the UPA and the NDA are in the process of fine-tuning their political realignments to improve their electoral prospects. The Election Commission of India also has started preparations for next year’s Lok Sabha election.

The BJP strategy is to single out the Congress as its main opponent. The second is Hindu consolidation whether the BJP comes back or sits in opposition. The third is creating a pro-poor image for the Modi government. The issues for the 2019 polls will be more or less the same – like the Augusta versus Rafael defence deals, unemployment, agrarian crisis, economy, non-delivery of Modi’s 2014 election promises and petrol prices.

Just eight states – Bihar, Chattisgarh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh – accounted for over 75 per cent of the BJP’s tally in parliament. Together they account for 272 seats of which the BJP won 216 (nearly 80 per cent) in 2014. This may not be repeated and the BJP has to look for new territories for expansion. That is why the party is looking to the northeast and the south. However, regional players like Mamata Banerjee (West Bengal) and Naveen Patnaik (Odisha) are likely to give the BJP a run for its money. There will be state level anti-incumbency as well as at the national level, which needs to be tackled.

As for the BJP, its election machinery is active always and party chief Amit Shah has begun preparations for the big Lok Sabha polls months in advance with Mission 350 as his goal. The focus will be on 12 big states including Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, UP, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Odisha and Kerala. The BJP had already activated its chief ministers and deputy chief ministers in 20 states to prepare for the Look Sabha polls in September. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is more focused on the Lok Sabha polls than even the Assembly polls. Now all concentration of the government as well as the party will be turned towards the election strategy and how to propagate the government’s achievements. The government machinery as well as the party machinery is being activated to full throttle.

Along with that the BJP leadership will have to keep old friends intact as well as look for new allies. A new realignment of political forces is likely to take place before the polls and it is to be seen whether the opposition unite. A divided opposition will only help Modi. The BJP has no allies in the southern states where it is weak.

The Congress too has begun its preparations for the 2019 polls and has announced a core group committee, manifesto committee and publicity committee headed by senior leaders like A.K.Antony, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, Ahmed Patel and P. Chidambaram. The stakes are high for Rahul Gandhi, as the party will face the polls under his leadership.

The party has strengthened itself in the South by aligning with the JD (S) in Karnataka, DMK in Tamil Nadu and Telugu Desam in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. In Kerala the UDF is intact. In UP if the Congress-BSP-SP alliance comes to fruition, it will be a threat to the BJP. The Congress has stitched alliances in states like Jharkhand with the JMM and with the RJD in Bihar. In West Bengal if it manages to form an alliance with the TMC it will go a long way.

The preparations for battle royale 2019 have begun with the prospect of a bitter and no-holds-barred campaign, as the stakes are high for both the UPA and the NDA. Knives are being sharpened for a narrative and counter-narrative.