The Election Commission of India has set the ball rolling with the announcement of the poll schedule for the crucial Assembly elections in five states. Stakes are high for all the political parties. What is the present strength in each Assembly, what are the issues that are going to dominate these elections, who are the main contenders and what are the trends in each State, are some of the questions that are doing rounds in all political discussions. Organiser presents a comprehensive picture of these high-stakes upcoming elections
This year, March 13 is the festival of Holi. Just couple of days before that the high-stakes election results will be declared. There are many reasons these elections will generate interests for political pundits. The path-breaking decision by the Supreme Court to refrain political parties from using primordial identities like caste, religion, etc will set the new rules of electioneering. Model Code of Conduct has come into immediate effect from January 4, 2017 and all candidates are expected to open a fresh bank account for election expenses, and the expenses above Rs 20,000 will be made through cheques, all donations will also be accepted through cheques. The maximum limit for expenses to each candidate in UP, Punjab and Uttarakhand is Rs 28 lakh, while that in Goa and Manipur it is Rs 20 lakh.
Most of the political parties like Congress, Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and Trinamool Congress are disoriented, especially after the bold move of demonetisation and indirectly siding with corruption. In such a scenario, BJP has undoubtedly emerged as the new centre of gravity in power equations. It is consolidating where it was already in power like Goa and Punjab, while gaining new grounds in other states like Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Manipur. Most importantly, with strong organisational back up, decisive leadership at the Centre and all inclusive plank of development with transparency, BJP is setting the agenda for elections to which other parties are responding.
Advantage BJP amidst Multi-cornered Contest
In the 2012 elections for UP Assembly, the Samajwadi Party had won as many as 224 seats (202 needed for a simple majority) by securing only 29 per cent votes. It was almost a miracle made possible by a sharp division of votes among other contenders: the runner-up BSP getting almost 26 per cent, barely 3 per cent behind the SP, while the Bharatiya Janata Party securing 15 per ecnt and the Congress 11.6 per cent. The scenario saw a metamorphosis in 2014 general elections when the BJP clinched as many as 71 seats out of a total 80 with a whopping 42.30 per cent votes. A further two seats went to its ally Apna Dal. It is noteworthy that the party stood first in as many as 337 Assembly segments, a never-before achievement. The vote share of the SP fell to 22 per cent, that of BSP went down to 19.6 per cent and the Congress at an all-time low of 7.5 per ecnt.
One may doubt that the BJP can repeat its 2014 performance. The safest bet is that it will certainly very much better its position of 2012 and easily cross the 30 per cent threshold mark, even if it falls short of getting into the range of 40+. It is obvious that this will be made possible at the cost of its two principal adversaries, the SP and the BSP, both losing big chunks of votes. The Congress has not much to lose, although even its staunchest supporters agree that no betterment is in the offing.
Akhilesh government is currently facing an anti-incumbency mood of the UP populace. This has been generated mainly on three counts. The first one is of course, the complete anarchy, the 'Jungle Raj' as they call it, that has gripped the State. Even the High Court has been vocal to rap the government for its utter failure in establishing the rule of law in the State. On more than a couple of occasions, the Court has observed that there is a clear nexus of the ruling party leaders, the police and the goondas (hoodlums) operating in UP in which the common man always remains at the receiving end of their selfish manipulative onslaughts.
That thousands of UP girls have been forced to give up their education as a result of continued eve-teasing, attempt of molestations and rapes is a sordid state of affairs obtaining under Akhilesh. There are umpteen number of cases of abduction of women, even minor girls. The miscreants are seldom apprehended, not to speak of being brought to justice. “Samajwadi Party is the first resort of a scoundrel
including the riff-raff,” says Rajgopal Katyayan, a bank employee and a trade union leader. This is a
widespread perception shared by UP citizenry.
The communal riots that have been taking place in the province are another reason adding to the anti-incumbency mood. As per the data provided by the National Crime Records Bureau, there have been 1,035 riots in the State during preceding 57 months. The riots, coupled with the generally prevailing chaos, have resulted in a sense of utter insecurity among sizeable sections of the society, especially the Hindus. Kairana is the best epitome of this pervasive insecurity. The communal situation has been exacerbated by pronouncement from the top rung of the SP. People in this connection cite the example of a statement of Mulayam Singh Yadav saying “jab sapa sarkar aati hai to Muslim ladkon ke seene chaude ho jaate hain; ve samajhate hain ki unaki sarkar aa gayi” (whenever there is SP government, Muslim boys are buoyant; they feel it is their government.) That the SP dispensation always takes sides with the minority community in inter-communal matters is hardly a deniable fact.
The outlook for the BSP, another major contender in race for power, is also bleak. A number of party heavyweights have deserted the party during the past half an year. The party supremo has been struggling with the charges levelled by many of the stalwarts who left her that she charges hefty sums of money from those seeking party tickets.
The Congress has not been able to find its moorings during the last so many years. It is still on the slippery downhill course with no succour coming to save it. Sonia and Rahul having failed, even Priyanka is not offering her services to the party sensing that the task is beyond her too. Small players like Rashtriya Lok Dal and the Peace Party are fighting only to save their very existence.
The field has been left wide open for the BJP. The traditional vote-bank politics will not be simple, so BJP is in a better position to snatch votes from other parties on the agenda of inclusive development and transparency. Things here are far more conducive for the ruling party at the Centre.
Development at the Core
Declaration of Assembly polls in Uttarakhand has come as a new hope for the people of Uttarakhand, as fed up with the corrupt Congress regime led by Chief Minister Harish Rawat they are waiting for it for long. “There is not a single achievement in these five years which the Congress can show as the work it has done. The style of
functioning of the Chief Minister has been a matter of concern not only for general public, but even for the Congress workers as well as the leaders. The defection of 9 MLAs on March 18, 2016 was the outcome of the insulting attitude of the Chief Minister. The possibility of some more Congressmen deserting the party cannot be ruled out even before the state goes to polls on February 15, 2017,” says Dharmendra Rawat, who runs a Kirana shop at Jhanda Chowk in Dehradun.
In the 2012 polls, the Congress had won 32 seats in the 70-member Assembly, and was only marginally ahead of the BJP, which won a seat less. The Congress managed the requisite number and formed the government under the leadership of the then Tehri MP Vijay Bahuguna. But this did not continue for long and the party replaced Bahuguna with Harish Rawat on January 31, 2014 alleging mishandling of Kedarnath calamity. People of the State had expected some good changes after this change of guards, but his tenure has been full of controversies than any good news on the front of development. CM Harish Rawat is facing CBI probe into a sting CD case in which he is seen allegedly making bribe proposals to MLAs to save his government on the floor of the House. He appeared before the CBI in this case on two occasions on May 24 and June 7, 2016, but skipped on December 27, 2016. In the beginning, he had termed the CD as fake, but in May 2016 he admitted his presence in the CD.
“Instead of focusing on development the more focus has been on liquor andmining. Crimes touched new score. The funds provided by the Centre are
underutilised. The unmindful distribution of red beacons to the Congress leaders is also a matter of discussion among the public. Even then the Chief Minister could not satisfy his party MLAs and leaders. The resentment was so strong that nine MLAs rebelled against the Chief Minister and the State remained under President’s Rule for several months.
“The main issue in these elections is development. People want development. The party which honestly commits development with the positive agenda will be voted to power,” says Shri Brijmohan, a school teacher in Roorkie. “The BJP is committed to providing clean administration. As no one can raise a finger on any Cabinet member of the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, equally clean administration will be provided in Uttarakhand also, if the party is voted to power,” says former Chief Minister Bhagat Singh Koshiyari. More experiments of coalition governments will benefit none is the widespread sentiment. Therefore, voting for the party with positive agenda and serious development programme is the likely scenario.
Old Baggage, New Equations
As Punjab goes to poll on February 4, the political parties have started giving a last-minute impetus to the campaign. In the outgoing House the ruling alliance has 71 members in 117-member House, whereas the Congress has 45 seats and one independent.
The AAP being a political debutant of sorts in the State Assembly elections would be a critical factor to count on. In the last Lok Sabha elections in 2014 the party had shocked poll observers by winning four of the 13 Lok Sabha seats. Punjab, incidentally, was the only state in the country to give representation to AAP in the Lok Sabha to help the party find a foothold in the Parliament. But ever since the party has been sliding in popularity. While two of its four MPs quit the party in 2015, subsequently it kept landing itself in one controversy or the other, thus injecting disillusionment among voters. The party's failure to project a popular face as a Chief Minister has been a big dampener. None of the faces in the forefront have been able to evoke voters' confidence, leaving the field open to conjectures whether Arvind Kejriwal himself would become the Chief Minister candidate in Punjab handing over Delhi to deputy CM Manish Sisodia.
The Congress, on the other hand, is a divided house within. The party leaders' faith and trust in PCC president Amarinder Singh has been not just wavering but crippling, especially for the reason that he has led the party to two consecutive defeats in the Assembly elections held in 2007 and 2012.
The Akali Dal-BJP alliance has set a record of sorts by being in power in Punjab for ten running years. While the BJP stands to consolidate its position due to the NDA's performance at the Centre, it is the much-too heavy odds against the Akali Dal, which is an overwhelming challenge. All three major contestants seem to be evenly poised with their baggage.
Small, Still Important
Goa has been a place of good omen for PM Modi. His nomination for CM of Gujarat and then for PM in the next round was declared in Goa only. As he acknowledged recently he received one of his ablest colleagues in Manohar Parrikar from Goa.
Goa has been intriguing place for Delhi’s big bosses. As the late PM Pt. Nehru remarked “ye Gowa ke log ajeeb hain” – inscrutable are the people of Goa after the first elections were in Goa. Although credit for liberation from Portuguese rule was due for Congress, Goans elected DB Bandodkar and his Maharashtravadi Gomantak Party (MGP) favouring merger with neighbouring state twice in succession. After Bandodkar, his daughter late Shashikalatai Kakodkar became CM of Goa. But she faced the split. Her trusted colleagues jumped the Congress band wagon and the politics in Goa went topsy tervy. The political parties mushroomed and went in oblivion for numerous times to be resurrected. For decades there could not last any Government of a majority party for a full term. The small Assembly with 40 seats made the task of toppling the incumbent government easier.
BJP started making dent in Goa
politics after the ex-IITian Manohar Parrikar was fielded from the capital city Panaji in 1990s. He had unstinted support from the RSS cadre. He assumed CM post in 2001 and formed a coalition Government, which saw the downfall. Later on from 2007 till 2012 Goans saw in him the ablest opposition leader. He as if fought lone battles in the State Assembly exposing the corruption and wrong doings of the ruling Congress. Before 2012 elections, he undertook a long tour for voters contact across the State. That yielded very good results. One very positive aspect of the leadership of Parrikar was his
unblemished and un-corrupt character which evoked very positive response from the electorate. After decades BJP won clear majority of 21 seats and three MLAs in addition from the coalition partner. BJP had also won six seats by Christian MLAs, credit went to Parrikar’s political dexterity. That set the BJP Government on sound footing and coalition to last for five years. However, all was not well in the
coalition. MPG had become a fiefdom of Dhavalikar brothers. Other MGP MLA Lavu Mamaledar had experience in Government administration. There were friendly cross fires on many occasions.
Rise of Dissent
Soon after BJP won absolute majority at the Centre, PM Modi summoned Parrikar to the Centre to take charge of the Defence Ministry. Apparently docile academic Laxmikantt Parsekar was nominated for the CMs post and the party cadre endorsed it. All did not go well after that. Unsatisfied MGP remained openly at loggerheads with the new CM. Docile Parsekar started ascertaining his role. The coalition came under clouds and at last MGP ministers were summarily dropped just a few weeks ago. As it stands after the declaration of elections on February 4, BJP-MGP coalition possibility is a
New Entries on the Turf
Over the last three years, AAP and Shiv Sena have been making inroads on the Goan political scene. In the earlier elections Shiv Sena, NCP tried their luck on the Goa turf but could not make any dent. This time however Shiv Sena got a formidable ally in Goa Suraksha Manch (GSM). It is a real twist in otherwise smooth narrative. At this juncture GSM is an independent Political party and entering in coalition with Shiv Sena and MGP for the forthcoming elections. As usual there are local players like Babush Monserat couple from Panaji, Miky Pacheco, experts in make and break of the old and defunct parties. Pandurang Madkaikar and Mavin Gudinho have been long hobnobbing with BJP. They finally got entry in BJP to rake up storm within. It is less than a month as Goa goes to polls, it will be interesting to keep trail of the twists and turns it takes.
Peace & Stability at Stake
Manipur Assembly election will be held in two phases—4 and 8 March to elect 60 MLAs as the term of current House ends on 18 March 2017. In the last election held in 2012, the Congress won 42 seats and incumbent Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh was re-elected. In 2014, Manipur State Congress Party (MSCP) with its five MLAs joined ruling Congress.
Manipur has been on boil since long more so since November 1 last year till date as United Naga Council (UNC) has imposed economic blockade — a most cruel and barbarous act, since then on both the life lines — NH 2 and NH 37 to denounce creation of 7 new
districts from areas dominated by Nagas in Manipur. Regular strikes, hartals and threat of terrorists and frequent economic blockades have gripped the hilly state from 1980, more so today because of more than two months
continuous economic blockade creating a fear psychosis and threat to the very existence of life in Manipuris.
The people feel that all secessionist terror outfits must be put out with iron fist. Hindi speaking people are first and foremost target where official figures record hundreds of insurgency related deaths every year. There are three major political parties in election arena — BJP, Congress (ruling) and Manipur Peoples Party (MPP). The major issues that are expected to influence the current election include creation of 7 new districts, NSCN-IM and its hijacking of election process, on-going economic blockade, frame-work agreement between NSCN-IM and Delhi, mechanism to check inflow of outsiders in Manipur, and Meiteis' demand for inclusion in ST list of constitution. The current election in Manipur will be very crucial and interesting.
As the poll-predictions of the date suggest, it is clearly advantage BJP in most of these states. The ruling party at the Centre is carving out new space on the basis of able leadership and effective governance. Whatever may be the State-wise outcome of the elections, many believe that the dominant colour of coming Holi is set to be saffron.
(With inputs from Ajay Mittal, Pramod Kumar, Ajay Bhardwaj and Jagdamba Mall)