The results of the ongoing polls in the Indian States of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Mizoram could influence the fortunes of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress in the May 2024 Parliamentary Elections.
The battle to capture power in New Delhi through the Parliamentary Elections has begun in earnest. The ongoing elections to the five State Assemblies of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Mizoram and Telangana are like the semi-finals for the final next year.
The political situation varies from State to State. The BJP is in power in Madhya Pradesh. In Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, the Congress is in power. In Telangana and Mizoram, regional parties, namely the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) in Telangana, and the Mizo National Front (MNF) in Mizoram, are in power.
Polls will be held between November 7 and 30 and the results will be announced in one go on December 3. These State-level polls will test the popularity of the two main contestants – the BJP led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and the Congress led by Rahul Gandhi. These two will be the principal adversaries in the 2024 Parliamentary Polls as well.
There are, of course, other key regional players like the BRS led by K. Chandrasekhar Rao in Telangana and the MNF in Mizoram, led by Zoramthanga. These regional outfits could swing the vote one way or the other in their own domains.
While Prime Minister Modi’s BJP is aiming to get a third straight term at the Centre, the Congress, which was pushed to the margins in the 2014 and 2019 elections, is now seeing a resurgence due to the shortcomings in the performance of the BJP and the mismatch between its rhetoric and facts on the ground.
Rahul Gandhi, who was mocked as a non-entity by the BJP troll army, has come out of his cocoon and done a successful South to North walkathon covering thousands of kilometres in which he impressively interacted with the hoi polloi.
The BJP is however banking on Prime Minister Modi’s image as a man who put India on the world map as an emerging economic power wooed by the West.
He is also touted as the author of populist schemes aimed especially at women (such as the supply of cooking gas cylinders). On their part, the Congress and the Opposition parties are sifting facts from fiction, highlighting the ill effects of the BJP’s Hindu majoritarianism and its misuse of official investigative agencies against critics.
At the State level, the performance of the incumbent Government is a critical factor in the November polls. If the BJP is facing anti-incumbency in Madhya Pradesh, the Congress is saddled with it in Rajasthan, the BRS in Telangana and the MNF in Mizoram. Chhattisgarh, however, appears to be an exception because the Congress Chief Minister Bhupesh Bagel personally remains very popular.
In all these States, the ruling parties are riven by factionalism which could affect their chances to an extent.
Factionalism appears to be a by-product of poor governance and the lethargy that sets in during the second term of any regional Government. The other factor is political tradition. Some States like Rajasthan have a tradition of changing the party in power every five years. Therefore, if the BJP trounces the Congress in Rajasthan this time, it should come as no surprise.
The ABP-C Voter survey, which has credibility, suggests a neck-to-neck race though all the contesting parties are predicting a clean sweep for themselves. In Chhattisgarh, the survey forecasts that the BJP could win in 39 to 45 out of the 90 constituencies, while the Congress could end up with 45 to 51 seats.
But since the incumbent Chief Minister Baghel retains considerable popularity, he could tilt the scales in favour of the Congress. Lacking an alternative face, the BJP is fighting the elections in this State without a Chief Ministerial candidate.
According to the ABP-C Voter survey, in Rajasthan, the BJP could win 130 of the 200 seats, whereas the Congress could drop to below 70. A close contest is being predicted in Telangana – the only South Indian State in the fray. Here, the BRS led by Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao has been in power for two successive terms and is facing anti-incumbency.
The ABP-C Voter survey forecasts that the BRS and Congress could win between 50 and 60 seats in the 119-member Assembly. The BJP is likely to be a distant third. The Congress has fielded Mohammad Azharuddin, a former skipper of the Indian cricket team, in a Hyderabad constituency. The Congress and the BRS are facing a tough challenge in Hyderabad City from the Majlis Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (MIM) which represents the large and powerful Muslim minority there.
Given the tight contest, all political parties had gathered allies. So far, the Congress seems to have been the most successful in attracting allies. It has tied up with one of the smaller regional parties, the Telangana Jana Samithi and the YSR Telangana Party. The Telugu Desam Party (TDP), which is currently in a mess with party leader N. Chandrababu Naidu in jail for corruption, is not contesting the elections. This could work in favour of the Congress.
The BRS is no back number either. It is quintessentially a local party that had fought for the formation of Telangana State out of the composite Andhra Pradesh and secured it in 2014. It has successfully wooed leaders from the Congress, BJP and the TDP, exploiting factionalism in those parties.
In Mizoram, where elections were held on November 7, the results could be close, producing a “hung Assembly” with both the ruling MNF and the Congress not being able to cross the majority mark in the 40-seat House. In this scenario, the third player – Zoram People’s Movement – could prove to be the king-maker. The BJP, which had won its first-ever seat in Christian-majority Mizoram in the 2018 Assembly elections, is unlikely to make significant gains.
In all these elections, the BJP is using the image of Prime Minister Modi as the trump card because of his national and international image. It is believed that he can overcome State-level anti-incumbency, though this strategy did not work out in the Karnataka elections held earlier this year.
The Congress too is projecting Rahul Gandhi but not in the same way as the BJP is projecting Modi. This is because he still does not have the latter’s stature or the stature of his father Rajiv or grandmother Indira Gandhi. Therefore, the Congress finds it convenient to fight State-level elections on local issues projecting local leaders.
Of course, Rahul is making an impact, speaking on national issues like unemployment, the suffering of small businessmen and small entrepreneurs and the plight of the rural farmers. His pet theme, of course, is the BJP’s communal or “hate” politics and its impact on India’s unity.
Another noticeable feature of the current election campaigns is that all parties are playing safe. For example, none of the parties is experimenting with many female candidates or even male youth, though all are officially committed on paper to greater female and youth representation. The tendency is to put up seasoned and well-known candidates even if they are 70 plus years in age.
The caste configuration of constituencies continues to be a key factor in choosing candidates. This is so especially since the Congress-led “I.N.D.I.A” alliance is campaigning for a nationwide caste census to find out which castes have benefited from Government schemes and economic development and which are still backward.
Caste is an important issue in the campaigns of the Congress-led “I.N.D.I.A” alliance because the BJP is believed to be a party representing the interests of the Brahmins and other upper castes.
But the BJP is trying to counter that image by projecting Prime Minister Modi as a Backward Caste man, a former Chaiwallah, in contrast to Rahul who is part Brahmin (grandmother Indira Gandhi), part Parsi (grandfather Feroze Gandhi) and part Italian (mother Sonia Maino). All in all, the Indian State level elections promise to be an intriguing affair with wall-to-wall TV coverage.