EC announces poll dates for 5 states: Upcoming elections will decide the nature of the BJP-Congress clash in 2019

The Election Commission on Saturday announced the beginning of the biggest periodical living room drama that this country revels in. By announcing the schedule for elections to the five state Assemblies of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Mizoram and Telangana, it has set the agenda that will dictate the national affairs in the weeks to come, and also set pace for the biggest jamboree of all, the Lok Sabha election 2019.

According to Chief Election Commissioner OP Rawat, barring Chhattisgarh, rest of the four states will have polling in single phase. The first phase of polling in 18 Left-Wing Extremism (LWE)-affected Assembly constituencies in Chhattisgarh will take place on 12 November and second phase for rest 72 seats on 20 November.

While the single-phase polling in Madhya Pradesh and Mizoram will take place on 28 November, Rajasthan and Telangana will go to polls on 7 December.

Question of momentum for 2019

Much before the announcement of polling dates, political parties — especially BJP and Congress — had begun sending their star campaigners to these poll-bound states to better their chances in the upcoming contest.

Even on Saturday, ahead of the EC announcement of the polling dates at 3 pm, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed a rally at Ajmer in Rajasthan, while his political rival and Congress president Rahul Gandhi is on a day-long tour to Morena and Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh.

File images of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi. PTI

File images of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi. PTI

The BJP, which has been on a winning spree for the last several elections, needs to win in these Assembly polls too. The results of the three big states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan – where the BJP is currently in power – will be crucial as those are likely to set the tone for the bigger contest in 2019 when the Lok Sabha elections will be held.

On the other hand, Congress will be desperately seeking to retain Mizoram – one of the three states where it is in power – and simultaneously win in at least two more states going to polls, if not all, as claimed by the party.

Given Modi’s constant attention to the North East, the party’s active outreach in the region, and recent expulsion of popular Mizoram Congress vice-president and state Home Affairs Minister R Lalzirliana, retaining Mizoram will be a big challenge for the Congress.

Congress has better chances of winning in Rajasthan under the joint leadership of Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot. Of the three big states, this is the only one where the Congress and the BJP have been taking turns at running the state. In the last elections, the BJP had ousted the Congress government to come to power.

The game changers, however, will be Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh that have been with the BJP for 15 years each.

In Madhya Pradesh, where BJP’s longest serving chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan is battling anti-incumbency, the Congress has been trying to show its strength of unity with senior leaders like Kamal Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia leading the poll battle.

But, Congress’ failure to get into a pre-poll alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in both Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh is worrying for the party. The factionalism in the state units of Congress can’t be ruled out.

Chhattisgarh, where the ruling BJP and the Opposition Congress had a neck-and-neck battle in 2013, with a difference of only one percent vote share, former Chhattisgarh chief minister Ajit Jogi’s alliance with the BSP would pose a tough challenge for the Congress. Moreover, Congress in the state doesn’t have a strong face unlike in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. The Pradesh Congress has been attacking Chief Minister Raman Singh over corruption and mis-governance.

If the Congress pulls a rabbit out of its hat and wins both Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, it will not only turn around its own fortunes but also drastically change the course of national politics. It would be nothing short of upsetting BJP’s apple cart.

In Telangana, on the other hand, the ruling party – the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) – has already clarified that it would neither ally with the BJP nor be a part of the Congress’ proposed ‘mahagathbandhan’ (grand alliance). The TRS will pose a challenge to both the BJP and Congress.

What does it mean for Rahul Gandhi?

The Congress president on Friday, while outlining a policy roadmap of the party ahead of 2019, exuded confidence and said that his party would win in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan.

Congress is visibly confident because by winning the bypolls early this year, it had cleared the litmus test, which could be seen as a sort of semi-final to Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.

If Congress wins in these two states, Gandhi's leadership as party president will gain respectability. It will pave way for the Congress getting an upper hand while striking an alliance with other Opposition parties ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha election.

Despite failing to stitch an alliance with the BSP in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, the Congress president has already expressed confidence of entering a national alliance with the BSP.

What does it mean for Narendra Modi?

The ‘Modi factor’ that helped BJP attain phenomenal results in the 2014 Lok Sabha election and the Assembly polls thereafter is now part of Indian political folklore.

If the BJP succeeds in retaining its power in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan – or at least in two states, and also makes it in Mizoram, Modi’s winning charisma will become bigger than ever before. On the other hand, if BJP loses in these three central and north Indian states, Modi’s invincibility will suffer a serious body blow.

This would help the Congress, which is up in arms with volleys of allegations against the BJP, score some vital points ahead of 2019.

And the show begins

With the announcement of dates, the great political soap opera of Indian democracy begins. Get set for a time full of rhetoric, promises, heated debates on prime time and enough action on the ground to see what turn these five states – three with BJP, one with the Congress and one with the TRS – take. The results will set the stage for the mother of all battles in 2019.


Updated Date: Oct 06, 2018 19:57 PM

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