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Regional Parties Are Taking Centrestage In Assembly Polls 2016

15/04/2016 8:19 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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DIBYANGSHU SARKAR via Getty Images
Indian voters wait in line outside a polling stating in Dibrugarh on April 7. Indians have begun voting in the world's biggest election which is set to sweep the Hindu nationalist opposition to power at a time of low growth, anger about corruption and warnings about religious unrest. India's 814-million-strong electorate are forecast to inflict a heavy defeat on the ruling Congress party, in power for 10 years and led by India's famous Gandhi dynasty. AFP PHOTO/ Dibyangshu Sarkar (Photo credit should read DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP/Getty Images)

The rising temperatures in India this year coincides with political parties facing 'dead heat' in the poll-bound states of Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and the union territory of Puducherry.

A review of pre-poll election surveys in these states by prominent news channels indicates that the Jayalalithaa-led AIADMK in Tamil Nadu and the Mamata Banerjee-led TMC in West Bengal are mostly likely to retain power, while the Left Democratic Front (LDF) is expected to make a comeback in Kerala. The state where the trend seems to be differing is Assam, as one poll showed that the BJP is the most likely winner while another predicted that the contest is too close to call and might lead to a hung assembly.

The AIADMK in Tamil Nadu and the TMC in West Bengal are mostly likely to retain power, while LDF is expected to make a comeback in Kerala.

These surveys were conducted just after the elections were declared and at best could reveal possible trends. A clearer picture is possible only when parties roll out their electoral strategies and begin campaigning on the ground. It becomes important in this context to review the election scenario in these states and the electoral readiness of major players--the Congress, the BJP, the Left, the AIADMK and the TMC--who have formed alliances with other parties to contest the elections. The election outcome will not only determine the future of these parties and their political alignment but will also have substantive implications on the development agenda being pursued by the current NDA government.

Assam: Not necessarily smooth sailing for the BJP

The state which has been in focus in this round of elections is Assam, where the Tarun Gogoi-led Congress government is facing an ouster at the hands of the BJP after 15 years in power. The Congress is facing a strong anti-incumbency wave and is also contending with the political void created by heavyweight Himanta Biswa Sarma leaving the party and joining the BJP. That the Congress was on unsteady footing was clear right from the 2014 Lok Sabha elections when the BJP asserted its presence strongly for the first time in the state, winning seven out of 14 seats, sweeping the upper Assam region. The BJP banked on the issue of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, with a promise to not only deport them from Assam but also to take more stringent measures to prevent their entry into the state. The party, buoyed by its success in the last election, reiterated its stand on the issue of illegal immigration and deportation. It crafted a rainbow coalition with four regional parties, the Asom Gana Parishad, the Bodoland People's Front and two small parties representing the Tiwa and Rabha communities and appears to be the front runner in this election.

In case of a hung assembly, AIUDF's Ajmal will become the kingmaker in the next government formation in Assam.

The elections held in Phase I for 65 assembly seats in the state seem to be heavily stacked in favour of the BJP which is expected to make major gains at the expense of the beleaguered Congress. However, the elections held in Phase II for 61 seats pose a greater challenge to the BJP's efforts to win at least 84 seats ( 'Mission 84').

Forty-one of the 61 constituencies being contested in Phase II have a Muslim electorate of more than 50%. In 12 seats, Muslims comprise 35-50% of the population. While Muslims have been traditional voters of the Congress, the creation of the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) in 2005 by Badruddin Ajmal led to a major shifting of votes in their favour. This may lead to a split of Muslim votes which could directly benefit the BJP and help it in getting a clear majority on its own in the state. However, if the Muslim votes get polarized in favour of the AIUDF, the party will certainly improve upon its tally of 18 seats from the 2011 assembly elections, possibly resulting in a hung assembly.

The AIUDF has been on a roll since its inception, increasing its vote share from 6% in the 2006 assembly elections to 13% in 2011 and then 15% in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. In case of a hung assembly, Ajmal will become the kingmaker in the next government formation.

Advantage LDF in Kerala

The election in Kerala is a direct fight between the Congress-led UDF government and the Left-led LDF. The present government is besieged with allegations of scams and party factionalism and seems to be in no position to buck the state trend of being ousted from power after five years. The situation for UDF has become more difficult after the recent temple fire which killed scores of devotees.

The mess created by the Left is still fresh in the minds of the voters and Mamata has succeeded in providing basic infrastructure and better service delivery.

The BJP is making a concerted effort to make its presence felt in the state and will certainly increase its vote share and win a few seats.

mamata banerjee

Bengal: TMC for the win

The elections in West Bengal are between the TMC led by Mamata Banerjee and the alliance of the Congress and the Left. However, the mess created by the Left is still fresh in the minds of the voters and Mamata has, despite all odds, succeeded in providing basic infrastructure and better service delivery. The Narada sting operations on TMC leaders taking money for getting contracts in the state and the flyover collapse in Kolkata has dented the party image and may lead to the loss of few seats, but it is unlikely that the Congress-Left alliance will achieve victory.

A multi-polar contest in Tamil Nadu

The elections in Tamil Nadu have long been a tussle primarily between the Jayalalithaa-led AIADMK and the DMK-Congress alliance, but the formation of the third front led by the PMK and DMDK has made the contest multi polar. The multi polarity of the contest will lead to fragmentation of votes which will directly benefit Jayalalithaa who is expected to maintain or increase her seat tally.

The larger picture

The election outcomes will determine the political fortunes of all the major political establishments in the fray. The loss of Assam and Kerala will not only weaken the Congress further but also lead to a clamour for change in leadership and to the flight of people from its cadres. In such a scenario, the party is likely to resort to creating more unnecessary obstructions in Parliament and stall big ticket reforms that are essential for the Indian economy.

A victory for AIADMK and TMC will provide an impetus to revive for regional parties which were wiped off by the 'Modi wave'...

A win for BJP in Assam will not only reverse the losing streak of the party but also provide the much-needed momentum for the assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh (UP) next year. However if it loses in Assam, it will be a major setback for the Modi-Shah duo and there might be demands to change the functioning of the party to the way it was under Vajpayee and Advani. This may mean shedding the leader-centric approach, broadening its leadership base and instituting collective decision-making processes.

A victory for AIADMK and TMC will provide an impetus to regional parties which were wiped off by the 'Modi wave' in the 2014 elections (except in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Odisha) to revive and make a move to occupy the political space vacated by the Congress in national politics.

The Left parties and their affiliates which have selectively targeted by the right wing groups and fringe elements in recent times are most likely to win in Kerala, and will thus stay politically alive.

All in all, the regional parties are taking centrestage in this round of state assembly elections.

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