Crucial polls

The  announcement of elections for the Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh assemblies has energised the political atmosphere because the results in these two states, especially in Gujarat, will be important in many ways. Normally, the trial of strength in two states may not be considered a pointer to the mood of the people in parliamentary elections which are more than one year away, but there are special circumstances which make these elections significant. The leading parties in the ruling UPA and the opposition NDA, the Congress and the BJP, are facing each other in these states.  Favourable results may encourage the Congress to advance the national elections.  The elections may also give the party an opportunity to test the popular response to the recent economic reform measures. Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s launch of the campaign in Gujarat saw a spirited defence of the reform measures.

Gujarat is the jewel in the BJP’s crown and a setback there will hurt the party badly.  A defeat or even a less than par performance may also torpedo chief minister Narendra Modi’s national ambitions. He has sold Gujarat as as a  vibrant, development-friendly state and mounted an aggressive  campaign against the Congress and its leadership.   The party will also try to focus on corruption and price rise which should put the Congress on the defensive.  But Modi is yet to live down the stigma of association with the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in the state. The impact of the anti-Modi sentiment in the state party, which has seen some leaders going out of it, is also to be seen.  An impressive win for Modi, which may lead to his projection as the BJP’s  prime ministerial candidate, may also have its repercussions in the NDA, with a chance of the JD(U) deserting it.

Himachal Pradesh has always alternated between the BJP and the Congress and so the anti-incumbency sentiment may help the latter this time.  But the party is faction-ridden in the state, as the BJP also is, and the opportunistic  appointment of Virbhadra Singh, who had to resign from the Union cabinet in the wake of corruption charges, as the state Congress president may hurt the party. It is also unfair that state’s voters have to wait for the results for over six weeks after the elections on November 4. There is no logistical reason,  and the outcome in Himachal  is unlikely to influence voter behaviour in Gujarat. The voters should be trusted to take their independent decisions.

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