BJP gears up for Assembly race to retain, regain power

BJP gears up for Assembly race to retain, regain power

After suffering humiliating defeats in Delhi and Bihar in 2015, but somewhat reversing the trend in 2016 with a victory in Assam, the BJP will be tested again in a fresh round of electoral bout in the next two months in five states in the north, west and Northeastern parts of the country.

The issues in Assembly elections may be different from Lok Sabha contests as they are state-oriented, but the fact that the BJP-led NDA at the Centre is entering its third year in a few months’ time will invite a close watch. Added to this is the impact of demonetisation of the Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes by the Narendra Modi government.

The elections will be seen, to some extent, as a referendum on the note ban which many believe has wreaked havoc in most parts of the country as common people suffered while it adversely affected almost every sector of the economy.

Also, the impact on the polls of the recent Supreme Court verdict on electioneering in the name of religion or caste, will need to be watched. Overall, the results will, importantly, mirror the prevailing mood of the voters in different states.

With President Pranab Mukherjee completing his term in July, these elections are also key as the electoral college for the election to the president’s post includes the MLAs.

Over 16 crore voters will exercise their franchise to elect representatives to as many as 690 Assembly seats across the states of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Goa and Manipur, from February 4 to March 8 (of these, while UP accounts for 80 of the 545 Lok Sabha seats, the other four states together send only 22 members to the Lower House).

A win in UP and other states will give a boost to the BJP’s image and enthuse its party workers while its debacle will be seen as a dent in Modi’s image, although his leadership is from being questioned. A defeat for the BJP, especially in UP, will certainly make the Opposition more aggressive both inside and outside Parliament.

The elections are important for the Congress as it gives the party a chance to bounce back in Punjab and Goa and retain Uttarakhand and Manipur – the party lost power in Kerala and Assam last year. This election is an opportunity to arrest that slide. Already facing an existential crisis in UP, the Congress will hope for the best as it is desperate for a truck with Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party (SP).

Unlike in the previous Assembly polls, an interesting contestant in the current elections in Punjab and Goa is the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). While in Punjab (where it won four out of 13 seats in the Lok Sabha polls), the AAP is confident of winning the elections, in Goa it hopes to put up an impressive show.

Stakes high in UP

As always, UP will be the key state for all parties. India’s largest state by population, it has as many as 403 seats. Both the BJP and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) will look to unseat the SP – a house in complete disarray with internal squabbles – from power. Stakes are high for the BJP and the BSP in different ways. The former, which won 71 out of 80 LS seats in 2014, is keen to repeat that performance at the Assembly level now.

If the LS seats won are converted into Assembly seats, the BJP led in 328 segments. But arithmetic can never work in any state in Assembly elections. The BJP is bereft of a chief ministerial candidate – and hence, it will be Modi again who will be the party’s chief vote seeker.

For the BSP, it will be a do or die elections. It lost the 2012 Assembly polls by winning only 80 seats but did not lose its vote bank – it still managed to garner 25.9% of votes as against 29.1% of SP (224 seats).

While what happens to the SP – will it face the elections as a united outfit or break into two – remains to be seen, but the BSP will be fighting to get the SP vote bank of the Muslims. The BSP’s calculation is that a Dalit-Muslim support base would propel it to power with some sections of Brahmins voting for it.

Punjab will be seeing a three-way contest for the first time. The presence of the AAP will add to the intrigue. The Akali Dal-BJP combine will look for a third consecutive term in office. In a House of 113, the Congress in 2012 had won 46 seats as against 56 of the Akalis and 12 of the BJP.

Uttarakhand has seen murky political manoeuvrings in the last two years with the BJP attempting to snatch power through the back door by engineering defections in the ruling Congress. However, the Supreme Court’s intervention prevented this from happening. Will these devious tactics leave behind any footprints in the hill state? This election may offer an answer. Out of 70 seats, the Congress has a floor strength of 32 as against the BJP’s 31 here.

In the Northeastern state of Manipur, Chief Minister Ibobi Singh of the Congress will seek a record fourth term in office. The BJP has the ambition of expanding its foothold in the North-East after Assam. The state has been battered by militancy, strife among tribes, lack of development and unending agitations over the last few years. In the 60-seat outgoing Assembly, the Congress has a strength of 42.

In the 40-seat Goa Assembly, an aspect of interest could be whether Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar still holds sway in the state as he did when he was the chief minister who brought back the BJP to power for a second term. With the AAP in the fray, the possibility of a split in the anti-BJP votes cannot be ruled out, helping the saffron outfit to assume power for a third straight term.

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