Polls in 5 states a precursor to 2019

Chief Election Commissioner OP Rawat flanked by Election Commissioners Sunil Arora (L) and Ashok Lavasa (R) address a press conference to announce the dates for Assembly elections in five states, in Delhi, on Saturday. PTI

The announcement of dates for the Assembly elections in five states was mired in controversy, a clear indication to the high octane battle that will surround this round of polls which take place just months before the mother of all electoral battles — the 2019 general elections.  

The BJP is in power in three of these five states — for three terms each in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. The latter has been a switch state for the most part of last two decades, alternating between the Congress and the BJP.

In Mizoram, it is a direct contest between the Congress and the Mizo National Front, while in Telangana, K Chandrasekhar Rao’s Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) seems to have a clear edge.

The outcome in the three Hindi states will have a significant bearing on the 2019 general elections. The BJP got to its peak in these states in the last LS elections, winning 26 out of 29 in Madhya Pradesh, all 25 in Rajasthan and 10 out of 11 seats in Chhattisgarh, thus winning 61 of the 65 seats in total.   

The stakes are quite high for both BJP and Congress. The BJP needs a win here to arrest the slide that has been noticed through its consecutive defeats in the Lok Sabha bypolls in the last one year, a hairbreadth victory in Gujarat, the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah, and its failure to come to power in Karnataka this year.

For Congress, it is a make or break battle after the party secured only 44 seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. It has not won on its own in any state after this except Punjab, and a loss in these states could seal its fate in 2019 as well.

To make matters worse for the Congress, after Bahujan Samaj Party shocked it by announcing to contest the elections minus Congress in all the three states. On Saturday, the SP too threatened to chart an independent path in these states.

The biggest problem for the Congress could occur in Chhattisgarh, where it lost the last Assembly election with a margin of just 0.75% votes. The BSP has tied up with former chief minister Ajit Jogi’s new party Janata Congress Chattisgarh in the state, that could help three-term CM Raman Singh of the BJP to tide over the anti-incumbency. For the first time, the tribal-state will witness a triangular contest. 

For the BJP, farm distress has turned out to be a big headache in all the three Hindi states with the epicentre of farmers’ agitation being Madhya Pradesh, where six farmers were killed in a police firing in Mandsaur in June last year.

The Congress has been out of power in Madhya Pradesh since 2000. Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan is facing the Congress troika of Digvijay Singh, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Kamal Nath here. The BJP won 165 seats and Congress 58 seats out of 230 in the last state Assembly polls.

Chhattisgarh has been out of bound for the Congress since 2003. This time, too, the crisis is of leadership, after a Maoist ambush wiped out almost the entire state leadership of the party a few years ago. In the 2013 Assembly polls, the BJP won 49 seats and Congress 39 out of 91.

In Rajasthan, the BJP had won 163 seats and Congress only 21 out of 200. The vote gap between the two parties was around 12%.

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Polls in 5 states a precursor to 2019

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