Assembly Polls: A Crucial Test for Key Political Players

The assembly elections scheduled for this year and next are likely to play a crucial role in deciding the fate of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Indian National Congress (INC) and some regional parties in the next Lok Sabha elections. Also, the Muslim vote together with secular vote in these states may play a major role in shaping the political destiny of some key players. The states which will face assembly elections during this period are Assam, Kerala, Manipur, Pondicherry, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and West Bengal. Though elections in UP are due in 2017, preparations are already underway. Recently, UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav stated that his party is going to fight state elections alone. This implies that Samajwadi Party (SP) has, at least at present, no intention to align with any other party.

SP leaders are apparently confident of repeating the political success they had in 2012. In the 404-member UP assembly, at present SP has 228 members, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) - 80, BJP- 40, Congress - 28 and Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) - 8 members. It may be recalled that the Muslim vote in UP is understood to have played a decisive role in helping the SP win. The Muslims had apparently decided to support SP en masse. Besides, it is well known that a key strategy used by SP, apart from winning Muslim votes, was to give BSP a crushing defeat. The same strategy was exercised during Lok Sabha polls for seats from UP. Certainly, the SP succeeded in defeating BSP and ensuring its command over state politics. It may be, however, noted that BSP’s defeat was not as dismal as faced by Congress and BJP during Delhi assembly elections. In Delhi polls, the strategy exercised by voters, including Muslims, was to ensure a defeat for BJP. Thereby, even quite a few diehard Congress supporters did not vote for this party. Compared to the dismal fate of the Congress and BJP in Delhi polls, BSP fared better in UP.

Against this backdrop, what can be said about parties trying their luck in UP? Recently, Bihar-based parties Janata Dal-United (JD-U) and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) suggested that they are likely to test their political strength in UP. Clearly, following great success of their grand alliance in Bihar assembly polls, these parties appear to be optimistic about their fate in UP. Is this possible? When assembly polls take place, voters tend to give a great importance to their local leaders and parties. It may be recalled that BJP leaders tried their best to win Bihar assembly polls. But they erred by not putting forward any Bihari leader. The Bihari voters naturally did not give much importance to the campaign indulged in by the Modi-Shah duo. Both were probably viewed as Gujaratis on Bihari political terrain. Similarly, what importance can Bihari politicians be expected to have for UP voters? Not much. It cannot be ignored that JD-U and RJD are expected to support RLD. Considering that RLD has less than 10 members in the present UP assembly, in less than two years this party is least likely to achieve any grand success in the coming assembly polls.

Prospects of either Congress or BJP faring much better than they did last time are extremely limited. These two parties’ fate may be decided by which regional parties they decide to align with. Modi’s decision to opt for Varanasi as his Lok Sabha seat may also not be of much help. Though SP has voiced its decision to contest elections alone, the possibility of it indulging in secret alliances and understandings cannot be ignored. Besides, political terrain to be faced by SP in 2017 will not be the same as it was in 2012. SP is now on weaker ground than earlier in launching attacks against BSP and also in attracting Muslim votes. SP, and not BSP, has to answer questions on it having failed to fulfil its political commitments. Besides, it is not an easy task for rival parties to disillusion Dalit voters from BSP and its leader Mayawati. This fact is also responsible for their having failed to totally rout BSP in 2012 assembly polls. In addition, with the suicide case of a Dalit dominating headlines, the political heat in UP may favour BSP. Also, chances of the Muslim vote in UP going totally in favour of SP are not as strong at present as they were in 2012. The key political contest in UP is thus likely to be between SP and BSP with former winning lesser seats than before and the latter more.

Ahead of UP, the Muslim vote is expected to play a crucial role in assembly elections of Assam, Kerala and West Bengal, which will take place this year. The performance of regional and national parties in these elections may have some impact on 2017 assembly polls. It is to be watched whether regional parties emerge stronger than before and the nature of success or failure that is faced by national parties.    

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-29 February 2016 on page no. 11

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