In an electoral battle where one party and its prime ministerial candidate claim to have worked the magic wand to their advantage, the assembly elections in five Indian states have acquired significance. Usually, state elections are not always fully correct indicators of the national mood, more so as the voters tend to cast their ballot according to different considerations in the assembly and parliament elections, respectively. But this time around, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and that little state tucked away in the northeast that most of us tend to forget, Mizoram, will have a bearing on the national elections.
In Mizoram, Mizo nationalism has been brought to centre stage by the opposition alliance that is challenging the ruling Congress party. The Mizoram Democratic Alliance has been fairly active in this largely Christian-dominated state, with the Congress pooh-poohing its strength, but worried nevertheless; more so, as the state remains backward with unemployment spiralling and development non-existent.
In the remaining four states, the battle is more or less directly between the Congress and the BJP, with the sole exception of Delhi where the Aam Aadmi Party has become a force to reckon with. Both the BJP and the Congress are at present on the back foot, the latter losing ground by the day, and the former bitter that what would have been a sweep is being effectively cut into by the newcomer that seems to have captured the voters’ imagination. This alone shows that the BJP and its magic wand in the form of Modi might not be as effective as hoped and projected.
In Rajasthan, the poor governance provided by Congress Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot seems to have created a support field for the BJP, whose former chief minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia is back in the field once again. However, reports suggest that it is still not a walkover for her with the Congress giving a fight, although slipping by the day. In Madhya Pradesh, the Scindia scion (nephew of Vasundhara Raje) has been unleashed by the Congress to cut into the BJP support base and reports suggest that he is succeeding but only in pockets. The state is still in the hands of the ruling BJP largely because of an efficient chief minister.
Chhattisgarh, however, is looking anew at the Congress and reports from the state suggest a very close fight between the two parties. The edge here at the moment is in favour of the Congress party and if the state votes for the ‘hand’, then the BJP’s forward march will suffer a severe blow. More so, it will then make it clear that Modi has not been able to create the hoped for wave and the Indian electorate remains more informed than the politician gives it credit for.
Of course, all this analysis is premature, but the fact remains that in states where there is a third party, both the BJP and the Congress are finding it difficult to enthuse the electorate in their favour. The BJP currently does not exist in the south, failing to register presence in important states such as Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala. It can only hope to come back, or at least be in the electoral fight in Karnataka, by re-allying with discredited politicians that were once part of its flock. It is fighting to improve its position in Uttar Pradesh, Orissa and Bihar where the third parties hold sway and are unlikely to concede too much space as of now. In Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena has taken over what could have been the BJP space; in Punjab the Akali Dal while a reliable ally is not allowing the BJP to grow; and states like Himachal Pradesh have too few parliamentary seats to count.
Hence, Modi who is not exactly enhancing his reputation these days with distorted references to a history only he knows; or with the media exclusive story of his favourite minister and administrative machinery stalking a young woman, might not be the magician that the BJP needs to sweep it into power. The Congress, of course, is trying to come to terms with the fact that it no longer has a vote-catcher in the first family, in fact, quite the opposite, with crowds visibly disinterested in what Rahul Gandhi has to say. The regional parties are working quietly in their respective states, consolidating vote banks and strengthening machinery but unfortunately, they are not seen capable of providing viable alternatives at the centre. All in all, not a very bright horizon for Indian democracy, where people have a voice, but not always a happy choice.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 23rd, 2013.
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