To the polls in a very different political landscape

The BJP’s stakes are higher in the east; Congress’ leadership question has led to a piecemeal strategy


The announcement of the poll dates for the four States of Kerala, West Bengal, Assam and Tamil Nadu, and the Union Territory of Puducherry, has ushered in a set of polls that will take place in a very different political landscape than the one seen in 2016. In Tamil Nadu, the two big Dravidian leaders — M. Karunanidhi and J. Jayalalithaa — are no longer in the fray. In West Bengal, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has emerged as the primary opposition to Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC), a big jump from the mere three seats it clocked in the 2016 Assembly polls. In Kerala, the State with an almost unbroken record in alternation, may or may not follow its old pattern. In Assam, the BJP faces a Congress-All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) tie-up, a far cry from when late chief minister Tarun Gogoi had raised the question: “Who is Ajmal (AIUDF chief)?” at a presser. In Puducherry, a scrambling Congress hopes to counter anti-incumbency against its own government by seeking sympathy after its fall.

What is at stake?

According to political scientist Rahul Verma, for the BJP, the stakes are higher in the eastern States of Assam and West Bengal rather than the south, where it is part of alliances or only hopes for some improvement in vote percentage, like in Kerala. “In Assam, the BJP has a sitting government and in West Bengal, the party is the main challenger. In both States, the Central government’s own push for the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) has been different and sometimes contradictory. For the BJP, the polls are important in these two States as it will take further the breach that it has made into eastern and northeastern India,” he said.

“For regional parties, the big question will be on just how much space to cede to the BJP, both as a rival in polls and as an alliance member, as in Tamil Nadu,” he added. Eyebrows have already been raised at the attempted appropriation of late Congress leader Kamaraj by the BJP in Tamil Nadu.

The elephant in the room in this entire season is, in fact, the Congress’ internal leadership issue. The party is not fighting with any national strategy. It is allied with the Left in West Bengal and it’s fighting against the Left Democratic Front in Kerala. In Assam, it has tied up with the AIUDF, and in Tamil Nadu, it is not in a great position to bargain for seats from its dominant ally, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). The strategy is therefore piecemeal. If the party does not do well, the Group of 23 leaders who wrote asking for the leadership question in the party to be settled will appear to have justification for their demands.

Mood of the country

Assembly polls are largely determined by local issues and factors, with national issues not really coming into play. Therefore, while these set of polls may not exactly spell the national mood out, each party’s performance, whether the BJP or the Opposition, will have a huge effect on the parties’ morale in the 2021 polls in Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat.

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