By: Atul Cowshish & Malladi Rama Rao
India seems to be almost permanently in an election mode. Parliamentary polls dominate the media space, generally once in five years, but state assembly polls are never far from each other. The Modi government says it does not want assembly polls taking place almost every year; President Pranab Mukherjee has also echoed the same view when he spoke against frequent election but simultaneous polls for parliament and assemblies is easier said than done.
Anyway, for the moment, we are stuck with polls remaining a frequently occurring phenomenon. It keeps the pundits and the pollsters busy; the politicians are busier still, jumping from one ship to another and forming new outfits in the hope of coming to power with the help of the ballot.
In the near future two state assembly polls are going to be riveting: Punjab and UP. Not that polls in Gujarat and Goa are going to be less absorbing. Arguably, the Punjab and UP polls scenes have already started heating.
Of the two states, UP polls are, as always, viewed as ‘crucial’ for the participating parties. With its large number of assembly and parliamentary constituencies, the number of candidates it elects does become ‘crucial’ for the participating political parties.
In Punjab, despite its smaller number of constituencies, interest has increased because of the presence of the Aam Admi Party, (AAP), and now Awaz-e-Punjab of Navjot Sidhu, once the star of the Bharatiya Janata Party who was widely expected to join AAP after resigning his Rajya Sabha seat in July. Till recently, the Aam Admi Party was seen as capable of upsetting the calculations of the two traditional foes in the state, the Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP combine and the Congress.
Hit by scandals and controversies, in Delhi and Punjab, the Aam Admi Party’s fortune are believed to have dramatically shrunk. The decision of Sidhu to form a party of his own has been another setback for the Aam Admi Party. The BJP camp has described Sidhu’s Awaz-e-Party as the B team of AAP.
What is of keen interest in Punjab is to know the truth about this ‘Sidhu phenomenon’. Is he really a big magnet for catching votes, as many appear to believe? With Siddhu staying out of AAP, it is also to be seen if AAP remains as strong in the state as it was believed to be till recently?
Punjab contest can take the shape of a contest between Navjot Sidhu and Arvind Kejriwal, (AK), the AAP supremo. The non-performing chief minister of Delhi, has reportedly set his eyes on becoming the chief minister of Punjab, probably because he has encountered far too many adversaries in the capital. It is to be seen if this gamble by Kejriwal pays off. The outcome in Punjab will have long-term impact on the fortunes of both parties, particularly their leaders, Sidhu and Kejriwal.
While unpopularity of the SAD-BJP combine is palpable, it cannot be written off, given its ample resources and distribution of patronage. Nor can the Congress, led in the state by Captain (retd) Amrinder Singh of Patiala Royal Family, be written off despite internal strife, a phenomenon common to most political parties. Kejriwal would be making a mistake if he feels that he can repeat the Delhi assembly performance where he scored 67 out of 70.
AK has overlooked the fact that his party performed incredibly well in Delhi because it had grown under the shadow of the India Against Corruption, (IAC), campaign led by Anna Hazare, which the media had projected as the answer to India’s age-old problem of corruption. Kejriwal has to live without that advantage in Punjab and even in Goa, in addition to the disadvantage of disappointment in him expressed by his one-time mentor, Anna Hazare.
Similarly, Sidhu has to fight almost a lonely battle because the two or three others who have helped him form the Awaz-e-Punjab party are not state leaders. It is Sidhu alone who will have to steer his party’s ship, something he did not have to do when he was with the BJP as a star campaigner. As for his ‘comic’ appeal, the Aam Admi Party in Punjab can claim to have two prominent TV comics among its leaders.
For the past few years, the main UP battle was generally confined to two parties, the Samajwadi Party, SP, (currently in power) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). The Bharatiya Janata Party had comparatively a brief sway over power, thanks largely to the ‘Ram Mandir’ stir that concluded with the demolition of the Babri Mosque in Faizabad district. The Congress, once firmly based in UP, has remained a distant fourth party.
It may still fail to improve from that position. But it is also a question of numbers. Any noticeable improvement of assembly seats will give the Congress some hope and prove its critics wrong. The task will be difficult if the Congress thinks that it can attract votes by ‘Khaat Sabhas’ – collecting farmers by spreading out string cots for them.
What can possibly change the fortune of the Congress in UP is the perception of the party vice president, Rajiv Gandhi. He has the image of being a willy-nilly politician incapable of matching the guiles of parties like the BJP and its very aggressive leaders. His 2500-km ‘padyatra’ in the state is an image make-over exercise. The crowd response seems to be impressive. But crowd size does not always indicate the number of votes expected.
It is possible that UP assembly polls will see a four-corner contest if the Congress is able to catch up. But for the BJP it is not important how the Congress shapes out to be able to regain its lost glory. Its problem is how to trounce the incumbent Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party of Mayawati which seems to have suddenly sprang into action after lying low for almost two years. The BJP’s strategy of polarization of votes on religious lines is not going to work to its advantage with its support among the Dalits and many middle and upper castes in doubt.
The BJP will be judged by how it compares in the state assembly election in relation to the 2014 Lok Sabha poll when it had decimated every other opponent under the ‘Modi wave’. Will the BJP repeat in the assembly polls its Lok Sabha performance? A tough job it is indeed. As of now, the ‘Modi wave’ is weak, if it still exists. Syndicate Features