Assembly Elections: BJP making Unprecedented Effort to Gain Foothold in South and East
Asia News Agency Editorial Board
Election fever is picking up in the four states (West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Kerala) and in one Union Territory - UT, (Puducherry). The most vitriolic campaigning is in West Bengal where the BJP is trying to seek a foothold. In a manner, the party has made it a prestige issue. If it wins here, there will be much to be talk about the appeal of Prime Minister Mod and the electoral skills of Home Minister Amit Shah. In Assam, the BJP looks like being able to hold its fort. In the other states and UT, entrenched regional parties are likely to remain dominant despise BJP’s efforts. A brief round-up is below.
West Bengal: The violence, horse trading, personal attacks are usual in any election in this state. That is the reason why voting will be spread over 8 days - from 27 March to 2 May.
The BJP accuses the state government of functioning as a syndicate and mafia. Prime Minister Narendra Modi Thursday, accusing the Mamata Banerjee government of “encouraging” Maoist violence and creating their “new generation”, asserted that the countdown for the ruling Trinamul Congress’ removal from power had begun.
Ruling chief minister and TMC (All India Trinamool Congress) chief Mamata Banerjee in turn, calls the BJP a party of rioters and said her government will never allow the National Population Register (NPR) in the state. The NPR she claims is an attempt to delete a segment of voters.
The NPR and the Citizens (Amendment) Act (CAA) have been controversial in West Bengal and even more so, the north east where it its seen as an attempt to delete names of persons who had come from Bangladesh.
NPR is a register of the usual residents of the country. It contains information collected at the local (village/sub-town), subdistrict, district, state and national level under provisions of the Citizenship Act, 1955 and the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003. A usual resident is defined, for the purposes of the NPR, as a person who has resided in a local area for the past six months or more, or a person who intends to reside in that area for the next six months. The law compulsorily seeks to register every citizen of India and issue a national identity card.
There are varying views on the electoral usefulness of the NPR and the CAA in West Bengal. The outcome in West Bengal and Assam will indicate which view prevails.
Kerala: Rahul Gandhi miles ahead of PM Modi
Election takes place on 6 April. The contest is between the Congress, which leads the United Democratic Front (UDF), the CPI (M) that leads the Left Democratic Front (LDF) and the BJP that leads the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
In the past, the state has voted for the UDF and the LDF alternatively. The outcome will indicate wit this trend continues or the Left Front is able to win an unprecedented second term.
The Hindu makes an interesting observation. Kerala is one State, it says “where Rahul Gandhi is miles ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in popularity and a victory of the UDF could set the scene for his return as Congress president. Mr. Gandhi has been investing considerable time in the State. The BJP, long seen as a north Indian party, has made significant inroads in the State, and is hoping to emerge as the third pole through social engineering that includes wooing a section of Christians. A notable performance in Kerala can give a fillip to its southern ambitions and buttress its claim of being a national party. The incumbent Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan is experimenting with daring political moves to win a second consecutive term, unusual in Kerala……..”
Tamil Nadu: DMK-Congress alliance could secure a majority
Election takes place on 6 April. The two principal parties, the DMK and the ruling AIADMK, have stitched pre-poll alliances, but retain the majority of the 234 seats to be contested. Both parties have, by and large, retained their allies of the 2019 Lok Sabha election. In the DMK-led alliance, the Congress gets 25 seats. In the AIADMK led alliance, the BJP gets 20 seats.
The difference in this election is that both regional parties are without their charismatic leaders - Jayalalithaa for the AIADMK and M. Karunanidhi for the DMK. Both have passed away. No wonder, writes The Hindu, instead of focusing on crucial issues like health, both “have thrown in offers of an unusually large number of freebies. The DMK, apart from making, in the run-up to its manifesto release, an offer of ₹1,000 a month to the woman-head of every family, has promised ₹4,000 to each pandemic-hit ration cardholder (around two crores totally); a subsidy of ₹100 per cooking gas cylinder and a reduction in petrol and diesel prices. The AIADMK’s assurances include ₹1,500 a month to the woman-head of each family, six cooking gas cylinders annually, a washing machine and solar-powered cook stove and a 50% subsidy in city bus fares for women…” This at a time when state finances are worrisome.
There are other parties such as the MNM, led by actor Kamal Haasan, the AMMK of T.T.V. Dhinakaran and the NTK of actor-director Seeman. These have potential to disturb the chances of the main regional parties.
Opinion polls point to the likelihood of the DMK-led front securing a comfortable majority.
Assam: BJP is the front runner
Election takes place on 27 Mar, 2021. BJP is the ruling party and Congress the chief challenger. Congress strongman and former chief minister Akhil Gogoi is less of a force now than he was before the BJP displaced him. He is liked by many but the perception is that the BJP is running the government better.
Gogoi is perhaps Assam’s most vocal agitator, over issues such as land rights, displacements, big dams, and in December 2019, the Citzenship (Amendment) Act. It was following the CAA protests that he was arrested, and later booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, keeping him in jail since. From inside the prison, late last year, Gogoi announced a new political party, Raijor Dol — one of the two new regional parties which owe their origin to CAA protests in the race.
Despite being much liked, as far as Assembly elections go, observers of Assam say Gogoi and the CAA do not count for much. The general public wants to vote for someone who can control the soaring prices and they are not sure Gogoi is the man. BJP government’s developmental schemes also seem to be getting appreciation from the public.
Although the new Congress candidate is Subhamitra Gogoi, 40, has appeal for being young, the party could still be trailing here.
Anything goes for BJP to win
The upcoming Assembly elections in four states, reveal that the BJP, in its effort to expand its footprint, is open to poaching members of other political parties in regions where it does not have a structural set-up. This is the view of Saba Naqvi, senior journalist.
Unlike the Congress, the BJP “is unlikely to be a melting pot of opinions. It is for one, not an ideological formation in the making as the Congress was during the British rule and the early decades of independent India. Second, the BJP now operates as a strong ruling party at the Centre and relationships with new entrants in the states are transactional and based on electoral rewards and gains. These are both pre-poll and post-poll arrangements as the BJP has in recent times managed to form governments in states where it did not win elections, such as Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Goa.”
In the event of the BJP managing to win in West Bengal, Naqvi writes “the party would be negotiating between its traditional ideological fraternity and many new defectors who would expect to be rewarded. Contrary to the impression that the top leadership roles in the BJP are only reserved for individuals who cut their teeth in the RSS, the party has absorbed outsiders in some states. In Assam, for instance, the current Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal cut his teeth in the All Assam Students Union (AASU) and till 2011, was a member of the AGP. He joined the BJP a decade ago and five of those years he has been CM. The other significant BJP leader in the state, Hemanta Biswa Sarma, was an inductee from the Congress.” He also could be a potential CM.
If BJP wins, but will be a psychological blow for the Opposition
Since 2019, the BJP has not been able to replicate national results in the states. “But it has an incremental approach and never gives up……The party is aware that the upcoming polls are important psychologically for the entire Opposition. The Left is there in its last bastion, apparently poised to perform well in Kerala, regional parties are the principal players in Tamil Nadu and Bengal, while Assam is a contest between the BJP and a complex front put together by the Congress. It’s a microcosm of the entire national Opposition that is ranged against the BJP in these rounds of state polls. If the BJP does well, the Opposition’s morale will drop further; if it fares poorly, the resurrection of a national Opposition could begin.”