By Pranjal Begwani:
Here’s what the BJP should look to do, as a first step to regaining central power after a two term hiatus. The battlestates of Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Rajasthan and Delhi in the Hindi heartland are all set to go to polls in November this year. Â They may just be assembly elections, but no one can deny the significance of winning these states, the margin notwithstanding, before the all-important general elections in May 2014.
All four states are traditionally bi-polar, keenly contested by India’s two largest national parties — the BJP and the Congress. Pre-poll surveys suggest that three of these states are in for ‘down to the wire’ fights. Let’s look at every one of these states, each with its peculiar idiosyncrasies, unique power-play and pre-poll dynamics to ascertain the BJP’s prospects.
This is one of the two poster states of the BJP, the other being Gujarat in all obviousness. With the clamour for Shivraj Singh Chauhan, (as the secular alternative with greater ally acceptability to be portrayed as the BJP’s face for the general elections), having died down in favour of Narendra Modi’s projection, he is now back to focusing on the job at hand — to win a third term as the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh. Even though his government has been rocked by corruption scandals in the recent past, psephologists and the chief minister himself predict a one-way race, which would tilt the BJP’s way. This is thus, the only one of the four states where the Congress is expected to go down without much of a fight. BJP — 1, Congress — 0.
With Ashok Gehlot, Rajasthan’s Congress chief minister, suddenly having woken up in the last year of his term, and doling out all sorts of subsidies and projects, he sure has managed to reverse, to some extent, the Congress’ falling electoral fortunes — the very same electoral fortunes which were close to its nadir less than a year back. But is it going to be enough to win him power for the second year running? The battle for Rajasthan is now a lot closer than the BJP would have liked it to be. So, can Vasundhara Raje’s soaring popularity upturn Gehlot’s dole-out spree? Can the UPA central government’s appointment of a Jat Minister pull in Rajasthan’s large Jat voter-base to the advantage of the Congress? Will infighting within the state BJP unit and an unsupportive old-guard be the thorn in Raje’s and the BJP’s electoral ambitions? These and many more questions are likely to be answered only when the state embarks on polls later this year.
The Congress is set to do well in the tribal belts in this state even though their front line state leaders were butchered in an earlier Naxal attack in the state. This election is going to be closer than ever, with the possibility of the BJP Raman Singh government just about edging through.
This is the seat of a state chief minister as well as the Prime Minister of India. Therefore, whoever wins the upcoming state assembly elections holds the psychological advantage going into the general elections. Even though the state has just 7 Lok Sabha seats on offer, the fact that it is the symbolic seat of power will not die down on the BJP, who know the importance of a Delhi win. Delhi is thus a key momentum swinger state with a recent AC-Nielson poll survey predicting a win for the BJP though falling just short of a majority, with the newly formed Aam Aadmi Party eating into their vote share. We might just see a resurgent and a still fairly popular Sheila Dikshit sail through as a result. It will thus be interesting to note the extent of damage that infighting within the BJP state unit and Kejriwal’s mass appeal might wreak on the BJP’s poll prospects.
If the BJP wishes to come to power at the Centre, it must win in each of these Hindi-speaking states, which form the core of the BJP’s power base. Losing in any of these states would be a setback, which the BJP can sure do without. With Modi set to be projected as their prime-ministerial candidate, even traditional allies, read the JDU, have deserted this seemingly ‘untouchable’ force in Indian politics. Now almost on its own, the BJP should seek to maximize its seat gains and winning the assembly elections are going to be the first baby steps towards achieving that. A win in these states will rejuvenate the party cadre and the supremos, will establish Modi more firmly in the party setup and will decisively swing the momentum in favour of the saffron party. It might even just result in a North India sweep for the BJP, in the national elections.
The BJP, as one of its pet projects in its earlier term at the Centre, developed an intricate, state of the art highway network criss-crossing India. This time around they must look to do the same, but metaphorically so, (even though they are not yet at the Centre). Hence, in a parallel take, the assembly elections are not just that. They are the BJP’s highway network to 7, Racecourse Road.