The Circus begins!
The Election Commission of India (ECI) in a press conference finally announced Assembly elections in five states– Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa, Punjab and Manipur to be held in seven phases through early 2022. Assembly elections will be held for 403 assembly seats in Uttar Pradesh, 117 in Punjab, 70 in Uttarakhand 60 in Manipur and 40 in Goa. The voting in Punjab, Uttarakhand and Goa assembly elections will be held in single phase on 14 February. The Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections will be held in two phases on 10 and 14 February. Assembly elections in Manipur will be held in two phases on 27 February and 3 March. The counting of votes will take place on 10 March. The elections are set to be held in all these five states amid a massive spike in Covid cases nationally fueled by the Omicron variant.
On March 10, it will be known in which direction the politics of the country seems to be turning after the semi-finals of power before 2024. It is certain that the effects of the elections in these five states will be from immediate to far-reaching. There will also be an impact on the politics of the country. The credibility of the ruling party and the opposition will be at stake in this election. Of the five states where elections are being held, BJP is in power in four while Congress is in government in Punjab. Both these national parties are defending one of their key turfs each this time — the BJP in Uttar Pradesh and the Congress in Punjab. To understand the importance of Uttar Pradesh and Punjab in the scheme of things of the BJP and the Congress, respectively, it is utmost important to see the contribution that these States make to their national strength. Eleven of the Congress’s 52 Lok Sabha seats — 20 per cent — comes from Punjab. Of the BJP’s 301 Lok Sabha seats, 62 i.e 20 per cent comes from Uttar Pradesh. The BJP and the Congress are not facing each other, however, as they do in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh. The Opposition space is in a flux in both States. The Samajwadi Party (SP) is drawing crowds in Uttar Pradesh, and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is a talking point in Punjab, but in the beginning the incumbents appear to have an upper hand.
2021 may go down in India’s political history as the year when a government with a brute majority in Lok Sabha had to bow down before the power of a street protest — one that was largely anarchist and chaotic. The farmers’ protest was not widespread, but the movement had the power to bend the government. And the repercussions of the stir – political as well as social – will be felt in 2022. According to senior journalist Varghese K George, “The BJP is practically non-existent in Punjab; and the Congress is practically non-existent in Uttar Pradesh— which shows a fundamental struggle that these national parties face. The BJP is impulsively mistrusted by religious minorities, and its efforts to woo Sikhs, remains half-hearted. It swings between accommodation and hostility. The party’s confrontation with Sikhs, a largely farming community, on the question of three controversial farm laws, shrunk its appeal further this time. The Congress on the other hand is seen largely as the party inherently trusted by the religious minorities. The party’s strongholds these days are regions and constituencies that have a significant population of minorities, leaving it unviable in places and situations of communal polarisation. The BJP’s minority problem is that it is not trusted by them; the Congress’s is that its base is largely confined to minority regions. The BJP has been wooing Sikhs in Punjab through measures such as making visits to their sacred sites in Pakistan easier; it perhaps wanted to signal friendship to Catholics in Goa, who constitute a third of the population, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with the Pontiff last year. The BJP wants to get a foothold in Punjab; the Congress wants to get a foothold in Uttar Pradesh, through these elections.”
Beginning March this year, the political scenario of our country will go on which track, lies in the future but these elections will definitely have impact on various fronts of the national political scene.
Impact on Presidential Election
The first effect of the election results will be on the presidential election to be held in July this year. A total of 690 MLAs are to be elected in 5 states. Along with this, the math of 19 Rajya Sabha seats will also be clear from these elections. 19 seats in three out of five states are going to be vacant. Since MLAs and MPs together form the Electoral College which participates in the election of the President.
If the results of the five states are the same as last time, then the ruling BJP will easily choose the President of its choice, but if there are ups and downs or even close cases, then the BJP may have a problem this time. The party is continuously showing poor performance in assembly elections in recent times. In many influential states, the party does not have the requisite MLAs. The BJP has been in trouble on various fronts since its victory in the 2019 general elections. Be it the issue of governance or the mode of politics, the BJP is going through various ups and downs. In such a situation, with this election to be held in early 2022, BJP would like to show that the country’s politics is still at the centre and under the leadership of Narendra Modi, the party will make its debut as a natural advantage before 2024.
Litmus test for ambitious leaders
The results of the five states will show the reality of the expansionist ambitions of the regional forces.There are two Chief Ministers who are testing their politics outside their respective current arenas — Delhi Chief Minister and AAP supremo Arvind Kejriwal, and West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee. Both want to emerge as the principal challenger to Prime Minister Modi ahead of 2024. Mr. Kejriwal’s focus is Punjab where his party had emerged as the second largest in 2017; Ms. Banerjee is focussing on Goa. The AAP is also in Goa, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh; TMC is trying to be a player in Manipur. The national ambitions of these two leaders are based on two different models and two different sets of calculations. Their performance this time can influence the course of national politics ahead of 2024.
Impact on Congress
The biggest impact of the elections in five states will surely be felt by the Congress. It is believed that this election is more important than the 2019 general election for the internal mathematics of the Congress and the dominance of the Gandhi family. Congress has made Priyanka Gandhi Vadra as in charge of its Uttar Pradesh strategy; and she chose Navjot Singh Sidhu as party president in Punjab. The party’s performance will reflect on her leadership skills, and influence internal debates on her role. If the expected results do not come for the Congress this time, then there can be a big rebellion inside the party. According to the schedule, the election of a new president can be held in the party in June this year. The election result will decide whether the Gandhi family’s hold on the Congress has weakened or whether the party is under their control.
Course of Dalit politics
These elections will also have an impact on how the caste politics and particularly Dalit politics takes its course. Varghese K George writes in The Hindu, “The SP in Uttar Pradesh represents backward politics led by a dominant caste; the Shiromani Akali Dal in Punjab helms a minority religious politics. Two distinct models in the spectrum of regional political formations in India. Both are facing a crisis, as their traditional mobilisation strategies are now weak, and their corruption-ridden dynastic politics is increasingly unacceptable to the electorate. Dalit politics in the heartland, dominated by the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) until some years ago, is at the crossroads. The BSP, which has been in power in Uttar Pradesh several times in the past, appears to be on terminal decline. It had a strong presence in Punjab too, though it never won power. The BJP has made significant inroads among the Dalits, at the cost of the BSP in Uttar Pradesh. In Punjab, the Dalits have largely voted for the Congress in the past, and the party is trying to consolidate them following the appointment of Charanjit Singh Channi, a Dalit, as Chief Minister. The outcomes of these Assembly elections may give some indication of how Dalit will politics will evolve from here on. The BJP and the Congress are both trying to expand their acceptance among the Dalits.”
As the New Year fever is full in swing, the BJP finds itself on the cusp of the most consequential cycle of state polls since the 2019 Lok Sabha elections as the results will tell if the road ahead in its bid for a third straight term at the Centre is getting any bumpier or a strong opposition challenge remains elusive. If 2021 marked the rare occurrence of the Narendra Modi-led government bowing to organised protests, mounted by farmers in Delhi against three agriculture reform laws, and the BJP’s enviable election machinery coming up short against a popular regional satrap in West Bengal, 2022 will reveal if the ripples these developments caused have made impact beyond their immediate implications.
By Nilabh Krishna