The five states set to vote, beginning April 4, have few things in common. State-specific factors, including local alliances, leadership, and social and economic undercurrents, influence assembly election results. Yet, the scale of the exercise — 170 million voters, nearly one-sixth of India’s population, are expected to cast their vote — makes it likely that the outcome will be mined for the mood of the nation.
With West Bengal and Kerala being the two states where they continue to be electorally relevant, much is at stake for the Left. Except once, in 1977, no party or front has won consecutive assembly elections in Kerala and here, the Congress-led dispensation, mired in corruption charges, faces a stiff challenge from the CPM-led Left Democratic Front. The picture is dramatically different in West Bengal, where the Congress and the Left are informal allies. Arithmetic based on past vote shares and cadre chemistry would shore up a Left-Congress alliance, but elections are more than just math. Since winning office in 2011, the Trinamool Congress has consolidated its position in the state at the expense of the CPM and the Congress. The West Bengal outcome could also crucially impact the internal dynamics of the CPM, since a section of the party is bitterly opposed to any pre-poll understanding with the Congress. If the arrangement is successful, on the other hand, it is likely to bring the Congress and the Left closer at the national level. In Tamil Nadu, the battle is between two regional actors, the AIADMK and the DMK, with others reduced to the supporting cast. Desperate to win, the DMK is scouting for allies and has already roped in the Congress.
Assam is the big fight, where the Congress is set to square off with the BJP. The BJP made spectacular gains in the 2014 general elections, replacing the Congress as the dominant force in the state. A win here could help the party offset the losses in Delhi and Bihar and reverse perceptions of a sagging of the fortunes of its national leadership. With the BJP barely in the reckoning in the other election-bound states, failure to win Assam could exaggerate the impression that the party has slid since it stormed to power at the Centre in 2014, following it up with a succession of state victories. A fourth consecutive term in Assam, however, could be a face-saver for the Congress, which has not won a state election for some time now.