Setting the ball rolling for five Assembly elections, the Election Commission announced Saturday the dates for polls in the states of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram, Rajasthan and Telangana. While voting will be held in November and December, results for all five states, seen as a bellwether for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, will be announced on December 11.
Barring Maoist-affected Chhattisgarh, the other states will conduct elections in a single phase. South Chhattisgarh, with 18 seats, will vote on November 12 and the 72 seats in north Chhattisgarh will vote on November 20.
For 230 seats in Madhya Pradesh and 40 seats in Mizoram, the voting will take place on November 28. And Rajasthan and Telangana will poll for their 200 and 119 seats on December 7.
Of the five states, Rajasthan, MP and Chhattisgarh are ruled by BJP Chief Ministers Vasundhara Raje, Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Raman Singh, while Telangana goes to polls after TRS chief and CM K Chandrashekar Rao dissolved the Assembly in September, nine months before its term expired. Mizoram has never seen a BJP government, and Congress Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla has headed the state government since 2008.
The state polls are crucial to the ruling BJP at the Centre and the Opposition Congress, particularly in MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, where regional parties hold little sway. Both national parties will hope to build momentum ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, which will be held five months after state poll results are announced and big wins in the five states will also better chances of cobble together coalitions.
Incidentally, the five states together send 83 members to the Lok Sabha, and the outcomes are likely to impact the general election in 2019.
With Chouhan and Raman Singh looking for a fourth consecutive term as chief ministers, the Congress aims to ride an anti-incumbency wave to wrest MP and Chhattisgarh from the BJP. And in Rajasthan, the incumbent BJP will hope to convince voters against the tradition of swapping parties every five years.
While the Congress has started talks with the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in Telangana to leverage the anti-incumbency vote against the TRS, the BJP hopes to bring regional parties together to oust the Congress government in Mizoram.
Prime Minister was Modi was quick to wish BJP party workers in election-bound states. “I am sure they will work tirelessly among people and spread the development agenda of the party across all sections of the society,” he said on Twitter.
The EC announcement Saturday also drew sharp criticism from the Opposition Congress, which alleged that the press conference was rescheduled from 12.30 pm to 3 pm to accommodate a political rally Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed in Rajasthan at 1 pm.
Congress communication department head Randeep Surjewala said: “The EC’s explanation for the delay is preposterous. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is guilty of pressuring the EC to delay its press conference as he was scheduled to address a rally. The EC was made to wait for Modi’s rally,” he said.
Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Om Prakash Rawat, however, denied any kind of “pressure”. “There has been speculation,” he said, “some political statements also, for that I just have to say that politicians and political parties are political creatures and they have to see politics in everything because of their inherent nature”.
According to Rawat, the reasons for the delay included a discussion with the Tamil Nadu Chief Secretary regarding bypolls in the state. Another reason for the delay was the assessment of publishing electoral rolls for Telangana. Rawat said that the electoral rolls for Telangana, which were to be published on October 8, will be out on October 12, as the final roll has to be submitted to the Hyderabad High Court before it can be published.
The five states:
Chhattisgarh: The first state to go to polls on November 12 and 20, the difference between the votes polled by the BJP and Congress in 2013, was marginal. While the BJP garnered 41.04 per cent of the total votes, the Congress polled 40.29 per cent. This translated into 49 of the 90-member assembly for the BJP and 39 seats for the Congress.
The BSP, with which Congress hoped to form an alliance, has partnered with Ajit Jogi’s Janta Congress Chhattisgarh (JCC). The BJP hopes to cash-in on the disarray in the Congress and CM Raman Singh has recently focused on the Maoist-affected Bastar region where the party did not do well in the Lok Sabha polls. The Centre and the state government have initiated a series of development projects in this region.
Madhya Pradesh: The BJP won a landslide 165 seats of the 230 in 2013 with nearly 45 per cent of the total votes. The Congress won just 58 seats with 36.38 per cent votes. Three-time BJP CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan has relied on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity and the consolidation of Hindu votes in the name of Hindutva. With the Congress, too, starting a Rath yatra and adopting cow politics and temple visits to woo Hindus, Chouhan created a separate ministry for cow protection.
Unlike the past, the Congress in MP has tried to put its house in order and announced senior leader Kamal Nath as state unit chief in April. In a balancing act to avoid infighting, the reins of the campaign were handed to Jyotiraditya Scindia. However, the BSP’s decision to contest the polls alone has come as a setback.
Rajasthan: Also a landslide for the BJP, it won 163 of 200 seats and demolished the Congress, which was restricted to just 21 seats. After defeating the BJP in three bypolls this year, the Congress hopes to leverage anti-incumbency in a state that traditionally votes out the ruling party. The BJP leadership hopes to bank on PM Modi’s popularity and the central government’s “good governance record” to get re-elected.
While Congress morale is high, the party is still a divided house with state Congress chief Sachin Pilot and AICC general secretary Ashok Gehlot pulling in opposite directions. The Congress has not announced a CM candidate and handed the coordination panel to Gehlot and the Pradesh election committee to Pilot.
Mizoram: The lone Congress-ruled state to go to polls in November, the Congress won 34 of the 40-member house in 2013 with 44.6 per cent of votes, while the BJP not win a single seat and just a meagre 0.37 per cent of votes. The Mizo National Front, a local party was the only Opposition and won five seats. The BJP has announced that it would do go solo in the polls while the Congress looks for a third consecutive term.
Telangana: Carved out when Andhra Pradesh was bifurcated in 2014, the state elected its first assembly in 2013 when K Chandrashekhar Rao’s Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) won 63 seats, beating Congress at 21 and BJP with five seats. The party’s rival, the Telugu Desam Party, led by N Chandrababu Naidu won 15 seats in Telangana, even as it swept Andhra Pradesh, where it won 103 of 175 seats.
The BJP has decided to contest the polls alone to keep options open for the Lok Sabha polls and strengthen its organisation in the state. While the Congress has begun talks with the TDP, the party is banking on garnering anti-incumbency votes and the index of opposition unity. Some leaders believe an alliance with the TDP in Telangana could mean the two parties joining hands in Andhra Pradesh as well.