The campaign for assembly elections ended on Wednesday in Rajasthan and Telangana, which vote tomorrow. While each state has its own poll dynamic, this phase of assembly elections to five states is seen as a bellwether of the 2019 general election. The results, scheduled for December 11, are expected to shape political alliances nationally besides, of course, impacting politics in the states that have voted.
The outcomes in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh are keenly awaited since these may have repercussions within the BJP and the Congress. All three states currently have BJP governments — in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the party is seeking a fourth consecutive term in office. Rajasthan has not voted in an incumbent government since 1993, when the BJP under Bhairon Singh Shekhawat was reelected to office. Elections in these three states have also been about the BJP chief ministers, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Raman Singh and Vasundhara Raje, though Prime Minister Narendra Modi has invested time and energy in the campaign. A fourth consecutive term for Chouhan and Singh will raise their profile in the BJP and, perhaps, check the current centralising trend in the party. For Raje, twice CM, a win is necessary to hold her ground against the central leadership, with which she has an uneasy relationship. For the Congress, a creditable show in these states is necessary to reassert itself as the country’s pre-eminent opposition party. Winning a state or two may also energise the Congress elsewhere and help the party negotiate better with potential allies in other states. Besides, the party has to regain the ground it has lost in these states — it won just three seats against the BJP’s 62 in the 2014 Lok Sabha election — if it seeks to improve its tally in Parliament in 2019.
A common thread in the campaign in all three states was agrarian distress: Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh had seen major mobilisations over poor crop realisations earlier in the year. Farm distress and lack of jobs seem to have led to the formation of two major restive constituencies — farmers and youth — which may have a bearing on the poll outcome. This pattern was witnessed during the Gujarat assembly election last year, where rural and urban constituencies voted very differently. Rural constituencies increasingly seem to privilege economic issues over narratives of nationalism and identity, which predictably breed anti-incumbency. This has been witnessed in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh as well. But the big question is if it has acquired sufficient momentum to disturb the political status quo in these states.