Five States, Many Parties

Bibekananda Ray

Winning only two seats in 1984 general election, the fledgling BJP gathered strength and eventually became the largest party in parliament in 1996. At present, it rules, alone or as a major partner, in 19 States, covering almost two-thirds of the geographical area and of the total population of the subcontinent. Only ten States—J&K, Delhi, Punjab, West Bengal, Odisha, Karnataka, Telengana, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Mizoram—are ruled by other parties. In 13 States, it formed government with absolute majority and in six with its allies. In September this year, the party had majority in 13 Legislative Assemblies—Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur, Rajasthan, Tripura, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh. In Goa and Maharashtra it shares power with MGP & GFP and Shiv Sena, respectively with Chief Ministers belonging to it. It shares power with JD(U) in Bihar, with NDPP in Nagaland, with SDF in Sikkim and with NPP in Meghalaya; their Chief Ministers belong to partner parties. After 2014 general election, the BJP extended its footprint across large parts of the North-East, where and in south it was weak traditionally. Before this, it ruled in just seven States but in the last four years, it has annexed 14 more, which sent over 67% MPs to the Lok Sabha.

Between 12thNovember and 7th December this year, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram, Rajasthan and Telengana will elect new Assemblies. The results to be announced on 11th December could be decisive, because within six months thereafter, the country will go for general election and a new government will be at the helm, run by another NDA, or an opposition party or an alliance. Thus, these State polls will indeed be a kind of a semi-final for all major parties to the final match in 2019. If the BJP is re-elected and resumes power, alone or with allies in three States, now under its sway— Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan and annexes the other two, it can pave the way for its return through 2019 General Election; if it loses in some or all of them, the defeat will result in its exit, or in a hung Parliament in May, 2019. Three of them are now under BJP rule—the new State of Telengana is ruled by Telangana Rashtra Samithi. The Congress is ruling the tiny north-eastern State of Mizoram of 11 million people since 1987 and is unlikely to concede it to the BJP or any other party. C S Rao will very likely return as Chief Minister in Telengana's first State poll. What are the prospects of the BJP in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh?

Spread over 1.4 lakh sq km, Chhattisgarh was formed on 1st November 2000 by carving out 10 Chhattisgarhi and six Gondi-speaking districts from Madhya Pradesh. Its Legislative Assembly has 90 members; it elects 11 members to the Lok Sabha and five to the Rajya Sabha. Around half (twice the all-India average) of the population of 2.5 crore are very poor. In the last five years, its economy did improve but could not ameliorate deep-rooted poverty, keeping the Naxalite-troubled State very backward, despite a Rajput Dr Raman Singh of the BJP being at the helm for 15 years, since 7th December 2003. An anti-incumbent wave on 12th and 20th November may not be a surprise.

Madhya Pradesh, spread across 308 sq km, is the second largest State with a population of 7.26 crore (2011 Census). It is being ruled by the BJP since December 2003; the present Chief Minister, Shivraj Singh Chouhan first took over on 29th November 2005 and was re-elected twice on 12th & 23rd December 2008 and 2013. His flagship achievement was reduction in female infanticide, which was highest in India, through such schemes as Ladli Laxmi Yojna, Kanyadhan Yojna and Janani Suraksha Yojna. The diverse tribal world has been nearly cut off from the mainstream of development. Malnutrition is very 'alarming' in Panna and Chhattarpur districts with over 40% children stunted and underweight, as per a two-year old national survey. Rahul Gandhi is extensively campaigning in the State, exposing the failures of the BJP regime; an anti-incumbent mandate cannot be ruled out.

In Rajasthan, several opinion polls, rather prematurely, have predicted an anti-incumbency mandate and the exit of the BJP government. Area-wise, Rajasthan is India's largest State, spread over 3.4 lakh sq km, i.e., about 10.4% of the country's geographical footprint with a population of over 6.9 crore. It has two main political parties—the BJP and the Congress; the present Chief Minister, Vasundhara Raaje of the BJP, a daughter of Vijayaraje Scindia and Jivajirao Scindia, Maharaja of Gwalior, is serving a second term; her first was from 2003-2008. The politics of Rajasthan is dominated mainly by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Indian National Congress; the latter ruled the State from 2008 to 2013. Among the last two States to go for a poll on 7th December (Telengana being another), Rajasthan may go for another Congress rule. The BJP has assigned five Rajput leaders of the State to woo the race's voters who stood by it in 2013 poll and wean them away from an anti-incumbency mood. The party President, Amit Shah visited the State for more than ten times in last six months to energise the booth workers. The RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat also toured in three cities to activate his cadres to work for the BJP. The Congress is holding mega-rallies and road-shows in the backdrop of a simmering power struggle between Sachin Pilot and Ashok Gehlot.

Thus, the status quo in these five states could change in year-end polls. Apart from the successes and failures of the administration, the outcome of the polls could be tinged by the Congress charge of Mr Modi arbitrarily choosing Reliance Defence of Anil Ambani to be the offset Indian partner for delivery of 36 Rafael fighter-jets, helping bank-loan frauds like Nirab Modi and Vijay Mallya to flee, soaring fuel and commodity prices, inflation, falling rupee-dollar exchange rate, bickerings in the CBI and RBI and controversies such as the demonetisation and the GST(which Rahul Gandhi ridicules as 'Gabbar Singh Tax') and '# Me Too' charges against minister M J Akbar (when he was editor of two newspapers), forcing him to resign. All these and a more startling revelation in Rafael scam, or an adverse turn of events, can cause a swing in the Congress's fortune. The astounding rise of the BJP—like the proverbial 'rags to riches'—from the scratch (two MPs in 1984) to over ten years in power at the Centre and its present sway over nearly two-thirds of the area and people of the subcontinent has been due to its clever exploitation of the Hindu dislike of Muslims and its slogans of building a Ram Temple at the disputed site of Ayodhya, resolve to make India a Hindu Rashtra, jettisoning what it dubs as 'pseudo-secularism' in the Constitution. The Supreme Court has dismissed a petition for advancing the hearing of the Ram Janmabhumi land dispute case but if Mohan Bhagwat's demand for promulgating an ordinance to start building the promised Ram Temple on the disputed site is met by the NDA or the UP government it can swing Hindu votes but will disenchant the Muslim electorate in three States under its rule. To the extent the Modi regime's flagship projects like Beti Bachao, Beti Parhao, Swachha Bharat, Jan Dhan, Ujaala, Pradhan Mantri Abaasan, Sadak etc. Yojanas have been implemented in these States can swing votes in its favour too. Overall, whosoever wins, the polls are likely to be a keenly-watched tightropewalk for the BJP with unpredictable result.


Vol. 51, No.20, Nov 18 - 24, 2018