Bugle has been sounded for the electoral battle in key four states of West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and the Union Territory of Puducherry with Election Commission announcing the poll schedule beginning from April 4 and ending on May 16. The results will be declared on May 19.
Even though except Assam, political stakes are not too high for the ruling BJP, coming just within a year of two crushing defeats in Delhi and Bihar, the results will have a bearing on the ruling BJP and Central government’s administrative, economic and foreign policy strategies.
During 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP had registered an impressive performance in these states, netting 36.5% votes in Assam, 18% in West Bengal, 10.3% in Kerala and 5.5% in Tamil Nadu, thanks to the clout of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Retaining this vote share will be a morale booster to the government, and an approval of its Hindutva plank.
In Assam, where third-time CM Tarun Gogoi is facing a strong anti-incumbency, the BJP is counting on 6 of 14 Lok Sabha seats it won in 2014 as against just 3 by the Congress as also on its best performance in the recent local body polls. Emerging wiser from debacle in Bihar and Delhi, where it did not project any CM candidate and instead chose to capitalise on prime minister Narendra Modi’s image, the BJP has named Sarbananda Sonowal as its CM candidate in Assam. The party has also tied-up with the Assom Gana Parishad (AGP), which will be contesting in 24 seats.
Deep down the South, in Tamil Nadu, BJP is sending signals to the ruling AIADMK for a possible tie-up, which was quite visible on the floor of Lok Sabha, recently. The AIADMK has third highest number of MPs, 37, in the House. Insiders say, the BJP, which originally was pressing for 100 seats is now demanding at least 25 in districts the party feels it has significant influence.
Sources said, chief minister Jayalalithaa is reviewing her initial stand of contesting alone, particularly after Chennai floods, where her government was found wanting. Congress has already made its mind to renew its ties with the DMK led by M Karunanidhi. In 2014, BJP won Nagercoil, and came second in another five Lok Sabha seats.
West Bengal and Kerala are also proving to be a dilemma for the Congress. While its cadre in West Bengal favour a tie-up with the Left to take on Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress, in Kerala, they oppose such a tie-up tooth and nail. There are indications now that the two political groups may just stop short of formal alliance but may go in for an understanding, like the one sewed up last year in the local body elections in Siliguri.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the Left Front in West Bengal could win just two seats with a vote share of almost 30%. Assembly constituencies wise, the Front led in only 28 segments. The Congress, with a vote of little under 10%, also led in 28 assembly segments. The BJP vote share has shown a dramatic rise in this state, which also has considerable Muslim population. The BJP, which polled just 4% votes in the 2011 Assembly elections, polled 18% in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and established lead in as many as 22 Assembly segments.
The West Bengal elections may also witness some electrified poll campaign as Left parties are toying with the idea to bring JNU students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar as youth mascot.
A good news for the Left Front is Kerala, where it may stage a comeback, is Congress chief minister Oommen Chandy’s United Democratic Front coming under the cloud of various scams. In a state where the Congress-led UDF and CPM-led LDF have won alternate elections, the BJP is now trying to fill the space of a third front. Going by past trends, the LDF should return to power.
However, this time, the BJP has joined the race to squeeze itself into the 140-strong state assembly. Mentored by the RSS, the party is trying to wean away the Hindu vote, particularly that of the Ezhavas, from the Left in a state where the minority population is 48%, most of which sway towards the UDF. The BJP is likely to double its vote share, but still may not be able to convert them into seats. It has entered into a deal with the SNDP-backed Bharat Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS). With the Left planning to capitalise on the JNU row to take on the BJP, its ideological enemy.