State Polls: Will the BJP Realise Its Goals?
NEW DELHI: The votes will be counted this coming week to decide on the fate of governments in Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. It has been an intense election as incumbent governments have had to fight hard opposition in the first states, with every straw in the wind being caught in a bid to turn the tables.
The BJP launched a no holds barred campaign, that even reverberated in Parliament, for a government in Assam and a markedly improved performance in West Bengal and Kerala. The combination of these three will be read as a major victory by the party, and give it a major boost for the next round of Assembly elections that will include Punjab and the all important state of Uttar Pradesh.
In Assam the BJP had stitched up an alliance with the AGP and the Bodoland Peoples Front, leaving the Congress virtually isolated. It had worked out a polarising campaign on the Bangladeshi issue that remained its main plank, the second being a sustained attack on the Congress leadership in the state and centre. This factor seemed to have worked well for the BJP in the first phase of the Assam polls with the party visibly enthused after the first day of voting was over. The Congress was a little on the backfoot here, although Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi exuded confidence that the party was still ahead.
The second phase of the vote in Assam had a sizeable Muslim presence, said to be decisive in at least 30 constituencies. The BJP had pinned its hopes on an aggressive campaign by the AIUDF, hoping to gain from a division of the vote between the latter and the Congress. Reports suggest that this division did not take place, with the Muslim vote going in a large percentage to the Congress party. What impact this will have, and to what degree, on the final results remains to be seen but has been noted as ‘adverse’ by the BJP election managers in Assam.
In West Bengal, the BJP hopes to improve upon its position but admits that the resurgence of the Congress party and the Left in the state could belie this expectation. From almost a minus stage the Left-Congress alliance in West Bengal has surged ahead, with some political pandits in the state actually predicting a defeat for the Trinamool Congress. However, while the ballot box retains its mystery the political assessment is that a spurt in Congress fortunes will coincide in West Bengal with a decline in the BJP percentage of votes.
In Kerala, the BJP has worked systematically to open its account and was well poised---or so the local leaders said---until Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s whirlwind tour where his remarks about Somalia kicked up a political storm. The comparison was seen as odious by Keralites and the local BJP is visibly worried about the impact of this on the polling. As for the Congress party, it is almost certain to lose to the LDF this time, with this perhaps being the expected certainty of the Kerala elections.
Parliament has taken up a privilege motion against the PM for his campaign remarks against Congress President Sonia Gandhi on the AgustaWestland deal. Angry Congress members disrupted the Rajya Sabha repeatedly to protest against what they claimed was a major breach of privilege by the Prime Minister on the deal that was being discussed in Parliament. All said and done while the work on the ground by the BJP has been systematic, the campaign has had hiccups as in Kerala. This along with the unexpected voter behaviour---as in West Bengal---has ensured a certain silence from the BJP that is looking at the ballot box with the same trepidation as the other political parties. The ‘ we will win’ rhetoric is muted, perhaps even more so because of Bihar where the party had to eat the oats it had sowed for the opposition parties.