Big test awaits Gandhis

Big test awaits Gandhis

Big test awaits Gandhis
The assembly elections looming on India’s horizon are being billed as a mini-referendum on the performance of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Narendra Modi-led national government. But the truth is that there is much more at stake for Sonia Gandhi’s opposition Congress Party than the ruling BJP in the April-May polls in four states and a union territory.
The four states are Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Assam. The union territory of Puducherry, which is also going to the polls, is too small to be politically significant. All the four states, which really matter have non-BJP governments. So the BJP has little to fear. Kerala and Assam have Congress Party governments, while regional parties — Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress and J. Jayalalithaa’s All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam — are in power in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu respectively.
If Congress loses both Assam and Kerala — as it well might — Karnataka will enjoy the distinction of being the lone major state under Congress rule. There has been no good news for the grand old party after the disastrous performance in the 2014 general elections, which were won convincingly by Modi. Since then, only Bihar has offered a ray of hope where the Congress did unexpectedly well playing second fiddle to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) and Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal.
Like the Congress, the coming elections are also a major test for the Indian Left, which until not too long ago controlled West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura. At present, the Left governs only Tripura. Victory in West Bengal is out of the question, but it can regain some clout by increasing its tally there and winning Kerala, which, as things stand, is in the realm of possibility.
While the Congress Party is obviously tense, the BJP is in a relaxed frame of mind, as it has nothing to lose. A carefree mood pervades the BJP’s national headquarters at 11 Ashoka Road, New Delhi. In contrast, the Congress Party hub at 24 Akbar Road is on overdrive even as its star campaigners, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, are addressing not only big rallies but spending quality time with teachers, women, minorities, intellectuals and spiritual leaders to win them over in the poll-bound states.
The Congress is being pretty innovative too! It has taken the unprecedented step of entering into an alliance with the Left in West Bengal to dislodge Trinamool Congress from power, even as it fights the Left tooth and nail in Kerala. Such a double-faced strategy — which many would dub opportunistic — was unthinkable in electoral politics until the Congress leadership coolly adopted it after studying its pros and cons for weeks if not months.
In Kerala, there is a straight fight between the CPI (M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) and Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) making it essentially a Left versus Congress affair. So while Left and the Congress are declared enemies in Kerala, in West Bengal they have pooled their resources to fight a common enemy — Trinamool Congress. It’s a bizarre situation. But in politics everything is possible.
While the BJP is not under pressure to retain any state in April-May, it’s eyeing a victory in Assam, which the Congress has ruled for three terms. Its optimism rests on its showing in the 2014 general elections when it bagged seven out of 14 parliamentary seats and 36.5 percent vote share — an increase of nearly 19 percent since the 2011 assembly polls. Strangely, the Congress vote share dipped only 4.31 percent to 29 percent but it could retain only three of its seven parliamentary constituencies.
But the man to watch in Assam is Badruddin Ajmal. His overwhelmingly Muslim All India United Democratic Front has 18 legislators. If their numbers swell, neither the BJP nor Congress will be able to form the government without AIDUF backing — a possibility, which makes Ajmal chuckle because both the national parties openly deride him.
But the outcome of April-May elections will not ease Modi’s biggest headache: Insufficient BJP MPs in the Rajya Sabha, or upper house of the Parliament, to ensure the smooth passage of bills, which the opposition manages to stall at will making a laughing stock of the PM and his party. The BJP can overcome this nagging weakness only by wresting power in several states because state assemblies elect Rajya Sabha MPs. As there is no possibility of BJP victories except a slim chance in Assam, the opposition’s power to ambush the government in Rajya Sabha will be hardly curbed.
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