The announcement of dates for Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam and Puducherry assembly elections has focussed attention on the strong repercussions their outcome will have for national politics. BJP governs Assam, is a strong challenger in Bengal, and its ally AIADMK administers TN. Any setback for BJP in Bengal and Assam and ally AIADMK in TN could bring the opposition roaring back into contention in national politics. Consequently, BJP will face greater questioning over farm policy, high fuel prices and attempts to pursue economic reforms like privatisation. But a BJP/ NDA victory in these three states will pose existential questions to its rivals. For instance, a strong opposition voice like Mamata Banerjee losing sway over Bengal will signal a version of pan-India primacy of BJP.
Not surprisingly, the contestation is fiercest in Bengal, with both sides boasting evenly matched resources. Foreseeing intense political violence, Election Commission has announced an eight-phased poll for Bengal, which some fear may only prolong the unrest. With Mamata invoking Bengali pride to counter the rush of Hindi heartland leaders campaigning against her, BJP is making a strong pitch for “poriborton” and attempting to ride anti-incumbency in Bengal.
Much like 2019, PM Modi remains BJP’s most saleable face in Bengal. But an assembly election may dim Modi’s traction, requiring local leaders to up their game. With Assam and Bengal elections coinciding, the CAA has forced BJP into a delicate balancing act. While the party hopes CAA will give it huge traction among East Bengal Hindu migrants, it’s unpopular in Assam where BJP has to underplay it. Delays in notifying CAA rules can be read as a symptom of BJP’s dilemma, allowing TMC to dub it a gimmick.
Pursuing a third straight term in TN, AIADMK passed a quota for the influential Vanniyar community. AIADMK must also grapple with Sasikala’s return from prison, which could turn into a full blown power struggle if the party loses. TN would worry BJP for its sizeable industrial base, which will bolster UPA’s fundraising ability if it wins. Wiped out of Bengal and Tripura, CPM faces a difficult task in Kerala with its history of voting out incumbents. For Congress, wins in Kerala, Assam, TN and Puducherry will help regain lost respectability amid constant setbacks and counter growing dissidence against Rahul Gandhi. The summer of 2021 promises big changes in national politics.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
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