Be it the BJP’s Liberation Day or the BRS’ National Integration Day festivities in Hyderabad; be it the Janakrosh Yatra by the Congress in Madhya Pradesh or Arvind Kejriwal’s jal, jungle, zameen pitch in Bastar, electioneering has kicked in full throttle as the country gears up for elections in five States—Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Telangana, and Mizoram.
The frenetic activity even before the Election Commission can announce the dates underscores the significance of this round of Assembly elections, which is seen as key to setting the broader political narrative ahead of General Election 2024.
The parties are fumbling to get their campaign tone right as they probe the pulse of the people. Caste, gender, and religion have all come into play. Addressing party workers in Jaipur, former Congress president Rahul Gandhi on September 23 asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to release the caste census data. The BJP used the occasion of moving into the new Parliament building to introduce the women’s reservation Bill.
Currently, the Congress is in power in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, while the BJP is in power in Madhya Pradesh. In the 2018 Assembly election in Rajasthan, the difference in vote share between the Congress and the BJP was just 0.5 per cent, but the Congress won 100 seats against the BJP’s 73. In Chhattisgarh, the Congress won 68 of 90 seats. In Madhya Pradesh, too, the Congress won with 114 seats to the BJP 109, but the BJP toppled the Congress government in 2020 by getting Jyotiraditya Scindia to cross over.
A recent opinion poll has predicted the return of incumbent governments in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh, but these States have a history of springing surprises. In Rajasthan, in nearly 100 seats the victory margin was less than 10 per cent. In the 2013 Assembly election in Chhattisgarh, the difference in vote share between the BJP, the winner, and the Congress was just 0.75 per cent. In Madhya Pradesh, in 2018, the Congress won five more seats than the BJP but with 0.12 per cent less votes.
The BSP, which got 5 per cent votes in 2013 in Madhya Pradesh, did not fare well in 2018 either. This time, it has decided to go solo in the three States. After the drubbing in Uttar Pradesh, these elections are important for the BSP.
Pointers from the 2019 Lok Sabha election in Chhattisgarh show that the Congress is in a comfortable position: the vote difference between the BJP and the Congress was less than 10 per cent (BJP 50.70 per cent and Congress 40.91 per cent). However, the same is not true in Madhya Pradesh or Rajasthan, where the gap in 2019 was close to 25 per cent.
Chhattisgarh, which saw three successive BJP governments led by Raman Singh after being sliced out of Madhya Pradesh in 2000, has also seen the BJP’s percentage in Assembly elections dipping from 41 per cent in 2013 to 32 per cent in 2018, making 2023 all the more challenging.
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In Mizoram, it is a direct contest between the BJP ally Mizo National Front and the Congress, but the Zoram People’s Movement (ZPM) is seen as the principal opposition. In Telangana, K. Chandrashekar Rao’s Bharat Rashtra Samiti seems to have the edge.
Even though the Congress is gasping for breath after two consecutive Lok Sabha election debacles, the challenge in this round is bigger for the BJP. Having lost the three north Indian States in 2018, it is leaving no stone unturned. A battery of central leaders are carpet-bombing the poll-bound States. The BJP is putting its stakes in the Modi factor while the Congress campaign is focussed on State leaders, Ashok Gehlot, Bhupesh Baghel and Kamal Nath.
Interestingly, while the cacophony of campaigning is high in all five States, the electorates are somewhat silent giving rise to the feeling that this could be a wave-less election. And a silent electorate has always given parties sleepless nights.