On October 6, 2018, the Election Commission of India announced the dates of assembly elections of five states – Mizoram, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Telangana. While the first four have their current government terms ending soon, Telangana will be having earlier elections following the dissolving of its state assembly.
The polling will be conducted from November 12 to December 7. The state of Chhattisgarh will kickstart the elections with its first phase voting on November 12. The fact that these state elections are perhaps the final showdown before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections have only increased their importance.
A brief electoral history of the states
The only state to have polling in two stages, Chhattisgarh has 90 assembly constituencies. Since its foundations were laid in the year 2000, the state has been ruled by both the mainstream national parties – Indian National Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party. BJP has been ruling in the state since 2003, observing about 15 years of Mr. Raman Singh as the Chief Minister.
Of the five states, Mizoram is the only one with Congress as the ruling party. The state has a lone seat in the Lok Sabha, which is also currently under the same party. Having 40 assembly constituencies, Mizoram for the greater share of time has been ruled by either Congress or Mizo National Front. Its current Chief Minister, Lal Thanhawla, a Congress member, has been in power since 2013. He has been elected a total of five times- the record number for Mizoram.
A state with 200 assembly constituencies, Rajasthan is currently ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party. Vasundhara Raje, the CM, has been in power twice – once from 2003-08, and currently since 2013. She is the first woman to hold that post. Since the 1980s, the state’s power has been shifting between Congress and BJP, with the former’s hold on the throne slightly heavier. The longest serving Chief Minister, Mohan Lal Sukhadia, hailing from Congress, had a tenure of 17 years.
Out of all the five states going into elections, Madhya Pradesh has the largest number of assembly constituencies i.e. 230. Bharatiya Janata Party has been in power since 2003, with Shivraj Singh Chouhan as the CM for almost 13 years now. Digvijya Singh, the prominent politician, and the current General-Secretary of Congress has served as the Chief Minister of this state for two terms, from 1993-2003. BJP leader, Uma Bharati is the only female Chief Minister the state has had, serving for a period of 259 days.
With its foundations laid in 2014, after a series of political turmoils, Telangana is the newest formed state in the country. K. Chandrashekhar Rao, also popularly known as KCR, is the first Chief Minister of the state, hailing from Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS). He joined office in June 2014, and held it till he finally dissolved the assembly in September, 2018. It was post this dissolution that the state of Telangana will now have elections months before the tenure ends, otherwise scheduled for mid-2019. KCR, on the recommendation of the governor, is acting as the caretaker CM till the time a new government isn’t formed. The state has 119 assembly constituencies.
Why are these elections so important?
Shortly before the Election Commission officially announced the poll dates for the five states, the Centre slashed the continuously increasing petrol prices. The cut, although since long being demanded by the people, has now come in the wake of the state assembly elections, sources state. And, why not? Three out of these five states are currently being ruled by the BJP. The party would naturally not just want to keep the ruling power in hand, but also aim to expand its dominance in the remaining two states- Telangana and Mizoram.
A defeat at this time for BJP, would mean a hard blow to its popularity and confidence ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. This situation also presents Congress with an unusual silver lining to the cloud. When BJP came to power in 2014, it was through a massive, historical win. Since then, the party has presented itself as a very strong, futuristic face of India. The image, while having its obvious perks, also comes with a huge responsibility.
If the party loses any of its in hold states in the upcoming elections, it will lose a significant amount of its reputation, and the claims of increasing popularity will all go down the drain. On the other hand, Indian National Congress, under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi, is promising a strong return to the people of India. Hence, even if the party manages to win over one of the states currently in BJP rule, it will be seen as its bold return to competition for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
What is the present condition- A look at the opinion polls
An opinion poll by NDTV recently suggested that in 2 out of the three BJP-ruled states, namely- Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, Congress is likely to induce a change of power. While the situation in Chhattisgarh is expected to be cut-throat, things are looking more promising for Congress in Rajasthan. Another survey by ABP news predicts positive possibilities for Congress in all the three states, with Rajasthan again being an easier victory.
In both Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, BJP has been in power for almost 15 years, with both the state Chief Ministers hoping to enter into a consecutive fourth term. While the opinion polls show tight competition between Congress and BJP in these two states, the former seems to have a slightly better backing of people. Interestingly enough, though the ABP poll concludes an advantage for Congress in MP and Chhattisgarh, the people still prefer Raman Singh and Shivraj Singh Chouhan as CMs in their respective states.
The Raje government in Rajasthan is struggling the most to keep its popularity and position intact, as compared to MP or Chhattisgarh. Raje is facing both internal issues, as well as, a rise in anti-incumbency across the state. Both the polls show a significant gap between the vote banks of Congress and BJP, with Congress maintaining a significant lead.
Talking about Telangana and Mizoram, KCR enjoys a significant popularity in the former. With his party already confident about a second term, things look interesting for now. In Mizoram, the competition remains between Congress and Mizo National Front- a regional party.
Regardless of who comes to power in these states, the results will play a determinant role in the ultimate war of 2019. The entire country has already started anticipating the turn of events, and the political parties have long since charged up in preparation. If the ruling party manages to retain its grip over Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, it will be a masterstroke to victory for the Lok Sabha elections. However, if one single state slips out of its hold, it will be a huge blow to the chances of a second term.
Will the saffron party continue to enjoy its winning streak, or will the newly made president, Rahul Gandhi lead his party to victory once again? We will only be able to find out in a few months.