NEW DELHI: Six states go to the polls from Nov 14 in a staggered manner to pick new assemblies in the country's biggest and last popularity test ahead of upcoming parliamentary elections.
The Congress, which heads India's ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA), and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), are the dominant players in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Delhi. The electoral battle also includes troubled Jammu and Kashmir and Mizoram in the northeast.
Political parties and analysts differ in their assessment of what impact the outcome in the six states will have on the elections expected early next year for a new 545-seat Lok Sabha.
The Congress feels that the staggered state assembly elections will have no bearing on the later battle for parliament. The BJP and some pundits seem to think otherwise.
"The coming (state) elections will be a good indicator of the public mood before the Lok Sabha elections," BJP spokesman Prakash Javadekar said, discussing the importance of the exercise that involves a sprawling area, millions of voters and some 80 Lok Sabha seats.
"A good showing will help us gauge public thinking. It will also help us sew up alliances for the Lok Sabha polls. And we are confident," he added.
The BJP presently rules Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan while the Congress is in control of only Delhi. Jammu and Kashmir is now under Governor's rule - after political instability felled a Congress-led government - and the Mizo National Front (MNF) administers Mizoram.
Another BJP leader who did not want to be identified by name said: "If we retain even two of the three states we now control, there will be a long queue of political parties eager to align with the BJP."
In normal circumstances, analysts say, this would not be an easy task since voter fatigue normally sets in against the ruling party after five years. But BJP leaders insist that the soaring cost of food items has led to anger against the Congress-led UPA government that would immensely benefit them.
Political analyst G.V.L. Narasimha Rao echoes the view.
"The BJP seems to doing quite well. Price rise is a major factor, and increasingly people are attributing this to the central government," Rao said. "A good performance in all four states (Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh) is mandatory for BJP to be in the reckoning for power when the Lok Sabha elections are held.
"If the BJP fails to win even two states, it will be difficult for them to come to power (nationally)."
According to Rao, if the Congress does badly in all these four states, it would be a cause for concern. But even in such a scenario, the Congress may still emerge a kingmaker as it enjoys more allies.
The message is not lost on UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, the architect of the BJP's 2004 Lok Sabha defeat who has seen the Congress lose ground to the BJP in one state election after another since then.
Realising that any new Lok Sabha too will be badly splintered, both the Congress and BJP have their eyes set firmly on the numerous smaller parties that have increasingly come to determine who rules India.
Precisely for this reason, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Samajwadi Party are keen to fight it out in all the states going to the polls.
The Congress is also on the defensive in Jammu and Kashmir, where protests by Hindus in the Jammu region and Muslims in the Kashmir Valley for and against land allocation to the Amarnath shrine pilgrims has polarized the country's only Muslim-majority state on religious lines like never before.
Precisely for this and other reasons, the others who matter in Jammu and Kashmir are also confident: the BJP, the National Conference and People's Democratic Party (PDP). Elections in the state are expected to take place amid boycott calls by separatists and a cult of violence.
And in Mizoram, the Mizo National Front (MNF), the insurgents-turned-democrats, will be again pitted against the Congress, making the Congress a key player in all states.
The Congress, perhaps having read the voter mood, is beginning to announce that the state verdict will have no bearing on the general elections.
"State elections are fought on issues completely different from the Lok Sabha election," party spokesperson Manish Tiwari said. "Assembly results have no bearing on Lok Sabha elections."
The results of the elections will be known Dec 8 in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram and Dec 28 in Jammu and Kashmir.
6 months ago