Elections to several state assemblies are being held over the next two months. Of the four states where the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, and the Congress are contesting for power, the BJP is in power in three states, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, while the Congress has ruled Delhi over the past 10 years.
These state elections are very significant for the principal national parties, the Congress and the BJP, as the two prepare to fight the big battle for the Lok Sabha, elections to which are expected to be held early next year.
Are the assembly elections likely to provide a preview of the results of the Lok Sabha elections? Will the party that wins the assembly elections come to power after the Lok Sabha polls?
The answer is a qualified yes.
Let me first discuss, from the BJP’s perspective, the possible implications the results of the assembly elections could have on next year’s general election.
Scenario 1: BJP sweeps polls
High prices and terrorism are two issues that have emerged as key failures of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. Terrorism as an electoral issue has lost some of its appeal after the alleged involvement of some right-wing Hindus in the Malegaon blasts. Therefore, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is banking heavily on the issue of inflation to help it ride to power in the general election next year.
If “high prices” indeed emerge as a major issue in the assembly elections, it is likely to benefit the BJP in the assembly polls. If the BJP wins assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Delhi, where it is a major player, it will be curtains for the ruling Congress-led UPA government. In that event, the sheer dynamism that the victories will bring to the BJP’s camp will give it the momentum to win the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. Potential allies are likely to flock to the BJP while the Congress will find it difficult to keep all its present allies intact, let alone attract new partners.
The chief ministers and BJP-ruled state governments in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan are popular. The BJP is on a strong wicket and can register victories in all the three states. Even as the personal popularity of Delhi’s chief minister Sheila Dikshit is intact, the BJP hopes to wrest Delhi on the strength of the negative issues of inflation and terrorism.
Scenario 2: BJP wins Delhi, some party-ruled states
If the BJP wins Delhi and one or two of the three states ruled by the party, the victories are likely to enthuse the BJP only if the scale of these victories is large. Else, it will be construed that the verdicts are a result of local state-level factors having no significance for the rest of the country.
The states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh contributed as many as 56 out of the total 65 Lok Sabha seats for the BJP in the 2004 Lok Sabha polls. Thus, the BJP needs to register massive victories in these states to be in the reckoning for power at the Centre and merely scraping through in one or two states won’t give the party’s Lok Sabha campaign the much-needed thrust.
Scenario 3: BJP wins Delhi and loses all party-ruled states
If the BJP wins Delhi and loses in the states where it is in power, the message will be that the anti-incumbency factor is at work in all the states and that the voters are voting out existing governments. This will be a huge boost to the Congress as the party will be wresting three important states from the BJP and can hope to make handsome gains in these states in the Lok Sabha elections as well.
This scenario, if it proves to be real, will show that national issues are unlikely to play an important role even in the general election and that the Lok Sabha verdict will be a mere aggregate of many disparate state-level election outcomes with no common themes such as inflation across states.
Scenario 4: BJP loses in Delhi and all party-ruled states
A defeat in all the four states, which appears a remote possibility, is the worst possible outcome for the BJP and will have disastrous consequences for the party’s Lok Sabha campaign. For the party, even if it wins all the states in which it is in power, winning Delhi is important because without it, victories in other states will be attributed to local-governance related factors and the state leadership of the BJP. A defeat in Delhi will be seen as a failure of the BJP’s national leadership to capitalize on the UPA’s failure on the economy front.
Why winning Delhi is important
For the BJP, winning Delhi is also important as it is the testing ground for the electoral potential of the issues of high prices and terrorism. If these issues fail to click in Delhi, it is unlikely that they will work elsewhere in the country. This would perhaps imply that the voters do not see the Congress party—neither at the Centre nor in the states—as being responsible for soaring prices, and do not consider the BJP a better alternative in this regard. With the general election barely a few months away, that is a message that the national BJP leadership cannot afford.
Also Read G.V.L. Narasimha Rao’s earlier columns
G.V.L. Narasimha Rao is a political analyst and managing director of a Delhi-based research consulting firm. Your comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org