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Will the political equations in India change with the protesting farmers laying siege to Delhi for the last 11 weeks? The forthcoming assembly elections in five states may provide an answer. The elections are of great importance, anyway.

Let’s start with Assam. The Modi government had made provisions for the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) at the beginning of its second term. The move triggered agitations across country. The provisions were painted as a planned conspiracy against the minorities. It also resulted in the agitation at Shaheen Bagh. During this period more than 65 people were killed in the ensuing violence across India. With the discontent arising from the continuous influx of Bangladeshi immigrants, Assam was expected to welcome the laws, but soon it became clear that not only Bangladeshi infiltrators, but also the natives of Assam could be affected by the laws. Suddenly, the old painful issues resurfaced in this sensitive state. Covid-19 had given an opportunity not only to the Shaheen Bagh agitators, but also to the government to put these proposals on hold. Now, as the elections are knocking at the door of every voter, rumours about the provisions are surfacing yet again.

The Congress-led coalition was ruling this state till 2016. Will it now be able to reoccupy the seat of power in Guwahati? Like other states, here too the country’s oldest party is struggling with infighting. It faces the BJP which propagates majority nationalism. Its experienced leaders, including J.P. Nadda and Amit Shah, are leaving no stone unturned to achieve the goal. Prime Minister Modi himself has addressed a number of rallies there. This election machinery is making things difficult for Congress.

Now, let’s come to West Bengal. Everyone is awaiting the next assembly election in the state. Mamata Banerjee is an aggressive leader. To save her decade-old rule, she has buckled down to fight. The BJP knew this would happen and deployed a strong leader, Kailash Vijayvargiya, in Bengal five years ago. He has managed to bring a number of political heavyweights close to Banerjee under the saffron flag. Most state elections fought under the leadership of Shah saw massive defections from regional parties. Due to this aggressive strategy, BJP has already managed to establish itself as the main rival for the Trinamool Congress. The Congress and the Left are almost out of the fray despite their decades-old roots. However, the BJP still has to cross many hurdles.

Like every state, ‘Bangabhumi’ also has its own characteristics. About 62% of its voters live in nine of Bengal’s 23 districts. Out of the total 294 assembly seats, 185 are in these nine districts. These districts decide the direction of the election results. The Trinamool claims that the BJP’s position in the nine districts is not good enough. About 30% of the voters in West Bengal are Muslims, who still support Banerjee after moving away from the Left. However, the influx of a new political outfit is changing the equations. After making his mark in Bihar, Asaduddin Owaisi is now eyeing the West Bengal polls. Will Muslim votes be divided here, too?

Now, let’s talk about Kerala. In the last 40 years, the Left-led LDF or the Congress-led UDF have been ruling the state, alternatively. It should not be forgotten that Rahul Gandhi also represents the Wayanad seat in the Lok Sabha. Congress is hopeful here, but the performance of the Left alliance has been very good over the last five years. The Congress and the Left both are fighting with each other here, but elsewhere in the country they are fighting together. Will this have any effect on the elections?

Discussion on Tamil Nadu and Puducherry state elections is also necessary here. This is going to be the first time when veterans like Jayalalithaa or Karunanidhi are not physically present in the electoral landscape in Tamil Nadu. In the last elections, Karunanidhi had started handing over the reins of the DMK to M.K. Stalin, while he was still alive, and Jayalalithaa was still at the helm of the AIADMK. This time, though AIADMK is in power, infighting is snatching away the advantages. The way Jayalalithaa’s companion Sasikala was welcomed after her release from the Bengaluru jail is also complicating the whole picture. ‘Chinamma’ has also announced her entry into active politics, but how effective will she be in this turbulent phase?

These states have significant importance as far as numbers at the Lok Sabha are concerned. A total of 116 MPs come from these states. Though the battle for the power in Delhi is far away, every passing election sets a new chessboard for the next. This is why this question is floating in the minds of everybody that with the return to power in Kerala and Assam, will the Congress be able to handle its staggering position on the national scene? Kerala, West Bengal and Assam are the states where Muslim voters are at 28-32%. While this gives the BJP an opportunity to polarize, it also gives the Congress a chance to unify its old voter base. One thing is for sure that these elections may change the direction of the politics in India.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan.

The views expressed are personal

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