With just a week left to go before the results of the five assembly polls are announced, there is a lot of excitement in the capital for one way or the other, these will have an impact on national politics. Apart from Mizoram and Telangana the fight is between the Congress and the BJP in the other three states. The pressure is more on the Congress for should it win two of these states then it will be an indication that the party can take on the BJP, and live to tell the tale. The stakes are high for the BJP too. The vote was for the PM and his schemes, specially in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
I travelled to both the above mentioned states. In Rajasthan more than Madhya Pradesh, the vote was in the Prime Minister’s name. Which Shivraj Chouhan or Mamaji as he is known in the state still managed a fond smile from the voters (maybe because of his last minute welfare scheme for women- the Ladli Behna Yojana); the impact of Vasundhara Raje Scindia, ex Chief Minister of Rajasthan, was not as much as one believed it to be while sitting in Delhi. The voters of the state, though I have to add the areas I visited were those that had just witnessed a Modi Road Show, were all agog about the Prime Minister and told me that their vote was for Modi alone. When I pointed out the obvious fact that the PM would not be relinquishing his seat in Delhi to be the state CM, they replied that it didn’t matter he would nominate someone and run the state through that person. The names shortlisted by the street crowd in one of Jaipur’s busiest markets were Raghavendra Rathore and Balaknath. When asked about Deeya Kumari, a royal who is being propped up by the Centre, as a foil to Vasundhara Raje, there were not that many takers. However it should also be pointed out that while Vasundhara may not be the BJP’s first choice for CM, she could emerge as a crucial factor, as she has been campaigning hard in atleast 40 seats where candidates of her choice are contesting. In a 200 strong assembly that is not a small number.
Local journalists say that Balaknath could emerge as the dark horse. He is BJP’s candidate from Tijara (near Alwar), and a sitting MP. More interestingly, he is a saffron clad Mahant who belongs to the same Nath sect as Yogi Adityanath. In fact the people in the area refer to him as the Chotta Yogi, an imagery that was further strengthened when the UP CM came and campaigned for him. Needless to add, there were a couple of JCBs parked at the venue by some enthusiastic party workers.
The other takeaway from Rajasthan was that the vote had polarised like never before. Local analysts claim this is post the horrific murder of Kanhaiya Lal who was hacked to death by two cleaver wielding men, an incident that is raised again and again by the BJP in its Rajasthan campaign. The Prime Minister himself has repeated this in his rallies that the incident took place because the Congress government sympathised with terrorists. For its part, the Congress states that its government has since arrested the accused but the case was proceeding slowly as it is now under the National Investigative Agency (NIA). Whatever the reasons, communal overtones were very much there in the Rajasthan campaign; as much as Ashok Gehlot’s health insurance scheme, the popular Chiranjeevi Bima Yojana.
Competitive welfare schemes as well as competitive Hindutva were also on display in Madhya Pradesh, where the sitting Shivraj Singh Chouhan faces a 18 year old anti incumbency. Although there is no mass anti incumbancy against him, there is a voter fatigue which is perhaps why the PM and Amit Shah decided against portraying Chouhan as their CM face this time around. The Congress battle was managed by Kamal Nath who brings to the table administrative skills, a strong dose of Hindutva and no baggage. If anything there is a sense of victimhood that his government was not allowed to complete its full term. So, if the people of Madhya Pradesh are looking for a change that card could well be Kamal Nath. Post polls the Congress is confident that it will scrape through in Madhya Pradesh.
Chattisgarh seems to have gone the Congress way too with Bhupesh Baghel looking at a comeback. If this happens he will be the first sitting Congress Chief Minister to win a second term since Shiela Dikshit’s three term government fell in 2013. It is not that there was no anti incumbancy against the Baghel government, but he fought a smart campaign while the BJP waited too late before pulling its most well known face in the state, former CM Raman Singh from out of the mothballs.
In Telangana too there is said to be a strong anti incumbancy against the sitting BRS government with the Congress emerging as a strong contender to reap its benefits. The BJP campaign in the state fizzled out soon after the party lost the Karnataka polls a few months back. In fact there are those who predict a hung house in Telangana, and if that happens, will the BRS tie up with the BJP? There are wheels within wheels here.
So, all eyes are on result day with a strong focus on the sub-text : the mini Congress Vs BJP battle that is being fought at the assembly level.