The coming round of assembly polls are crucial in more ways than one. Since these are poised right on the eve of a general election, this is a debate that comes up every time Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Telangana and Mizoram have state elections. Does one see these as a pointer to the coming general elections. Or not? Most psephologists would warn against the danger of seeing these as semi-finals.
Certainly the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government made this mistake in 2008 when it fell into the India Shining trap, only to declare elections sooner than the due date after the BJP swept Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. It was a move that backfired on them later when the UPA came to power leading Jairam Ramesh to remark that this was one election where the winner did not know why they won and the loser did not know why they lost !
Later on in 2018 it was the Congress that had the advantage in these state polls but it was the Modi juggernaut that swept to power, ousting the UPA. However there will be one clear takeaway from these polls and that is the credibility of the party that comes to power. Certainly if the Congress does as well as is predicted, it would have an advantage while bargaining with the rest of the allies in the INDIA bloc for seat-sharing for 2024. Also, it would boost the party;s own morale that the wins in Karnataka and Himachal were not a flash in the pan, but that the Congress can win elections if it finds the right narrative, leader and strategy. This is a reassurance that the party cadres really need.
Alternatively if the BJP snatches a victory from the COngress – which has also been known to happen – then this will just add to the PM’s aura of invincibility. Apart from that, I don’t think the PM and his team are factoring in the assembly election results as their 2024 poll narrative.
Now what if the BJP cannot dent the Congress wins? If the BJP loses two or more of the northern states to the Congress then it would be a telling commentary on the party’s Hindutva vote bank for one, specially in the state of Madhya Pradesh where Kamal NAth has proved to be a more credible proponent of Hinduism than the sitting CM Shivraj Singh CHouhan – atleast as far as the optics are concerned.
However, the loss would be notched up and some of the sheen would wear off the PM’s teflon coating for dont forget he is leading these elections from the front, There are no local leaders being fielded by the BJP as Chief Ministerial candidates. It is Modi Vs Ashok Gehlot, Modi Vs Kamal NAth and Modi Vs Bhupesh Baghel. So if there is a defeat can the PM escape the blame?
His team of course will paint it as two different narratives, how the voters vote differently in state and assembly polls. LOok at the example of Orissa and Andhra Pradesh which go in for elections at the same time as the general elections, yet each time these states vote for a regional face at the state level and a national party at the centre, all these are valid arguments. And the PM does have the chutzpah to ride any electoral set back but as far as the Congress is concerned, a win on the eve of a crucial general elections, is exactly what the psephologist would have ordered.