New Delhi: The results of elections in West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Assam and Puducherry will be out tomorrow, and with it the shifting fortunes of the BJP and Congress parties as well as regional players. The Wire’s reporting team looks at past trends, breaks down each state’s political climate and highlights the factors that may swing each election.
The major players in West Bengal are the Trinamool Congress party (TMC), the Left Front, the Congress and the BJP. The Mamata Banerjee-led TMC is considered the front-runner. Not only does it have a strong organisational presence in south Bengal, which has a vast majority of the constituencies, the chief minister is also perceived to be the strongest leader in the state in the absence of a compelling opposition figure. Furthermore, according to our on-the-ground reports and observations, a large chunk of the peasantry backs Banerjee as the chief minister on the back of successful welfare programmes such as Khadya Saathi, Konyashree and Sabuj Saathi.
That said, however, unlike the last assembly elections, the TMC is currently contesting alone. Its 2011 ally, the Congress, has now joined forces with the Left Front. If one uses 2014 parliamentary poll figures, the Congress-Left Front vote share is marginally higher than the TMC. The fact that there has been very little improvement on the employment generation, agriculture and industrial growth fronts could throw a wrench in the TMC’s prospects.
The BJP has projected itself as the third front and its vote share has been increasing over past elections. While exit polls show a comfortable majority to the TMC, the performance of the Left Front will indicate how far it has come from the debacle it had to face in the 2014 polls.
The ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) government in Kerala is in for a close electoral race. While exit polls confirm the state’s history of anti-incumbency, with the Left Democratic Front (LDF) projected to score over the UDF, chief minister Oommen Chandy and the UDF have a number of factors in their favour.
While stories of corruption and scams have dominated mainstream media, Chandy remains largely untainted. Not only has the UDF’s decision to prohibit liquor gained the support of women voters, the coalition has also focused on urban development and the kick-starting of a number of long-pending infrastructure projects like the Kochi Metro.
If the Congress manages to come back to power, this will be with the help of two crucial allies – the IUML and Kerala Congress (Mani). These two parties have a considerable stronghold among the landed Muslims and Christians, an important factor that could sway the election.
The LDF, while being projected as the victor, still hasn’t declared who its chief minister will be. As a number of observers have noted, the leadership tussle within the coalition could prove to be a sore point even if it wins. While the 93-year-old V S Achuthanandan is popular among the masses, Pinarayi Vijayan is favoured within the rank-and-file of the party.
Leaving aside the LDF and the UDF, the BJP has also been slowly but steadily rising in the vote charts. The party hopes to open its account this time and has been targeting the Ezhava (‘Thiyyas in north Kerala) community for a long time with some amount of success. The Ezhava community, which both Achuthanandan and Vijayan come from, has long been a Left Front votebank.
The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam led by M. Karunanidhi, who is seeking a record sixth term as chief minister, and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam led by incumbent chief minister J. Jayalalithaa have since 1984 won alternate Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu. So this time too, the question on everyone’s mind is whether the DMK would be able to keep the trend going and dislodge the AAIDMK government or will the latter hold its ground.
While the exit polls have indicated that the DMK enjoys an edge — as the poll of polls gave 120 seats to the DMK-led alliance and 103 to the AIADMK alliance in the 234 seat assembly — there are many who would rather wait for the final result.
Among this group is the People’s Welfare Front (PWF) alliance, which has stitched up the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) general secretary Vaiko, who is its coordinator. It includes the two Left parties – CPI and CPI(M) – and managed to stage a coup on Karunanidhi by taking away his former confidante, the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) leader Vijayakanth, who is now the front’s chief ministerial face. The PWF has maintained it would emerge as an alternative to the two “poisonous plants” DMK and AIADMK who it accuses of making Tamil Nadu one of the most corrupt states in the last five decades. But it seems the voters are not prepared to vote any differently this time too.
Apart from anti-incumbency, the key issues this time are the November floods and their handling by the Jayalalithaa regime. The issue of prohibition, like many other states, has also assumed centre-stage. Though most of the distilleries are owned by DMK and AIADMK activists, the two parties along with the PWF alliance and the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) — which is contesting all seats on its own — have promised to introduce prohibition in the state if voted to power.
The electoral battle in Assam is primarily between the three-time incumbent Indian National Congress (INC) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led alliance comprising the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and the Bodo Peoples Front (BPF).
While the BJP had no firm base in the state till 2014 — when it surprised many by winning seven of the 14 parliamentary seats, the AGP formed governments in 1985 and 1996. The BPF supported the Congress government in 2011 but walked out of it in 2015 and entered into a pre-poll alliance with the BJP in January 2016. The third major poll player is the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF).
What has added to the strong anti-incumbency wave expected against the Tarun Gogoi government, with exit polls predicting a massive win for the BJP and its allies, is the popular ethnic ‘anti-foreigner’ sentiment which the BJP and its allies have fanned to polarise voters. The BJP’s projection of Union sports minister and former student leader Sarbananda Sonowal as the chief ministerial candidate is also a factor that has driven voter sentiments towards the BJP.
Puducherry’s longest serving chief minister, N Rangaswamy, is currently facing a strong anti-incumbency wave in this election. He, however, hopes his party AINRC’s alliance with the BJP may bring him votes this time as people may consider the tie-up with the ruling party at the Centre as advantageous for the Union territory.
On the other hand, many voters have been critical of the 15-year-old Rangaswamy regime for the lack of development, rising unemployment and rise in prices. The opposition Congress has also been criticising the AINRC government on these issues for some time. It has also raised the issue of the government’s failure to give salaries to its employees on time. Another election issue is the delay in obtaining statehood.
For many women voters, lack of reservations in the Panchayati Raj elections is also a key poll issue. At 81.94%, Puducherry recorded the highest voter turnout among the regions that went to the polls on May 16.