Another round of Assembly elections is due this year. Puducherry, Assam, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Kerala are set to elect new Assemblies during the year.
Ideally, elections in all these states ought to be conducted simultaneously. This would help save valuable time and energy of all those who have a direct or indirect stake in the outcome. Whether or not the ruling BJP has a stake in any of the states going to the polls in 2016, there can be no denying that the ruling party at the Centre somehow comes to be involved in the electoral process.
To that extent, it would help if all the elections are held simultaneously. However, after the bitter experience of Bihar the BJP leadership has rightly chosen not to hype its chances in any of the Assembly elections. Hyping Bihar had caused the party an avoidable loss of face.
For, at no time before had the BJP done as well as it actually did despite the win of the three-party grand alliance in the state. In fact, the BJP improved its vote percentage, barring, of course, the Modi-fied Lok Sabha election. BJP was never a major force in united Bihar; the part where it had a strong presence was hived off to create the separate state of Jharkhand.
Under the circumstances, the party did not do badly in spite of the grand alliance of the JD(U), RJD and the Congress Party. Yet, the outcome appeared to be a huge setback. Therefore, it is right in not making much hullaballoo about its prospects in any of the states where elections are due later this year.
Being the ruling party at the Centre, the outcome will have a bearing on the Centre to the extent that its future numbers in the Rajya Sabha would depend crucially on how it fares in the state polls. But it is common knowledge that aside from Assam, the party has hardly any chance of winning in any of the states going to the polls.
Maybe it is this realisation that has spurred the secularist class to make overtures to the Muslim-centric All India United Democratic Front led by Badruddin Ajmal. Given the changing demographics in Assam in favour of the minority community, especially due to the unending influx of Bangladeshis, Ajmal has gained much clout in the electoral calculus of the so-called secular parties.
After the victory of the grand alliance in Bihar, Nitish Kumar sought to expand his brand value. He reportedly sent feelers to the big-time perfume merchant who had plunged into politics to consolidate the sizable Muslim presence in Assam and now aspires to a larger footprint wherever there is significant minority presence.
Given the anxiety of the secularists to defeat the BJP, it would not be a surprise if Ajmal came to wield much greater weight in the national polity than is actually warranted by his limited hold on a part of the Assam electorate.
In short, the point is that even in Assam the effort is on to forge an all-embracing anti-BJP alliance, though the anti-incumbency against Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, now into his third successive term, is a huge factor in favour of the saffron party.
As for the other states where the elections are due this year, a win or loss in Puducherry would matter little. In Tamil Nadu, the BJP can be accommodated by the ruling AIADMK, which appears on a strong wicket to retain power, with the grant of a handful of seats where it has a visible presence; otherwise, an alliance of smaller parties minus the two DMKs seems most likely.
In Kerala, the party is trying to line up the influential Nair Samaj behind it, but it cannot expect to make a breakthrough even if the hold of the rival Congress – and-Communist-led fronts on the voters has weakened considerably.
In West Bengal, another state set to elect a new Assembly this year, despite the noises made by the BJP, it will be hard for the party to notch up a double- figure seat tally, though a lot will depend on how the major parties forge alliances.
Should the Congress and the Marxists decide to fight together in West Bengal — highly unlikely, though — and against each other in Kerala, Mamata Banerjee could face stiffer opposition than is otherwise on the cards.
Admittedly, the performance of the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress in power has been lackluster but a state which happily kept the Communists in power for over three decades is unlikely to show the door to Mamata Banerjee after a mere five years. However, whether or not she wins comfortably, the BJP can have no reason to look forward to the outcome even in West Bengal.