The poll battle is yet to pick up steam, though even before the process had got underway the tussle in West Bengal was making headlines due to the sheer intensity of the contest ahead. The two states where, by all accounts, incumbents are likely to retain power are Assam and Kerala.
In Assam, the BJP-led Sarbananda Sonowal government is confident of repulsing the combined challenge of the Congress and the All India United Democratic Front of Badruddin Ajmal. It is targeting the Congress for succumbing to the pressure of the illegal Bangladeshi Muslim-centric AIUDF and thus opening the floodgates for more illegals to enter the state. The Congress is also handicapped by the lack of a senior leader after the death of former chief minister Tarun Gogoi. On its part, the BJP is hard put to assuage the grievances of the Hindu Bengalis many of whom had found their names in the list of illegal migrants drawn up two years ago.
The controversy over the Citizens’ Amendment Act and the National Population Register too had confused its supporters, but it seems the party has succeeded in clearing the air. Meanwhile, attempts to sow confusion over the leadership issue are unlikely to succeed since Himanta Biswa Sarma is contesting the poll and may well replace Sonowal as chief minister while the latter can move to the Centre. As the BJP’s pointsperson for the entire north-east, Sarma has earned the goodwill of the central leadership and expects to be rewarded with the CM’s post in case the party returns to power.
Another state where, contrary to the trend thus far, the outgoing regime is most likely to retain power is Kerala. Despite embroiled in the on-going gold smuggling scam, in which his own principal secretary is a suspect, Marxist Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan is cleverly manipulating the caste- and religion-based loyalties to retain power. Vijayan has not shied away from denying tickets even to senior comrades and has roped in the Kerala Congress (Mani) from the rival Congress-led United Democratic Front. All parties have faced dissidence over ticket distribution with some aspirants even choosing to quit in protest. But these are usual contretemps, common to all parties at this time and not much importance need be attached to them.
However, the plight of the Congress Party in the state is particularly bad, with factionalism running so deep that a senior leader like P C Chacko resigned from the party in disgust. On Tuesday, Chacko joined the NCP, though the NCP has little presence in Kerala. Alliances and loyalties have lost all meaning in the present-day politics, with the NCP claiming to be a member of the Left Front in Kerala, and supporting Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal, while sharing power with the Congress and the Shiv Sena as part of the ruling alliance in Maharashtra.
In other words, parties such as the NCP are willing to lend their name and symbol outside their limited sphere of influence to whoever comes forward to seek shelter under their label. An interesting feature of the battle in Kerala this time is the renewed effort by the BJP to prove itself as a serious third force in the state. It has roped in the Metro Man, 88-year-old E Sreedharan to contest on its ticket. Also, it has wooed a section of the Christian community and Nairs to its side. An accretion in its vote-share can come only from cutting into the traditional votes of the rival fronts.