FPJ Edit: With poll season upon us, forget governance, political slugfest  will rule

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s wish for simultaneous polls for the Lok Sabha and state assemblies has singular merit insofar as it would help governance dominate the discourse for at least four-and-half years ahead of the five-yearly electoral cycle. But realising that one-country, one-poll goal seems hard, especially given so much partisan politics all around.

Having said that, let us say that weeks before the Election Commission set out the schedule for the latest round of assembly elections, the ruling BJP was already in election mode. So driven is its leadership that almost round-the-year, it engages in revving up the organisation machine, enlisting new members, weaning away leaders from other parties and generally spreading the message of its goodness and honourable intentions. In Modi, it has a one-man army which is willing and ready to crush challenge from all quarters.

Now, of the four states, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Assam and West Bengal and the lone Union Territory of Puducherry, which will elect new legislatures between March 27 and April 29, without doubt, the most significant outcome will be in West Bengal. Never before in the history of the Republic has an election in the state mattered so much as it does now.

The result will impact the national polity whether or Mamata Banerjee succeeds in repulsing the concerted saffron onslaught. The motley Opposition, dejected and in complete disarray, will sink further into despair should the BJP deny the Trinamool Congress a successive third term in power. Consequently, the BJP success in West Bengal, a state where it was merely a post-box presence till the advent of Modi in 2014, will make the Prime Minister invincible, sending his political stock soaring higher and the Opposition, or what passes for it, disintegrating further into smithereens. (But, even as an aside, it must be conceded that in that hour of utter loss, Rahul Gandhi can be relied upon to remain unaffected, mouthing the smart-alecky one-liners devised by his out-of-touch-with-reality backroom advisers).

Of course, Mamata too is a one-woman army, leading her bedraggled troops in a war when some of her top generals have already defected to the enemy side. She cannot be easily written off, regardless of all that the BJP has thrown into this fiercest of electoral wars, with the Central investigating agencies rendering further assistance to its cause.

On the other hand, whether the alliance for survival the fast fading left and the Congress have stitched together will eat into the Trinamool vote is hard to tell, but all evidence indicates it will emerge a poor third, despite it getting on board a popular Muslim cleric. Also, Asaduddin Owaisi is set to make his foray into West Bengal, fielding his own candidates.

Any division in the near one-third Muslim vote will be to the BJP’s advantage in a highly polarised poll, with the influx of illegal Bangladesh migrants serving as a dog-whistle for the party to consolidate the majority vote behind it. It is significant that Mamata is at pains now to shake off the charge of Muslim appeasement. On its part, the BJP glories in its image of being a pro-Hindu party. In short, the West Bengal outcome will have serious national repercussions.

Meanwhile, in Tamil Nadu, the rival DMKs will slug it out yet again, with the BJP allied with the incumbent AIADMK. Post-Jayalalithaa, thanks to the Centre, Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami has consolidated his position after thwarting internal and external challenges, especially from Sasikala, who is back in action after spending four years in jail on corruption charges. For M K Stalin, it is a test of his leadership after the demise of M Karunanidhi. The contest is equally poised. The rival DMK fronts will vie for power in the neighbouring Puducherry as well.

This is the first serious attempt by the BJP to ride on the shoulders of a Dravida party into power both in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, should the AIADMK emerge victorious. In Kerala, despite much noise about the 88-year-old Metro Man E Sreedharan joining the party, it will be tough for the BJP to win more than a seat or two. Rahul Gandhi, MP from the state, can hardly bolster the Congress front when the electorate is so badly polarised.

As for Assam, despite the confusion over the CAA and the NPR, the outgoing BJP regime seems to be in a position to retain power, especially when the Congress party, after the death of former Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, lacks a charismatic leader. Overall, in the next two months, the political slugfest is set to dominate the public discourse, taking the eye off serious issues of governance. We seem to be condemned to stay perennially in the election mode.

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Free Press Journal