On December 11, we will know which party forms the government in each of the five states that are going to polls from November 12 to December 7. But more importantly, the results will also decide the tone for the opposition unity and the fate of the anti-BJP front for 2019. So, how are the two national parties, the BJP and the Congress, placed in the five assembly elections, particularly in the three heartland states, where they are in one-to-one contest? Has the Congress-TDP alliance changed the electoral landscape of Telangana which was supposed to go the KCR-led TRS way a month ago? Lastly, which way will Mizoram vote?
According to the latest C Voter survey, while the Congress is well ahead of the BJP in Rajasthan, in Madhya Pradesh (MP) it’s going to be a very close fight between the two parties and Chhattisgarh is likely to be a cliff-hanger. In Mizoram, the survey does not give a clear majority to any party This is more or less in line with earlier elections surveys of August-September. However, the C Voter survey has projected a clear majority to Congress-TDP combine in Telangana where the two parties recently decided to fight the election together in an anti-TRS alliance. This is a major change since the Telangana assembly was dissolved on September 6 when TRS had the first mover advantage over other political parties. Since then, political developments have changed the electoral arithmetic in the state, which could be a big boost for an anti-BJP front at the national level.
Compared with earlier trends and opinion polls, the latest survey would be a confidence booster for the Congress. A deeper analysis of the survey reveals that the Congress could possibly have a clean sweep in Rajasthan and has an edge over the BJP in MP, though it is going to be a close race; Chhattisgarh is going to be equally tight because of a three-way fight with Ajit Jogi-Mayawati playing a vote-splitting role. Mizoram will also be a triangular fight between the Congress, Mizo National Front (MNF) and Zoram People’s Movement (ZPM). If the survey’s prediction holds in Telangana, then the outcome could be a big setback for KCR who might have to regret for his ‘biggest buffoon’ jab at Rahul Gandhi earlier in September.
Political parties often react on expected lines to opinion polls: they debunk surveys when predictions do not favour them but do not contest them when the predictions are favourable. It is no surprise then that the BJP has rejected all opinion polls. BJP spokesman Bijay Sonkar Shastri has claimed that his party is heading for a ‘big victory’ in MP, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. The BJP is also relying on its ‘magic man’ (Prime Minister Modi) to give a boost to its electoral prospects in the three heartland states. On the other hand, the Congress has said the survey predictions are ‘heartening and interesting’. Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said his party is headed to win in Chhattisgarh, MP, Rajasthan and also in Telangana in a resounding manner and retain Mizoram.
Let’s have a look at the survey data in terms of vote share and seat projections. In Rajasthan, where anti-incumbency is said to be very high against chief minister Vasundhara Raje and her party, the survey has predicted an 8 per cent lead in vote share for the Congress over BJP. This will result in an impressive win for the Congress with 145 seats and 47.9 per cent vote share, against 45 seats for the BJP with 39.7 per cent vote share. This is because, according to the survey, the chief minister and her government are both unpopular and the trend is unlikely to change much; the survey also rules out any possibility of the BJP bridging the gap with the Congress by a late surge in support. So, rule out the possibility of Modi playing his ‘magic man’ cameo for BJP in Rajasthan.
While the BJP is hoping that Modi will ensure victory for the party in a neck-to-neck race in MP and Chhattisgarh, the survey, however, has predicted that the Congress may return to power in MP after 15 years with a simple majority of 116 seats and 42.3 per cent vote share; the BJP is likely to get 107 seats and 41.5 per cent vote share. Since the Congress’s advantage is within the statistical margin of error, the survey does not rule out the possibility of the situation changing in the final days. But more than MP, Chhattisgarh is the real cliff-hanger: the 2013 assembly election was decided by 0.7 per cent vote share difference and this time it is expected to be even tighter. In earlier surveys, the Congress had better advantage over the BJP. But now the advantage has been reduced to a shard: 42.2 per cent vote share for the Congress against 41.6 per cent for the BJP. This is because of Ajit Jogi-Mayawati factor; they are likely to prove spoilers for the Congress. As a result, the survey gives 41 seats to Congress and 43 to BJP.
Moving on to the North-east, Mizoram is the only state where the Congress is in power in the region. The survey’s prediction is that since the state polity is divided between the Congress, MNF and ZPM, no party is likely to get a clear majority. The opinion poll gives 17 seats to MNF, 12 to Congress and nine to ZPM. If the Congress loses out its last government in the region, it will have implications on the party’s electoral prospects in 2019 general elections in the North-east which has 25 Lok Sabha seats. However, Telangana down south is likely to deliver favourable outcome for the grand old party, thanks to the Congress-TDP alliance which is ahead of TRS by 4.5 per cent vote share. With 33.9 per cent vote share, the survey predicts 64 seats to the Congress-TDP alliance.
A loss for KCR will alter the electoral landscape in the state and neighbouring Andhra Pradesh. A victory for the Congress-TDP combine will precipitate the formation of a grand alliance at the centre for 2019 parliamentary polls. It is why the BJP is not putting up an aggressive fight in Telangana; a win for TRS will give the BJP an option to explore a tie-up for Lok Sabha polls. Therefore, apart from the election results in the heartland states, the outcome in Telangana will set the tone for the opposition for 2019.
A L I Chougule is an independent senior journalist.