Of everything that is potentially in store for Indians in 2021, including work-from-office and rejuvenation of social lives, perhaps the most consequential are the upcoming assembly elections to the four states and one union territory.
It's finally here. No matter how many attempts are made to gloss over "how terrible 2020 was", even the most bereft citizen in the country cannot afford to not address the very obvious proverbial elephant in the room -- the woes of a pandemic are nothing compared to the woes of governance.
The Legislative Assembly Elections, evident in their very formats, have often been hailed by overzealours journalists and politically-charged citizenry as a testament to a regional power's grasp over local politics and in some cases, its inability over the same.
The official website for the Election Commission of India (ECI) has already charted out the list of states where the upcoming elections are due.
As we have pointed out in the past, elections in India in 2021 will include bye-elections to the Lok Sabha, elections to the Rajya Sabha, elections to legislative assemblies of 4 states and 1 union territory.
The most important of these being the elections to four key states -- Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Assam, and Kerala and the lone union territory, Puducherry -- and are expectedly on the radar of self-styled psephologists and serious election analysts, apart from pre-pollers and prediction-makers.
Virtually, a number of these states face a burgeoning anti-incumbency factor, and in the face of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)'s indomitable wave of conquest, it is also an existential question of survival and potential show of strength and ambition for significant regional parties.
Here, we break down the election scenario in each of these states and union territories, slated for polls next year:
It is only fitting to begin a discussion about the potential of regional politics and talk about the southern state of Tamil Nadu in its inception.
The state, where currently the Edappadi K Palaniswami-led All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) government is in power, is slated to steer headway into polls sometime around April or May next year.
The current regime, an ally of the BJP, officially ends its term on 21st May 2021, hoping for a public mandate ensuring its renewal.
The prospect of the elections, expectedly, has generated a lot of public interest, especially since it will be the first full-state legislative election without J. Jayalalithaa and M. Karunanidhi, both of who were stalwarts in the state's politics and only recently passed away in 2016 and 2018, respectively.
Their deaths are not only a major factor in regional politics, but also spells colossal changes for both the AIADMK and the DMK, and Dravidian politics in general.
To herald a new election simultaneously means heralding new developments and modified party strategies more suited to a rapidly-changing Tamil Nadu, with an effect to the stability of power of both uprising and longstanding politicians such as Seeman, VK Sasikala, and Kamal Haasan.
The ruling AIADMK in Tamil Nadu will be fighting the polls expectedly in alliance with its NDA partners -- the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and a host of regional parties, including the Pattali Makkal Katchi and the Tamil Maanila Congress.
Principal opposition DMK, led by Karunanidhi's son MK Stalin, will be contesting the polls in combine with the Indian National Congress, the Left parties, and a host of other parties, including the Indian Union Muslim League.
Moreover, election analysts will keep a close vigil on the other political parties contesting the polls, that have been making the headlines as well, including the Tamil Nationalist Naam Tamilar Katchi, led by Seeman, and the Amma Makkal Munnettra Kazagham, which is being led by VK Sasikala, recently back into the political stage.
Kamal Haasan's Makkal Needhi Maiam is also expected to bring interesting resuts into the equation. Notably, Tamil superstar Rajinikanth has announced that he will withdraw his decision to launch a political party and that he will not enter the electoral fray.
The ruling AIADMK in Tamil Nadu has, however, requested the Election Commission to conduct the assembly polls in the third or fourth week of April 2021, while the principal opposition DMK and other parties have pitched for single-phase polling.
Arguably (or not) the most-anticipated and closely-watched election scenario of the entire lot, all 294 seats of the West Bengal Legislative Assembly will be contested for polls around April or May next year.
The reason for pitching this scenario as the highly anticipated lies in a bitter fight between the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the challenging BJP. The menacing conflict between the two parties grows uglier with each passing day, with a stream of bloodshed, abuses, and dirty politics reported from in and around state capital Kolkata. The TMC is also dealing with a long line of defections to the BJP, triggered by veteran leader and former state minister Suvendu Adhikari switching camps.
Notably, a considerable point of interest in these elections is the fact that the BJP still has not declared a chief ministerial face for the assembly polls and, according to current strategies, is banking on the highly-publicised campaigns of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, and other stalwarts of the central BJP leadership to win the state over.
On the other hand, capitalising on the BJP's 'weak link', Chief Minister and TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee has launched a blistering campaign against the BJP, utlising the highly-charged and regional rhetoric of 'Bengalis vs outsiders', painting the BJP as the latter. To this end, however, Home Minister Amit Shah, during his recent visit to Bengal, has sent an eerie exemplar down the TMC's spine -- that BJP's chief ministerial candidate will not be an 'outsider', as Didi liked to say, but will instead be someone from the "soil of Bengal" itself.
While TMC potentially loses sleep over who BJP's CM candidate will be, let's have a look at the equations:
The Federal Front, led by the ruling Trinamool and consisting of Gorkha parties, is slated to face a bitter contest from the mighty BJP, all while the 'Mahajot' (it has a formal name -- some Secular Democratic Alliance -- although no one refers to it as such) will be looking to gain a few seats like a third pinwheel. This 'Mahajot' consists of Indian National Congress and all the parties included in the Left Front of West Bengal (and there are a lot -- from the CPI, the CPI(M), and the CPI(M-L) to the RSP and the Forward Bloc) and although it isn't expected to pack much of a serious punch in terms of opposition, their participation might throw up interesting post-poll possibilities.
On the other hand, a fourth silent contender, the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM)'s decision to contest the polls has jumbled up pro-TMC psephologists and pre-poll calculations. It will be interesting to watch which way the Muslim vote sides in the face of a highly-dramatised Hindu nationalist 'threat' from the saffron camp, that AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi has repeatedly stressed of.
Currenly governed by the Sarbananda Sonowal-led BJP regime, Assam is slated for polls in April 2021.
The prospect of elections in Assam this year has generated a considerable amount of enthusiasm, especially in the previous elections in 2016, the polls brought a change of power.
The Indian National Congress (INC), which had formed the government under Tarun Gogoi since 2001, lost its majority to the Bharatiya Janata Party led by Sarbananda Sonowal.
The National Democratic Alliance (NDA), led by the BJP, is looking to secure its foothold in the state, being supported by Atul Bora's Asom Gana Parishad and other regional parties like the United People's Party Liberal and the Gana Suraksha Party.
Meanwhile, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), led by Congress and consisting of the Left parties, will be looking to get the reigns of governance back, with it roping in Badruddin Ajmal's All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), which commands a significant support base among Muslims of Bengali descent.
With the increasingly vicious row over "illegal foreigners" in Assam and the contention over the 1985 Assam Accord and National Register of Citizens (NRC), the polls are eagerly awaited for by election-enthusiasts across India.
Basking in the glory of the ruling Left front's resounding success in the local body elections, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan is now getting ready for a state tour covering all districts eyeing the assembly polls which is just months away.
The 2021 Kerala Legislative Assembly election is scheduled to be held in Kerala in May 2021 to elect 140 MLAs to the 15th Kerala Legislative Assembly. The tenure of the members of the 14th Legislative Assembly in the state will end on 1 June 2021.
In the previous elections in 2016, the Left Democratic Front (LDF) had won the election bagging around two-third of the total seats to the assembly, defeating the incumbent United Democratic Front (UDF), led by the Indian National Congress (INC), which could only win 47 seats in the election. The BJP won one seat, and the remaining seat was won by an independent, who later formed the party Kerala Janapaksham (Secular).
The Jose faction which had developed within Kerala Congress (M) was suspended from UDF for internal factionalism in 2020, and later joined LDF. Another major change that occurred after 2016 was the entry of Loktantrik Janata Dal and Indian National League into LDF.
The ruling CPI(M) is eyeing to repeat the local body polls' success saga in the assembly elections, packing the Left Democratic Front (LDF), which consists of parties like the Kerala Congress (B) and the Nationalist Congress Party, in addititon to the CPI and the CPI(M).
Opposing it will be the UDF, consisting the Congress, the Indian Union Muslim League, and the Kerala Congress' Jacob front and a few other Left parties, including the Comunist Marxist Party (John faction) and the All India Forward Bloc.
Meanwhile, the NDA, led by BJP and consisting of the Thomas faction of the Kerala Congress.
Last in this long line of assembly elections, but certainly not the least, is one lone union territory -- Puducherry, where Legislative Assembly elections are scheduled to be held in May 2021.
With the support of the DMK party, the Congress, led by V Narayanasamy, had emerged as the single-largest party in 2016, forming the government and bringing a change of power as the All India N.R. Congress (AINRC), which had formed the government under N. Rangaswamy, lost its majority.
The upcoming polls are slated to be a tough contest between the UPA, formed of Congress and DMK -- and the NDA, with the BJP, All India NR Congress, and the AIADMK, among other parties.
Apart from the assembly polls, three parliamentary bye-elections are also scheduled in Kanyakumari (Tamil Nadu), Tirupati (Andhra Pradesh), and Belgaum (Karnataka). There are also several assembly bye-elections in -- Gujarat, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Odisha, Rajasthan, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, and Uttarakhand, respectively.
All in all, regardless of whether the pandemic is subdued in its impacts, psephologists will be kept busy with enough elections on due.