The year 2021 has started with positive news around the vaccine. With green signal to two vaccines, India is all set to immunise 3 crore healthcare workers in the first stage. The positive cases have also declined and life is likely to slowly return to normalcy.
Amidst all this, we also have four state elections scheduled in April-May of this year: Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Assam and West Bengal.
The Bharatiya Janata Party is in power in Assam, the Left Front rules Kerala, the AIADMK is at the helm in Tamil Nadu, and the Trinamool Congress lords over West Bengal.
These state elections are important for the political parties for a variety of reasons.
The BJP needs to retain Assam to show its victory wasn’t a fluke in 2016 and maintain its grip over the North-East. TMC needs to win in Bengal to stop the BJP juggernaut in the state.
The Left Front needs to retain Kerala to prevent a whitewash from the Indian political landscape. And the AIADMK needs to retain Tamil Nadu to prevent disintegration of the party, which is a distinct possibility in case of a loss.
Each of these state elections also have peculiar characteristics and complexities.
Assam has been the hotbed of CAA/NRC politics. In the final NRC list, some 12 lakh Hindu and Bengali names were excluded, as per news reports. Could this gamble backfire for the BJP?
Bengal is witnessing a polarization never seen before. The Hindu awakening during the 2019 Lok Sabha has exposed the minority appeasement politics of the TMC. An otherwise class battle has taken a caste turn.
Kerala is witnessing a close contest between the CPM-led Left Democratic Front and Congress-led United Democratic Front.
The LDF, by emerging on top in the local body elections, is posing a tough challenge to the strong trend of change of government every five years.
Tamil Nadu will be having the first election after the death of stalwarts J Jayalalithaa and K Karunanidhi. The entry of Kamal Hassan, Rajinikanth’s flip-flop, tensions between National Democratic Alliance partners and the presence of many small parties in the fray, have made the contest exciting.
The NDA is witnessing a churn in the state of Assam. The Bodoland People’s Front, with whom BJP won the state elections along with Assam Gana Parishad, has left the alliance. The United People’s Party Liberal (UPPL) is expected to replace the BPF in the NDA.
The Congress is still undecided about the alliance with Muslim radical party, AIUDF. A couple of regional parties, like the AJP and the Raijor Dal, have also cropped up to make the elections multi-cornered and more interesting.
The Congress has been orphaned with the death of former state chief minister Tarun Gogoi. Yet, it is not going to be easy for the BJP as there is some dissatisfaction among its core Hindu and Bengali voters due to being left out of the final NRC list.
The BJP is in serious contention to win Bengal having relegated the Left Front to the third position. The contest is between the BJP and the TMC. The party has emulated the same strategy it used to finish off Congress at the centre.
It has made serious allegations of corruption, minority appeasement and ‘dynasty politics’ against the TMC. It is poaching rebels to weaken the party: the recent induction of Suvendu Adhikari, being a case in point. The party has put all its might in the state elections as it smells victory.
On the other hand, though the TMC is facing anti-incumbency of a 10-year-long rule, it is banking on Mamata's charisma and a split in opposition votes. The BJP also does not have a chief ministerial face to boast of in Bengal.
While the BJP would attempt to make it a Modi versus Mamata fight, the TMC is banking on ‘amra’ versus ‘ora’, Bengalis’ sub-nationalism versus outsiders.
The Left Front and the Congress are facing an existential crisis. The Left lost significant vote share to the BJP in the Lok Sabha polls.
It will be interesting to see if it regains some of the lost support. If it does well, it could damage the BJP’s prospects in the state and the TMC’s prospects in minority-dominated regions of Bengal.
The state has exhibited a strong trend of overthrowing incumbent governments every five years. Going by the trend, it is the turn of Congress-led UDF to make a comeback.
However, the LDF was leading in the recently concluded local body elections despite the gold smuggling case, mishandling of COVID-19 and corruption allegations.
Whichever party wins the local polls in the state normally goes on to win the state elections as well. There are two contrasting trends in play.
The Congress has been weakened by the absence of Oomen Chandy from the scene and exit of Kerala Congress. KC has joined the LDF and bolstered its chances in the municipal polls. It brought a section of Christain voters to the LDF fold.
Although the Congress lost the local body polls, in terms of vote share, both UDF and LDF received almost similar support. The strong penchant of people of the state for change can still tilt the scale in favour of the UDF.
The top leadership of the BJP isn’t focussing much in Kerala as it sees a better chance in Bengal. The BJP has not yet been able to make inroads into the Hindu vote bank of the CPM and the party is likely to make a serious bid only in 2026, making it a two-way contest between UDF and LDF currently.
If the Left loses in Kerala, it will be the first time since 1977, that it will not be in power in any state in the country.
In Tamil Nadu, the AIADMK-led alliance is facing a tough contest against the DMK-led front. In fact, most pundits predict a DMK win: only the scale of victory is the point of debate.
Like Kerala, Tamil Nadu too is witness to alternate party rule. In 2016, the Jayalalithaa-led AIADMK managed to break the trend riding on populist schemes, lack of clear leadership in the DMK, and a split in opposition votes, with the PMK hurting the DMK’s chances in scores of seats.
With Jayalalithaa’s death, factionalism within the party and uneasy relations with ally BJP, the AIADMK led front is on a sticky wicket. Although Rajinikanth's decision to not contest elections or enter electoral politics has given a sigh of relief to both the groups, the DMK-led front is also facing issues.
The Left and the Congress are unhappy with seat distribution. MK Stalin is facing a rebellion from brother MK Alagiri. There is already a cold war brewing between family members over who is the true heir to the party’s throne.
To sum up, all the four state elections are quite interesting and difficult to predict. The results are likely to have far reaching consequences for parties in this decade.