Executive Director, C Voter Foundation
The Election Commission has announced the schedule for assembly elections to five states that will be conducted in November, 2023. The results are slated to be announced on December 3. While Mizoram is a small state in the north east with just 40 seats, the other four states Telangana, Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan could have an impact on national politics. More significantly, the Congress has ambitious and concrete plans to retain or win all four states. Even more significantly, it will be a straight fight between the Congress and the BJP in all three heartland states. If the Congress has any chance of leading an opposition coalition to an unlikely victory in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, it will have to defeat the BJP in states where it is in direct contest with the party.
Looking at the numbers being thrown up by opinion polls by leading agencies like Cvoter, the Congress appears set to win three states while it is projected to lose Rajasthan to the BJP. The most spectacular comeback of the Congress seems to be happening in Telangana. When the UPA was in power, Telangana was created as a separate state in 2014. The Congress had hoped to cash in with the voters of Telangana but the K. C. Rao led regional party TRS had walked away with victory. In the second assembly elections to the state in 2018, the Congress had performed miserably, winning just 15 of the 119 seats on offer while the TRS won a massive repeat mandate. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and in Hyderabad municipal elections after that, the BJP emerged as a powerful force and threatened to dislodge the Congress as the main opposition party. But the turnaround for Congress has been remarkable after that. According to CVoter opinion polls, the Congress is projected to come tantalisingly close to the majority mark of 60. Past data shows that when a party is leading in opinion polls, it usually secures a mandate when elections actually happen.
Another state where projections show the Congress as a clear winner is Chattisgarh. After 15 years of BJP rule since 2003, anti incumbency was so strong in 2018 that the Congress won a landslide victory winning 68 of the 90 seats on offer. There seemed to be trouble for the party in 2021 as a senior Congress leader T. S. Deo wanted to replace Bhupesh Baghel as the chief minister. Luckily for the party, the issue was resolved and Bhupesh Baghel is being projected as the CM candidate by the party. In all likelihood, he will continue as the chief minister when the suits are announced on December 3. Madhya Pradesh is yet another state where the Congress is likely to win. In fact, the Congress had formed a government in 2018 by winning more seats than the BJP in assembly elections, though it was short of a majority. However, a revolt led by Jyotiraditya Scindia in March 2020 led to the collapse of the Kamal Nath led Congress government and Shivraj Singh Chauhan came back as chief minister. Kamal Nath has been declared the CM candidate by the Congress. According to CVoter polls, the party is likely to win a simple majority when results are declared.
The only state where the BJP is projected to defeat the Congress and come back to power is Rajasthan. The state has a history of not giving a repeat mandate to any party. So Ashok Gehlot has been chief minister thrice in 1998, 2008 and 2018 while Vasundhara Raje Scindia has been chief minister twice in 2003 and 2013. But there is one factor working in favour of the Congress this time. In fighting within the BJP seems to be so strong that the party has not announced Vasundhara Scindia as the CM candidate in this election, leading to confusion among BJP supporters. In fact, in a mysterious move, the BJP has not announced former Chattisgarh CM as its candidate. It has refused to announce even Shivraj Singh Chauhan as the party face, leading to considerable embarrassment for the sitting chief minister. For some strange reason, the party has decided that Narendra Modi will be the face of the BJP in all the four major states. Recent electoral history suggests that the party often loses elections to assemblies when Modi becomes the face and the opposition parties have a strong regional leader as the contender. To that extent, it is advantage Congress as it looks poised to win three of the four major states.
It will give tremendous confidence to the Congress as it starts preparing for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections in earnest. But any such confidence could well be misplaced. Modi as a face may not work in assembly elections. But it works like magic when he is the prime ministerial candidate in Lok Sabha elections. In 2018, the Congress won assembly elections to all three states Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh. But in the Lok Sabha elections that followed a few months later, the BJP won 64 of the 65 Lok Sabha seats from these states. The key reason: Indian voters overwhelming prefer Modi over Rahul Gandhi as the prime minister. There are no signs that this has changed.
This is the personal opinion of the author. The views expressed in this write-up have nothing to do with www.prameyanews.com.