The elections in the four States (Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal) and one Union Territory (Puducherry) provides an interesting reference point for the politics of India. The national parties, ie, Bharatiya Janata Party, Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Indian National Congress are facing a litmus test. The TMC, BJP, CPI(M) and the INC are keen to retain power in West Bengal, Assam, Kerala and Puducherry respectively, whereas the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) is making all efforts to return to the power corridor in Tamil Nadu.
Each of these States represents a variety of cultural, linguistic, socio-economic and political scenario. What is striking in the 2021 elections is the political heterogeneity. This can be seen not only between the States but also within the State politics. To illustrate, the emergence of new State parties such as Makkal Needhi Maiam (formed in 2018) led by actor-turned-politician Kamal Haasan in Tamil Nadu and in Assam, Assam Jatiya Parishad, Anchalik Gana Morcha (AGM), Raijor Dal and United Regional Party-Assam (URPA). Most of the State political parties in Assam were formed in 2020 in the wake of the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019-National Register of Citizens conundrum.
As far as the BJP is concerned, it needs to be seen how the voters will respond to the reform measures initiated in the domains of agriculture, banking and labour. Except, in Tamil Nadu, there is a fierce battle between the BJP and other parties. The fight is intense in Assam owing to issues such as dilution of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, notwithstanding “The Comprehensive Bodo Settlement Agreement, 2020” and the constitution of Bodoland Territorial Council with necessary legislative and financial authority. These elections are a people’s referendum on the Union government’s policies.
The electoral success of the BJP in Assam depends upon the voting pattern in lower Assam consisting of nine districts, wherein the Muslim community forms the majority. The party’s stand for implementing Clause-6 of the Assam Accord in letter and spirit is going to influence the voting behaviour and pattern. With the tenure of interlocutor AB Mathur ending in April 2020, the peace talks between the Union government and the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) has halted.
Even months before the election announcement, political heat was generated in West Bengal, especially on the issue of curbing the entry of illegal migrants from Bangladesh. The BJP has set up ‘Mission 200 Seats’, and the higher political leadership, including the Prime Minister, Home Minister and the national party president all are actively involved in poll campaign. To attract women voters as a counter-strategy to the popularity of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Union Home Minister Amit Shah promised 33% reservation of seats for them in government jobs.
On the other hand, Mamata has promised minimum income support for the households and 5 lakh jobs to check the growing unemployment rate and also promised that she would not allow the implementation of NRC-NPR in the State. The problem of illegal migration cuts across Assam and West Bengal. Recently, Minister of State for Home, Nityanand Rai, highlighted that the land acquisition proposal to construct fencing across the Indo-Bangladesh border was yet to be cleared by the government of West Bengal. He made an observation that the State government has not been effective in curbing infiltration from Bangladesh.
Coming to the Southern States, Kerala depicts an interesting debate in the wake of stalemate between the State and the Union government. The Kerala Assembly has passed a resolution against the Centre’s farm laws. The controversy around Sabarimala, gold and foreign currency smuggling case, and political killings, etc, are some of the issues upon which the BJP is trying its best to enhance its vote share. The party is hoping to turn the tables as it believes the ruling dispensation has failed in delivering governance and development outcomes.
The core Hindutva agenda did not yield any electoral outcomes for the party in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, though the vote share marginally increased. Can Metroman E Sreedharan deliver for the BJP? The Communist-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) is having high hopes on the basis of its performance in effectively tackling Covid through local governance and migrant workers welfare policies.
Tamil Nadu, Puducherry
In Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, the BJP is hoping to open its account by breaking the tradition. The party’s vote share has gone up 0.6% from 2.2% in 2011 to 2.8% in 2016. Eyebrows were raised when the BJP chose cop-turned-politician K Annamalai for the Aravakurichi constituency. The abstention of India from voting in the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolution for inquiry into war crimes allegations against Sri Lanka might affect the party’s performance in the State. It needs to be seen how the voter of Tamil Nadu responds to the decision of the Centre on the issue of human rights violations in Sri Lanka.
Can the Congress retain power in Puducherry? On the other hand, N Rangaswamy, popularly known as people’s CM, is hoping to get back to power by enhancing the vote share and with a post-poll AINRC-BJP alliance.
The rise of political defections across the country is a worrisome phenomenon and is certainly shaking the foundations of parliamentary democracy. The Assembly elections 2021 will truly test the endurance of Indian democracy and its resilience to withstand the pressures and strains. One thing is clear; these State elections signify the battle of electoral centralised governance versus institutional decentralised governance as laid down in the Constitution.
(The author is a PhD Fellow, Centre for Political Institutions, Governance and Development — Institute for Social and Economic Change [ISEC], Bengaluru. Views are personal)
Now you can get handpicked stories from Telangana Today on Telegram everyday. Click the link to subscribe.