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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 49 December 2, 2023

2023 Year end Assembly Elections in States: Issues and portends for future | P S Jayaramu

Saturday 2 December 2023


29th November 2023

Campaigning and elections to the legislative assemblies of five states barring that of Telangana, which will go to the polls on 30th are over. All eyes are on the outcomes to be out on 3rd December.

Now that the din and noise of campaigning is behind us, it is time to ponder over dispassionately issues like the promises of Political Parties, their campaign strategies, organisational strengths and weaknesses, and last but not least the money power wielded by the Parties.

Let me take up first the competitive promises made by the contending Parties, described by Prime Minister Modi as ‘revdi culture’ of the opposition Parties. But, Midi forgets the fact that the BJP too has made similar promises to the electorate, like the ‘ladli behana’ benefits to the women voters in Madhya Pradesh. The Congress Party, on its part, took a leaf out of its five guarantees which brought it to power in Karnataka in May 2023. The Party made six promises in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Telangana. On a more serious note, we need to understand the difference between the legitimate promises that a Party can include in its manifesto as part of welfare measures to confer benefits to the electorate. It must be underscored that it is the legitimate right of the voters to expect jobs, holding of prices at a level which would be affordable to them, specially the poor and the lower middle classes, infrastructural facilities like roads, electricity, and proper drinking water. But, Parties promising scootys to the voters, like the promise made by the BRS (formerly TRS) in Telangana, gadgets like tablets and laptops to the youth, are clearly in the category of luring the voters by the Parties. The promise of free electricity to the tune of 200 units of free power, which the Congress Party made in Karnataka,(the programme is implemented too in the State) though it reduced it to 150 units in Madhya Pradesh and elsewhere are clearly going to cause strains on the state exchequer if they capture power. The competitive promises, nay lurings, made by the BJP and the major Opposition Parties this time round, in a way, reduced the accent on political polarisation, indulged in by them during campaign speeches.

Questions have been raised as to whether the Election Commission can impose restrictions on Political Parties and rein them in to ensure a level playing field and bring in some sense of sanity to the electoral contest. The EC has, by and large, remained reluctant to intervene in this area, except by asking ruling Parties not to pass on financial benefits to the electorate during the operation of the model code of conduct, as it did with reference to the BRS government in Telangana. While the Parties themselves should lay down a ‘lakshman rekha’ in this regard, it is expected that the voters too would not get carried away by the freebees while casting their vote.

As regards the organisational strength and the availability of money power, the BJP undoubtedly enjoyed superiority over the Congress and the regional Parties. Frequent visits and campaigns by Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah in the five states, notably in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Telangana, including the road shows by Narendra Modi reaffirmed the feeling that the state leaderships have been sidelined in electoral campaigns. Unmistakably, Modi continues to the BJP’s mascot and vote-getter. This excessive dependence on Modi points to the weakness of the BJP as a national party. On the other hand, the Congress campaign, specially in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chattisgarh was largely carried out by state leaders, with Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra addressing the electorate to vote for the party.

Regarding money power, the BJP enjoyed a far greater advantage than the Congress Party, while the BRS is accused of spending money on a lavish scale in Telangana.

As for the issues, by and large, local issues played a significant role, though the BJP and Narendra Modi went around publicising the ‘success’ of central schemes in operation in the States. The Party even went to the extent of warning the electorate that a vote to the Opposition may mean the ending of central schemes.

The outcome of the five assembly elections, specially that of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chattisgarh would have a direct bearing on the BJP and the policies of Narendra Modi government. A victory to the BJP would be a morale booster to the BJP to face the Lok Sabha elections more confidently. On the other hand, loss of power in Madhya Pradesh and retention of power by the Congress Party in Rajasthan and Chattisgarh would, in a way be a message to the BJP about the myth of Modi’s invincibility. Congress’s victory at the hustings would signal two things. Firstly, the emergence of the Congress as the pivot around which, the I. N. D. I. A alliance will have to take on the BJP in the 2024 Parliamentary polls. Secondly, it would mean to a significant extent the emergence of Rahul Gandhi as a strong leader with battle lines drawn between Modi and Rahul Gandhi. A Congress victory in Telangana, which some analysts are not ruling out, would further catapult the Party to the national stage in a spectacular way. Viewed from this perspective, the outcome of the assembly polls would be a pointer to the national trend in 2024.

(Author: Dr. P. S. Jayaramu is former Professor of Political Science, Bangalore University and former Senior Fellow, ICSSR, New Delhi)

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