New Delhi: The Election Commission of India Friday announced the schedule for assembly elections in West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Assam and Puducherry.
Assam election will be held in three phases on 27 March, 1 April and 6 April.
Kerala will have a single phase election, to be held on 6 April. The by-election to the vacant seat of Malappuram constituency in Kerala will be held simultaneously.
On the same day, single phase elections will be held in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry as well.
West Bengal elections will be held in eight phases, beginning 27 March and ending on 29 April.
Counting of all votes will take place on 2 May, announced Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora.
The stakes are high for national and regional parties contesting these elections. It will decide the success or failure of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s expansion plans in the south and in West Bengal where it fancies a chance to come to power the first time ever. Facing questions from a section of the party, the Gandhi family would look to consolidate its position through an improved performance in these polls.
Adverse results may, however, further precipitate the crisis in the opposition party.
While the BJP is seeking to retain power in Assam where it formed the government for the first time in 2016, West Bengal is its prime target where it has already replaced the Left and the Congress as the principal opposition party.
The BJP is also putting its best foot forward in Tamil Nadu where it hopes to expand its footprints riding piggyback on the ruling AIADMK, its ally.
The BJP has never been a part of the Tamil Nadu government. For the Congress, its real hopes lie in Kerala where the Left Democratic Front is facing anti-incumbency and the BJP is yet to emerge as a big contender. The Congress is the principal opposition in Assam, too, where it has forged an alliance with Badruddin Ajmal’s AIUDF and other parties.
The BJP has big stakes in Assam where it is facing backlash from indigenous communities due to the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
The union territory of Puducherry may be small but the election has assumed significance in the backdrop of the ouster of the Congress government a few days ago. The BJP does not have an MLA in the UT but it seeks to piggyback on its allies, NR Congress and the AIADMK to gain entry into power. President’s Rule was imposed on Puducherry after the fall of the Congress–led government.
High-pitched Bengal battle
The stakes are high for West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who is fighting a fierce battle to retain her chair.
Pitted against the BJP, which has been making steady inroads in the state following an impressive Lok Sabha performance, the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) has already announced a number of welfare measures to woo voters.
However, with many top leaders from the TMC defecting to the BJP, the party is caught in a fix.
The BJP, meanwhile, has deputed senior party leaders in Bengal to spearhead its election campaign, which is focused on transforming the state into ‘Sonar Bangla’.
With each passing day, the political battle in Bengal seems to be getting fiercer and uglier with killings, clashes, and abuses being hurled at each other.
The TMC has been attacking the BJP for not declaring a CM face yet.
However, to counter this the BJP is focusing on highlighting the work done by the central government under PM Modi and has kept the focus of the campaign on the prime minister and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, besides other senior ministers and leaders who have already started campaigning.
The BJP leadership is also caught in a bind as voters in Bengal and Assam hold opposing views on the much debated CAA.
In Bengal, the Matua community, among others, have been waiting for the CAA to be implemented. But it’s the opposite in Assam, where the BJP is in power and many indigenous communities have been opposing the implementation of the law.
In Assam, the elections are not only significant for the incumbent BJP led by CM Sarbananda Sonowal, but for the opposition Congress too, which was dislodged by the BJP in 2016.
The Congress had been in power in the state since 2001 under late Congress leader Tarun Gogoi.
However, after his death last November, the party seems to be in flux and is riddled with factionalism.
The BJP, meanwhile, is hoping for a comeback aided by Atul Bora’s Asom Gana Parishad and other regional parties.
The Congress has decided to contest the elections with Badruddin Ajmal’s All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) that has a major support base among the Muslim population of the state.
This will also be the first election after the exercise for the National Register of Citizens (NRC) began and then scrapped in the state.
Tamil Nadu & Puducherry
The assembly elections in Tamil Nadu are also under much spotlight as it is the first assembly election to be held without late chief ministers J. Jayalalithaa and M. Karunanidhi.
But the contest has only become more interesting with V.K. Sasikala, chief of AMMK, who was released from prison last month after serving a four-year sentence in a disproportionate assets case. Her release and subsequent remarks that she will enter politics has already created a buzz in the state’s political circles.
Currently, the Edappadi K. Palaniswami-led All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) government is in power.
The government, an ally of the BJP, is hoping for a comeback.
The chief opposition party DMK, led by Karunanidhi’s son M.K. Stalin is likely to contest the polls in alliance with the Congress and hoping to dislodge the current establishment, with anti-incumbency playing a major factor.
Meanwhile in Puducherry, the political turmoil has led to Congress losing out more ground, after Madhya Pradesh.
After a number of resignations by party MLAs, the Congress-led government collapsed and President’s Rule was imposed in the state earlier this week.
While former chief minister V. Narayanasamy has accused the BJP of plotting to bring down his government, the party did not stake a claim to form the government.
Lt Governor of Puducherry Kiran Bedi was also removed from her post and Telangana Governor Tamilisai Soundararajan was given additional responsibility.
Of the five MLAs who resigned from the Congress, three have already joined the BJP and the party is confident of putting up a good show in the polls.
In Kerala, the opposition Congress is hoping to come to power.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi is an MP from Wayanad and has visited the state a number of times in the recent past.
His “north-south” statement also created a lot of political buzz with the BJP targeting him for playing divisive politics.
Over the past few decades, the state has alternated between the CPI-M led LDF and the Congress-led UDF.
The BJP is now trying to make its presence felt and inducted ‘metro man’ E. Sreedharan, who is likely to contest the polls.