South India will have finished electioneering by the end of the day today. And then there will be a long waiting period of full one month before the results come out. For this one month period, governance would go for a toss in all the 5 states of south India. The obsession of Election Commission of India with “Model Code of Conduct” and literally with elections scheduled for every year plus long waiting periods before results are announced means that in every 5-year cycle of governance, at least 17 months are lost in just conducting elections. In effect, actual governance happens only for about 3.5 years out of every 5 years – if one accounts for the last year of any government as essentially a period meant as momentum building exercise for upcoming elections, then hardly 2.5 years are left for governance or just 50% of the time meant for a government to function.
By any measure, this is a suboptimal way of running a democracy, but there is hardly any genuine debate on this topic. Yes, PM Modi has on quite a few occasions raised the issue of clubbing together a host of state elections, but nothing much has come out of that proposal till now.
So, what will South India have accomplished by voting so early in 2019? By and large, the southern hemisphere has remained as a countercurrent to the political trend of other parts of India which holds true even this time. Till today, in the 2019 electoral cycle, BJP has only gained in Karnataka while it has actually suffered a setback in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana (as compared to 2014) and may not have added significantly to its tally in Tamil Nadu. Kerala will show us if it has made any genuine progress from a deeply Left-induced political philosophy – our pre-poll models have not shown any positives in that state for the BJP/NDA.
The rival national party, Congress too has not been in great shape in the south so far. The party has lost ground in Telangana and Karnataka in the first two phases while remaining irrelevant in Andhra Pradesh. The one key state that has probably given the Congress party a new lease of life is Tamil Nadu, where the DMK+ alliance has a better chance.
Over the rest of India, at least in the first two phases so far, BJP has shown clear upper hand, especially by taking giant strides in eastern hemisphere while retaining its strongholds in north India. Before the elections began, there was a lot of skepticism about the largest and most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, but it has shown surprising resilience for BJP in the wake of a strong opposition alliance.
Today’s third phase is the most crucial one because this is the mid-way point of the 2019 elections hosting arguably the toughest phase of the 7 phases of Uttar Pradesh. This is also when the real battle for Bengal will begin. We had always known that BJP’s best chances in Bengal would be in the North, but as the battle moves down south and west, Bengal becomes tougher by the day with large sets of Muslim population. Does BJP have enough momentum from the first two phases to take on the mighty Mamata machinery from today onwards is the big question.
Today’s election is also crucial because of Gujarat. We have tracked Maharashtra till now in the western hemisphere and it has more-or-less sustained the 2014 levels for NDA (although Shiv Sena could be a slight laggard). But for some time now, BJP’s problems have been in the west. It has had a problem in Rajasthan for at least two years now. In Maharashtra too, there have been many successive years of drought and farm crisis is a regular feature. In the absolute stronghold of Gujarat, BJP has not overwhelmed recently and may have actually lost some ground in the last couple of years because of lack of charismatic local leadership and over reliance on the Modi-Shah duo who are in any case busy at the national level.
Contrary to popular perception, apart from the 2014 mega-sweep, Gujarat has always given Congress party a much better representation in the Lok Sabha elections of the past. In Both 2014 and 2009, Congress managed to get a decent haul of MPs from the state. In fact, even in the 1998-99 elections when BJP was in ascendancy all over India under Vajpayee’s leadership, Gujarat gave a minimum of 6 MPs to Congress.
If at all there is any chance of a “Congress revival”, it has to actually begin in the state of Gujarat. The grand old party of Indian politics has to win at least half a dozen seats today in Gujarat to be in the race for 2019, otherwise it would be virtually ‘game over’ for the Gandhis and their political party. To that extent, Gandhis are unnecessarily wasting a lot of resources in the far more difficult geography of Uttar Pradesh, instead, Gujarat should have been an ideal state for Priyanka Gandhi to launch her much touted political debut.
In 2014, this was the phase from where BJP had begun to dominate. BJP won more than 1 out of 2 seats in this phase and nearly 60% of those victories came from just the 2 states of Gujarat and Karnataka – the party swept every seat in the former and won 11 of 14 seats in the latter. In the heartland states of UP and Bihar, this is the phase where BJP was under pressure as the caste arithmetic is slightly in favor of the opposition mainly due to the Yadav factor.
This time around, it will be interesting to watch how the eastern march of BJP holds in the third phase as this is where the Muslim domination is strongest in Assam and Bengal while BJD’s core strength of urban Odisha also goes to polls today. If BJP has made serious inroads in Odisha, it has to perform today, or the game could virtually tilt back to Naveen Patnaik.
For 5 years now, every political pundit has believed that 2014 was the Modi peak for BJP which wouldn’t be scaled ‘any time in the near future’. As if on cue, BJP’s subsequent assembly election performance has always been subpar to that 2014 peak – although comparing national elections to local assembly elections is like comparing oranges with apples.
The fact is that it would not be an exaggeration to say that BJP has not only held on to its 2014 peak, but may have even improved slightly in the first 2 phases of this election season. Therefore, this is the crucial phase in the 2019 electoral journey wherein we will know what holds true – whether 2014 was really BJP/NDA’s peak or whether a new peak will be unleashed upon Indian politics in 2019. Hence, we will be tracking these three crucial factors today.