The votes being held in five key Indian states will set the tone for next year’s general elections, where Prime Minister Narendra and his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will be aiming to extend their tenure in power beyond a decade, according to political observers.
In the first phase of the provincial polls, millions started casting their vote in two states, Mizoram and Chhattisgarh, last week.
Voting there and in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Telangana will be held until Nov. 30, with counting set for Dec. 3.
In total, some 161 million eligible voters will pick legislators for 679 constituencies, around one-sixth of India’s total count.
The outcome of these elections will have a decisive impact on the narrative and perceptions of key parties and contenders in the general elections of 2024, Niranjan Sahoo, an Indian expert in governance and public policy, told Anadolu.
Sahoo, a senior fellow at the New Delhi-based think tank Observer Research Foundation, stressed that next year’s electoral battle is “a different ball game altogether,” where “national issues and leadership will take center stage.”
However, he said a big win in key heartland states such as Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh could greatly improve next year’s prospects for the main opposition Congress party.
Congress was crushed by the Modi-led BJP in the past two general polls, but made significant advances in recent elections in the states of Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh.
A “decisive win” next month will not only boost Congress’ own morale, but also help it win back the confidence of other opposition parties, said Sahoo.
For the BJP, victory in the state polls is critical to maintain Modi’s image as a leader who can secure electoral victories, he explained.
“This is because the BJP has not declared candidates for chief minister in any of the states and is purely banking on Modi’s popularity,” he added.
‘Strong Congress always bad news for BJP’
Rasheed Kidwai, a prominent Indian political analyst, said the regional elections will be a crucial indicator of voter sentiments, especially in the Hindi-speaking heartland where the ruling BJP has been traditionally very strong.
“If Congress wins in three states, it is going to be in a very strong position ahead of the general elections,” he said.
That would mean the opposition parties’ INDIA alliance could pose a formidable challenge for the BJP next year, he added.
INDIA is an acronym for the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance, which is led by the Congress and includes over two dozen opposition parties.
“A strong Congress is always bad news for the BJP,” said Kidwai.
Next year’s elections will not be like 2019, he said, when a standoff with neighboring Pakistan “became a game changer for Prime Minister Modi.”
“The government has completed two terms and they are struggling on many fronts. So, these state elections would definitely set the tone for the 2024 polls,” he said.
K. K. Mishra, chairman of Congress’ media wing in Madhya Pradesh, was confident of his party’s chances in the state elections.
“People are not happy with the ruling government and there is a lot of anger against the government, especially the chief minister in Madhya Pradesh, because the BJP government has failed on all fronts,” he said.
The same issues are prevalent in almost every state, so Congress is hopeful of success, he added.
The BJP and Modi, however, have been hitting back with their own criticism of past Congress rule in Madhya Pradesh.
In recent comments, Modi said Congress rule brought destruction to the state, claiming that it has no roadmap for development and lacks the trust of the youth.
Caste and youth
According to Kidwai, India’s deeply entrenched caste system, among the world’s oldest social stratification model, could also prove to be a key issue in the ongoing elections.
That is because the government in the eastern Indian state of Bihar recently announced the findings of what was the first caste census held in India since independence in 1947.
There are now calls for more such surveys in other states, something that Congress is promising to deliver.
“The issue has the potential to dent the ruling party’s standing because the BJP hasn’t been able to commit to holding a caste-based census in different states,” Kidwai explained.
First-time voters will also have a pivotal say, the analyst added.
Among the 161 million eligible voters, there are some 6 million who will casting their first ballots in the ongoing state polls.
In 2014, the BJP was the biggest beneficiary of first-time voters, but that is changing now, according to Kidwai.
“That is because of the lack of jobs. This issue is a big factor for the age group of first-time voters,” he said.
Source : aa