Karnataka, the party’s gateway to the south, is in a mess with bitter factionalism and splits. Former chief minister BS Yeddyurappa has formed his own outfit and it will cost the party dear to have alienated the Lingayat strongman. All attempts to patch the party together in the state have failed and it is doubtful whether Rajnath Singh, who has little traction outside the Hindi heartland, can do much better than his predecessor Nitin Gadkari. In Madhya Pradesh, the BJP will find it easier given that it has presented a good account of itself. In Chhat-tisgarh, too, the BJP will not have to do any damage control as it will have to in Karnataka. For the Congress, the trick will be to hold on to Delhi and Rajasthan, where it could be anyone’s game. The Delhi government has come under flak for security, though law and order does not come under its jurisdiction, despite the improvements in public transport and other civic amenities. There is definitely a first-mover advantage for a party which has its own government in power in a state. It becomes all that much easier to galvanise the rank and file of the party if its own people are in positions of authority. This is not to suggest that this automatically ensures victory in elections, but it certainly gives the party a greater sense of confidence.
However, for both parties, the good news is that irrespective of their own problems in their high commands, state leaders are increasingly carving out their own niches. The BJP and the Congress would do well, as suggested by Rahul Gandhi in his speech after taking over as vice-president, to not impose decisions about candidates from the top. If both give their regional leaders a free hand, both stand to gain. But it remains to be seen if the central leadership in both parties will let go quite so easily. There are, however, no two ways about it. Election 2014 will be fought on the battleground prepared by elections 2013.