Millions of people spread across Assam and West Bengal queued outside poll booths on Monday, kicking off the first phase of a month-long poll process where the BJP is looking to expand its footprint into regions it has been traditionally weak.
Polling in 65 constituencies of upper Assam (tea belt in the eastern part) and Barak Valley (southern part bordering Bangladesh) will determine if the BJP can snatch the state away from the three-time Congress chief minister Tarun Gogoi.
Assam represents the best chance the BJP has to win a state. The party did extremely well in these two regions in the last Lok Sabha elections. The momentum that the party gains in these regions could carry it through April 11 elections for 61 seats in Muslim-dominated Lower and central Assam.
The BJP’s electoral appeal in the absence of any perceptible ‘Modi wave’ and the Congress party’s tenacity against a spirited attack on one of its last fortresses will be under test.
Out of the four states and one Union Territory -- Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal, Assam and Puduchhery -- going to polls in the next six weeks, the BJP has its eyes set on the north eastern state where it fancies a chance to create history by forming the government.
Polling in 18 constituencies in Maoist-infested districts of West Midnapore, Purulia and Bankura in West Bengal may serve as a barometer for chief minister Mamata Banerjee to assess whether the tragic Vivekananda flyover collapse in Kolkata has any adverse resonance outside the city.
It will also test her claims about restoring peace and development in this region where, she said, 400-500 people used to be killed every year before she came to power.
These are the first elections since the BJP stormed to power at the Centre in May 2014 in which the party is not seeking votes directly in the name of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The Prime Minister has campaigned for his party but the focus has been on local issues -- illegal Bangladeshi immigrants (read Muslims) and corruption in Assam, lack of development and Narada news expose of corruption in the ruling Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, et al.
On May 19, when results of the current round of elections are out, it will be clear how much the BJP depends on personality cult for electoral success.
The results will also set the stage for presidential elections in 2017. As the President is elected by an electoral college comprising members of parliaments and members of legislative assemblies (MLAs) of states, party position in every assembly matters to the NDA to get the President of its choice.
The RSS, the BJP’s ideological patron, is said to be keenly watching the numbers in different assemblies. As it is, the BJP along with its allies rules 12 states (excluding Jammu and Kashmir where PDP-BJP government will be formed on Monday) but may not have the requisite numbers to force its candidate.
During the NDA government in 2002, TDP’s Chandrababu Naidu had scuttled the BJP’s initial choice of PC Alexander as the NDA nominee, forcing it to go for APJ Abdul Kalam.
It was also Mulayam Singh’s support for Kalam, which had compelled the opposition parties to go along. In 2017 again, the NDA will have to get regional parties on board to have its candidate elected to the Rashtrapati Bhawan.
The assembly election results will have a bearing on governance at the Centre. The BJP’s poor show may embolden the opposition parties to further harden their stance against contentious reforms legislation.
According to projections, the NDA’s tally, with support of the AIADMK (with present strength) and 7 nominated members, will be 86 in the Rajya Sabha by August as against the combined strength of 87 of the Congress-led grouping including the Left, the RJD-JD(U) and the DMK.
The NDA will need smaller parties to get to the majority figure of 123 in the 245-member upper house.
The AIADMK has been a reliable supporter of the NDA in Parliament, except on the Constitution (Amendment) Bill enabling the rollout of the goods and services tax.
There are 6 seats, including 3 held by the AIADMK, falling vacant in Tamil Nadu in June. The BJP may be attacking the AIADMK government during the poll campaign but its strategists are secretly wishing a thumping victory for J Jayalalithaa.
Watch | First phase of polling in West Bengal