Elections to four states and a union territory will be held over six weeks beginning April 4, in a test of whether the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) can expand its footprint in regions where it has been traditionally weak.
The vote assumes significance at a time when the country is caught up in a political upheaval over a debate over nationalism and alleged religious intolerance, even as economic growth slips.
The controversies have given a handle to non-BJP parties which are hoping to further corner Prime Minister Narendra Modi after his party’s humiliating defeat in elections in Delhi and Bihar last year.
The vote could have a bearing on the degree and pace of coalescence of anti-BJP forces, a phenomenon party president Amit Shah recently described as “BJP-versus-all or Narendra Modi-versus-all”.
The elections are also important for Modi to improve the government’s tally in the Rajya Sabha, where a lack of majority has stalled the government’s economic reforms agenda and delayed the passage of a goods and services tax bill.
The results of the latest round of state polls will be announced on May 19, the Election Commission said on Friday. About 170 million people will be eligible to vote in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry in the south and Assam and West Bengal in the east.
The states going to the polls are ruled by regional parties, barring Kerala as well as Assam where the Congress is seeking a fourth term.
Highlights: EC announces poll dates for 5 states
Although Prime Minister Modi’s popularity is probably still holding up, the BJP has been buffeted by a spate of political controversies, including growing student protests on top university campuses. Slowing economic growth has only worsened a crisis in the countryside, where two successive droughts have pushed farmers deeper into debt and forced dozens to commit suicide.
The only realistic chance the BJP is said to have in this round of assembly elections is in Assam where it has aligned with small regional groups to tap into possible anti-incumbency.
The stakes are also high for two of the country’s three women chief ministers, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee and AIADMK’s J Jayalalithaa who rule in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu respectively. They are likely to go it alone in the polls.
The vote is also seen as a battle of survival for the Left parties in West Bengal and the DMK in Tamil Nadu. In West Bengal, traditional rivals the CPI (M) and the Congress are set to bury their hatchet to take on Banerjee in an unprecedented informal alliance.
This will be the first time when “None of the Above” or NOTA in the electronic voting machine (EVM) will have a cross symbol to ensure voters can recognise the option easily.
West Bengal will spend the maximum time—six-phase polling spread over seven days—to elect its new 294-member assembly. Assam will go to the polls in two phases while the two southern states – Tamil Nadu and Kerala -- and Puducherry will elect their new governments on May 16.
Here’s all you need to know about the upcoming Assembly polls in 5 states: