After the tumultuous events relating to the sedition row at JNU that captured the attention of urban India and set the stage for feisty exchanges in Parliament, the scene will soon shift to the assembly polls in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal, Assam and Puducherry. The elections, to be held during April and May, will likely feature campaigns in stifling summer heat where parts of the electorate will be lured to sit through political rallies while untold numbers from rural India head back from cities through daunting train and bus journeys to fulfil local political obligations.
The populace will be kept amused by the political combat on view. Tamil Nadu will see the resumption of a contest between the AIADMK and DMK, where chief minister J Jayalalithaa will be seeking to get past her government’s catastrophic management of last year’s Chennai floods that saw the state capital submerged for days. She is up against a DMK that has been wracked by succession battles between the sons of the 91-year-old leader M Karunanidhi. It is unclear if Tamil Nadu will again return an overwhelming verdict as it usually does; other parties therefore sense opportunities in the fluid scenario — including the BJP, which may consider a tie-up with the AIADMK after the Congress and DMK formed an alliance. Kerala will also see a measure of anti-incumbency pressure as chief minister Oommen Chandy weathers the storm over corruption allegations involving his aide and a minister. Meanwhile in West Bengal, chief minister Mamata Banerjee is believed to be the front-runner, even if the Congress and the CPI(M) do manage to seal an alliance that is being speculated about in political corridors.
It will be interesting to see how the national parties, the BJP and Congress, fare in these elections. The BJP will strive to contain the impression that it is losing momentum — and thereby particularly focus on Assam, where it has formed an alliance with the Asom Gana Parishad and the Bodoland People’s Front to upstage the Congress and the UDF. The Congress will, likewise, train its energies on Kerala and Assam to convey that its fortunes are on the upswing. The elections will make interesting theatre but one can only hope that the campaigns will restore measure of civility to political discourse, which has lately been marked by inappropriate language and a relentless effort to other those with different perspectives and interests. The confrontational tenor of our politics may yield dividends for some but comes at a steep national cost. An India experiencing economic uncertainty can handle vibrant debate but not deep political dysfunction.