The announcement of assembly polls dates is quite routine, but the news that five states are poll-bound has caused excitement beyond the usual. This could be because at least the BJP seems to be treating this almost on a par with national elections.
Assembly elections to Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram have been announced and already, parties seem to have gone into overdrive. Usually it is local issues which dominate but this time it would seem that national issues have merged seamlessly into the discourse so far.
In Delhi, it would have been a straight fight between the Congress and the BJP but for the new kid on the block, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) whose mercurial leader Arvind Kejriwal has set his cap on the chief ministerial post. Now, given how hard it is for a party without the cadres and money to actually win elections, it is likely that the AAP may play the spoiler for one of the big parties.
The incumbent chief minister Sheila Dikshit is a formidable force though incidents like rising crime, though not in her jurisdiction, have dented her image. The BJP is a house divided on the issue of chief ministership and this will go to help the outsider. In Madhya Pradesh, the incumbent chief minister has been in the saddle for eight long years and though he is personally seen as clean, those around him seem to have had their hands in the till for a good long time.
This is likely to go against him and it is quite possible that a change of guard is in the offing. Minister of state for power (independent charge) Jyotiraditya Scindia is a strong contender though it will not be an easy task to dislodge the BJP. Law and order will figure significantly in Rajasthan which has seen an increase in crimes and this could go against the incumbent Ashok Gehlot.
Though Mr Gehlot is credited with sharp political skills, he will find it tough to beat the incumbency factor. But he can take heart in the fact that the BJP is beset with factionalism at the moment. In Chhattisgarh, chief minister Raman Singh has been in the saddle since 2003 and has performed reasonably well despite the severe Maoist menace.
The usual problems plague the BJP, among them corruption, law and order and irregularities in mining in the mineral-rich state. In Mizoram, the fight is fairly straight between the Mizo National Front and the Mizo People’s Conference and will hinge on the New Land Use Policy.
Coming so close to the general election, many will seek to extrapolate the results on to the national stage. That would be a mistake because despite all the political parties trying to 'nationalise’ these elections, voters have always been clear about making the demarcation between state and national elections.