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These assembly polls may have a few pointers for Lok Sabha 2019

The BJP’s ability to retain power and Congress’ ability to challenge it is on test, as will be the case in 2019

editorials Updated: Dec 05, 2018 19:08 IST

Hindustan Times
Congress President Rahul Gandhi addresses a public gathering at Gadwal, Telangana, Dec 3, 2018
Congress President Rahul Gandhi addresses a public gathering at Gadwal, Telangana, Dec 3, 2018(PTI)
         

A fiercely contested round of elections spread across India’s northern and central states (Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh), south (Telangana), and Northeast (Mizoram) is coming to a close. Campaigning ended on Wednesday evening, with PM Narendra Modi continuing his final offensive against the Congress in Rajasthan and Congress president Rahul Gandhi returning the favour in Telangana, the two states which go to polls on Friday.

This round of five elections matters for both the national parties. For one, it is the sheer timing. Coming four months before the national elections, it has been billed as the semi-final. This may not be a completely accurate way of describing it for there has been no necessary alignment between the outcome in some of these states and the outcome in the subsequent national polls. The presence of strong local leaders and local issues also makes it different. But what is true is that in three states — MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh — there is a direct bipolar contest. The BJP’s ability to retain power and the Congress’ ability to challenge it is on test, as will be the case in 2019. Two, the BJP, after a string of bypoll defeats in parliamentary elections and being pipped at the post by opposition unity in Karnataka, is keen to prove that it remains politically dominant and reverse the perception of a slide. The Congress, which has displayed greater energy and sharp aggression under Rahul Gandhi, wants to prove that it can actually convert this into electoral victories, which is what finally counts in a democracy. A close defeat will not be enough.

The campaigning has also revealed that the nature of issues which will dominate the electoral season of 2019. The BJP believes that it has a trump card with welfare schemes, particularly rural housing, toilet construction, gas cylinders, and infrastructure, especially rural roads and power. This is what it focused on through its campaign trail across all states. It has supplemented this with doses of Hindutva in Rajasthan and Telangana, in particular. The Congress believes that the combination of rural distress and the government’s perceived failure to create jobs gives it exactly the robust platform it needs to break the Modi appeal with the electorate. Through public display of Hindu religiosity, it has also sought to counter any attempt by the BJP to polarise the electorate. On both sides, this is what we will see over the next four months as campaigning picks up for the Lok Sabha elections. It is curtains for the 2018 poll season, but in it, there are enough hints of what is to come in 2019.

First Published: Dec 05, 2018 18:44 IST

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