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Rediff.com  » News » The Great Election Festival Is Here!

The Great Election Festival Is Here!

By VIRENDRA KAPOOR
Last updated on: October 18, 2022 13:35 IST
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After the Gujarat and Himachal elections and the municipal polls in Mumbai and Delhi, Karnataka, Rajasthan, MP and Chhattisgarh will elect new assemblies next year leading up to the Lok Sabha election in April-May 2024, points out Virendra Kapoor.

All Illustrations: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com

The controversy whether the Election Commission ought to have declared the poll schedule for both Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat last week instead of only declaring for Himachal Pradesh will die down soon.

In all likelihood, the Gujarat schedule will be announced in the next week so that the results of both states are declared on December 8.

A simultaneous declaration of poll schedule is neither a Constitutional necessity nor practical, especially when it needlessly prolongs the policy moratorium under the Model Code of Conduct for an unconscionably long period.

 

In fact, the election calendar is full from now on.

After the Gujarat and Himachal elections, and the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation and Delhi Municipal Corporation polls, a slew of states, including Karnataka, Rajasthan, MP and Chhattisgarh, etc will elect new assemblies next year leading up to the parliamentary poll sometime in April-May 2024.

Of course, between Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat the outcome in the latter is more significant.

Being Narendra Modi's home state, a setback here will hurt the party's image of invincibility.

In power since 1995, winning six successive elections, retaining Gujarat in the face of anti-incumbency and rising consumer prices, including those of petrol and diesel, ordinarily should be a challenge.

But by all accounts the BJP is in with a good chance to win a record seventh time in Gujarat. It is not hard to see why.

Aside from the fact that the Modi-Shah duo can be trusted to micro-manage the poll, average voter realises the special benefit from the 'double-engine sarkar.'

It is not lost on the voter that Rs 1.54 lakh crore Vedanta project to manufacture a semiconductors (chips) in partnership with the world-renowned Taiwanese company Foxconn is being set up in Gujarat, though several other states, especially Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, were keen to host the iconic project.

The spin-off in terms of jobs, allied industries and services and a secular boost to entrepreneurship from will be huge.

The continuation of free food grains has helped alleviate the common voters' condition to a large extent.

Despite the finance ministry opposing the continuation of the free distribution of food grains, the Cabinet extended it further by another three months. The additional cost will be Rs 45,000 crores (Rs 450 billion).

The extended three-month period will end a few weeks after the polls in Himachal and Gujarat.

Remarkably, the BJP lacking a well-established leader in Gujarat will contest the poll in Modi's name.

After experimenting with Vijay Rupani as chief minister, nominated by the Modi-Shah duo after they packed off Anandiben Patel as governor, the present incumbent Bhupendra Patel too has failed to carve out a constituency for himself.

A low-profile leader of Patels, he relies on Modi's support. But a Patel as chief minister signals to the influential land-owning caste which constitutes nearly a fourth of the electorate that the ruling party is alive to their demand for reservations in jobs and educational institutions due to the shrinking incomes from agriculture.

Hardik Patel, a spearhead of the Patidar agitation a couple of years ago, is now with the BJP.

The Congress -- the main Opposition party which won 77 seats out of 182 in the 2017 election -- too lacks a prominent state leader. Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee president Jagdish Thakor wields scant influence in his own community.

Besides, the Gujarat Congress having lost six elections on the trot aside from being faction-ridden suffers from low morale and a lack of charismatic national leader.

A new party in the fray this time is Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party. Buoyed by its grand win in Punjab it now seeks to make a mark in Gujarat.

In recent weeks, Kejriwal, relying on Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Singh Mann to ferry him to Gujarat in Punjab government aircraft, has criss-crossed the state addressing public meetings.

AAP has been flogging its so-called Delhi model, while trying to lure voters with promises of free bijli and paani, and a Rs 3,000 monthly allowance to the unemployed youth.

Many more such promises of cash handouts constitute the AAP's main theme. How far AAP will succeed remains to be seen.

But from the high-decibel campaign it would seem as if AAP and not the Congress is the BJP's main challenger in Gujarat.

Though the BJP has now sought to counter the AAP campaign, proving with facts and figures the falsity of its claim about wonders wrought in Delhi and Punjab, the Congress cannot be written off altogether.

Despite AAP's noisy campaign, noticed more due to its media advertising blitz, the main contest will still be between the BJP and the Congress. In fact, the BJP hopes to gain from the split in Opposition votes.

In Himachal Pradesh too, the contest is set to be between the ruling BJP and the Congress with the AAP making a bid to expand its footprint further from neighbouring Punjab.

The state is known to alternate in each election between the BJP and Congress, but this time the Congress seems to be in disarray following the death of its tallest leader, former chief minister Vir Bhadra Singh.

His widow Pratibha Singh was made the PCC president, but she is unable to quell the dissensions in the party, with some leaders crossing over to the BJP and Anand Sharma, the senior leader from the state, being sidelined.

Here again, the BJP will rely on the Modi effect to try and retain control over the state.

Unemployment, price-rise and bureaucratic corruption are some of the issues being flagged by the newbie AAP which makes its pitch to the voter with the usual promise of free bijli-paani and cash doles to the jobless and women, etc.

The Congress and BJP too have been forced to promise free bijli-paani to the weaker sections.

Columnist Virendra Kapoor -- former editor of the Free Press Journal and Onlooker magazine was jailed for his views during the Emergency.
You can read his earlier columns here.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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