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2017: The Year of Elections

By Aditi Phadnis
January 02, 2017 10:53 IST
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5 states that contribute just under a fifth of the Lok Sabha's seats will go to the polls early this year, reports Aditi Phadnis.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh

Manipur

With Congress governments in the North-East falling like nine pins, Manipur remains a bastion of hope.

In 2012, the state got a sweeping victory for the party, made possible largely due to a divided Opposition.

In a state where no party had ever managed to cross the majority mark in the 60-member assembly, the Congress, led by two-term Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh, created history by winning 42 seats and securing 42% of the votes, a gain of 12 seats and 8 percentage points in votes, respectively, since 2007.

Its main rival, the PDF, performed disastrously, winning only one seat (the lone seat won by the Nationalist Congress Party).

Interestingly, it was the Manipur election which saw the emergence of the Trinamool Congress on the scene and enabled the party to get national status on the strength of the votes it garnered.

In 2012, the Congress won pretty much everywhere: 24 of the 33 seats in the rural parts of the valley, four of the seven seats in the urban parts of the valley, six of the 11 seats in the hill area, dominated by the Nagas, and eight of the nine in the hill area dominated by Kukis.

Since then, another dimension has been added.

Irom Sharmila, who led a long campaign against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, has joined politics and declared she will contest against Ibobi Singh.

Issues about 'Greater Nagaland' are being raised afresh and a shootout between militant groups suggests tribal identities are being stirred.

The Bharatiya Janata Party has little political capital here and what it will leverage in the state is worth watching.

Punjab

No one expected the Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP alliance (they conducted a pre-poll alliance) to come to power for a second term in 2012.

In the Akali manifesto, Panthic and emotive issues like justice for the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, protecting river waters, inclusion of Chandigarh and Punjabi speaking areas, and legal reviews of cases filed during the days of militancy figured only in half a page.

What turned the tide in favour of the alliance was the promise of subsidised food, especially dal and atta.

What lost the election for the Congress was factional fighting, the inaccessibility of Amarinder Singh who led the campaign and bitter discord within.

There is a wild card now, in the form of the untried and untested Aam Aadmi Party.

Punjab has not treated newcomers and defectors kindly. In 2012, Manpreet Badal, a cousin of Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal, who rebelled against the corruption and cronyism of the ruling clique, could not even win his own seat, Gidderbaha, that he had represented since 1985.

Will AAP face the same fate? Or perform spectacularly? Whom will it damage most?

Punjab is by far the most interesting state in this round of assembly elections because of these uncertainties.

Goa

For several months, it has been only bad news for the National Democratic Alliance in Goa, specifically for the BJP-Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party.

Not only did the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh split in the state, bitterly blaming the government for betrayal on the issue of the medium of instruction in schools (the BJP promised state funding for schools using Konkani as medium of instruction but did not exert itself enough and continued to fund English medium schools as well).

With a divided RSS (the breakaway group has declared it will contest elections in alliance with the Shiv Sena), there is no clarity which way the wind will blow in a state which participates enthusiastically in elections, with an average turnout of 81% in 2012.

In the earlier election, the wave in favour of the BJP-MGP alliance was strongest in North Goa, where the alliance won 16 of the 23 seats and secured nearly 50% of the vote, 15 percentage points ahead of the Congress-NCP alliance.

In South Goa, where most Goan Catholics are concentrated and where the Congress has traditionally done well, the BJP increased not only its vote share but also ended up winning more seats than the Congress.

The BJP fielded eight Catholic candidates and all of them won.

The Aam Aadmi Party is also contesting, though it might emerge only as a bit player.

Uttar Pradesh

The 2012 legislative assembly election brought the Samajwadi Party to power, with its best ever performance, winning 229 seats (of the 403 total), with 29.15% of the vote, a gain of nearly 4% since 2007.

In terms of seats, this was the best performance by any party since the Congress' victory in 1985, when it won 269 of the 425 seats of undivided Uttar Pradesh.

Its main rival, the incumbent Bahujan Samaj Party did poorly.

From a 2007 high of 206 seats, the BSP crashed to only 80.

Though, despite more than halving its seats, the party retained a vote share of almost 26%, down 4.5% since 2007.

Analysed more deeply, the result suggested every 7th seat for the SP was won by a margin of less than 1,000 votes. This has its own conclusions for the coming election.

The biggest gain for the SP, in regional terms, was from the region of Awadh, winning 55 of the 73 seats with a vote share of 33%.

In Lucknow district, the party got 7 of the 9 seats; in Unnao, 5 of the 6 seats.

In Rae Bareli and Sultanpur, pocket boroughs of the Nehru-Gandhi family, the SP won 12 of the 15 seats and the Congress managed only 2.

In the east, the SP won 52 of the 81 seats in the region, with a vote share of 32%.

To replicate, the SP will have to post similarly impressive gains in eastern UP.

In western UP, it was the BSP that did well, winning most of its seats in the districts of Saharanpur, Baghpat, Gautam Budh Nagar and Ghaziabad.

The Bharatiya Janata Party did well in the district of Meerut, winning 4 of the 7 seats, the rest going to the SP.

The party that hopes to form the government will have to beat the SP in eastern UP, take on the BSP in western UP and extinguish the Congress in the Bundelkhand region.

Uttarakhand

The Bharatiya Janata Party had a big defeat in the 2012 assembly elections; even then chief minister B C Khanduri lost his seat.

Of the three distinct areas of Kumaon (20 seats), Garhwal (22 seats) and Maidan (28 seats), the Congress well from Kumaon (12) and Garhwal (11), reversing the verdict of the 2007 election when these regions had returned the BJP.

In the third region, Maidan, the BJP retained its 2007 dominance over the Congress, winning 16 seats.

Much has happened in the past five years, including several natural calamities, the defection of Vijay Bahuguna from the Congress into the BJP, where the current incumbents view him and his MLAs as interlopers (and a future political threat), and his lack of action during the natural disasters that Uttarakhand saw.

On the other hand, Harish Rawat's association with dodgy businessmen and sting operations which left him open and undefended on charges of corruption, could affect the ruling alliance in the coming elections.

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Aditi Phadnis
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