Elections are held in India every year, in one state or another. But 2021 is going to be slightly more eventful, as five states are going to the polls in the middle of this year. The political fortunes of many parties are at stake in these polls. For some, the challenge is to save their government against possible anti-incumbency, while others need to make an attempt for a comeback, and some need to make an impact for the first time. There is a mixed bag for a large number of parties, both national as well as regional ones.
This year elections are due in two states in the east -- West Bengal and Assam -- and three states/UTs in the south -- Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. It’s important to note that all these are now governed by different parties and no party has a government in more than one state. Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress is in power in West Bengal for the past decade; the BJP has been ruling Assam; Tamil Nadu, which has swung between the DMK and AIADMK since 1967, is currently governed by the AIADMK since 2016. Kerala has a LDF government, but here too governments swing between the LDF and UDF. Once a dominant party, the Congress is in power only in Puducherry, that too in alliance with the DMK as it doesn’t have a majority on it own.
The political atmosphere is completely charged in West Bengal, a state ruled for a few decades by the Congress, over 30 years by the Left Front and by the TMC for the last 10 years. Ms Banerjee is facing a very tough fight from BJP, which has made huge inroads in the state in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. In 2019, the BJP polled 40 per cent votes and won 18 Lok Sabha seats, while the TMC polled 43 per cent votes and won 22 Lok Sabha seats. Seen in terms of leads in Assembly constituencies, the BJP led in 121 Assembly seats, while the TMC led in 164 Assembly seats. It is important to note that the TMC won 211 Assembly seats in the 2016 Assembly polls. The results of 2019 Lok Sabha polls and recent ground reports suggest the BJP has managed to expand its support base hugely and Ms Banerjee will find it tough to win her third election in a row. West Bengal is on the boil and political change seems on the cards.
In Assam, the ruling BJP may not face a significant challenge from its main opponent, the Congress, that is still lying low, unable to overcome its defeat in the 2016 Assembly polls and its poor show in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The passing away of Tarun Gogoi, three-time Congress CM (2001-2016), has only added to the Congress’ problems in the state.
In Tamil Nadu, the Congress has hardly any role to play, as politics in the state is dominated by the two Dravidian parties. The Congress, that has mostly been the DMK’s coalition partner, is likely to play a similar role, but given its recent poor performance in Bihar it will be on the defensive regarding seat-sharing arrangements with the DMK. The Congress has not been in a dominant position in Tamil Nadu politics since 1967, and the 2021 elections hardly promises anything different. If the DMK wins the 2021 Assembly polls, the Congress can at best have the solace of being a partner in the state’s coalition government, but there remains a lot of uncertainly about what might happen. Alliances hold the key to electoral success in TN, and the alliance are still to take shape. Kamal Hassan did try his luck in 2019 but was unsuccessful. We still need to see how the BJP approaches the TN elections: will it go solo or form an alliance with the AIADMK, which has already sent a strong message to the BJP asking it to contest under the AIADMK’s leadership. However, it is unwilling to include the BJP in a coalition government if it comes to forming a government after winning the election. Given this, it will be a tough call for the BJP.
Since Kerala has been swinging between the LDF and UDF for decades, it should be the UDF’s turn this time. The Congress, the main party in the UDF, is the best bet in Kerala, but given its performance in recent local body elections, it may not be easy for the UDF to stage a comeback. It is also important to note that elections have been decided in the state mostly by narrow margins, but during the 2016 Assembly polls, the LDF victory was slightly more convincing, polled 42.6 per cent votes and won 92 seats, compared to the UDF’s 38.6 per cent votes and 47 seats. Given the LDF’s four per cent lead in the last election, the UDF needs to work really hard if it aims to stage a comeback. We must also watch the BJP’s moves in the state. It is important to note the BJP polled 14.6 per cent votes in the state in the 2016 Assembly elections, when it opened its account in Kerala. It could upset the calculation of established political formations.
The Congress, which is the ruling party (in alliance with the DMK) in Puducherry, has to fight hard to save the only place where it is the ruling party among the five going to the polls. Given the small number of the Union territory’s Assembly constituencies, and the multipolarity it has, an alliance will hold the key to electoral success in Puducherry.
Overall, the best the Left parties can do is to hold on to power in Kerala. The BJP will certainly win in Assam and will put up a strong fight to wrest power from the Trinamul Congress in West Bengal. For the Congress, the best scenario would be to win in Kerala and retain Puducherry. For regional parties, the best outcome is to retain power in both West Bengal and Tamil Nadu. So yes, the stakes are very high for many political parties.