Ordinarily, state elections are not unduly influenced by the state of affairs at the Centre.
Voting finally begins today for the much-awaited Assembly elections in five states. As much as a fifth of the country’s electors will be taking part in this exercise, that is coinciding with the Narendra Modi government at the Centre having completed half its tenure in office.
Ordinarily, state elections are not unduly influenced by the state of affairs at the Centre. But in this case Prime Minister Narendra Modi has campaigned both extensively and intensively, as though he had high stakes, personally speaking, in the outcome. Massive defeats in the Delhi and Bihar Assembly elections earlier, for which the PM had campaigned aggressively too, making those polls a prestige issue, have not dimmed Mr Modi’s ebullience as a campaigner. Combined with the fact that the BJP does not appear to have very many stalwarts in the states (besides Goa, where defence minister Manohar Parrikar, a former CM, is campaigning widely), the clutch of Assembly polls appears to be taking on the colours of a referendum on Mr Modi.
In particular, the PM has campaigned with ferocity in Uttar Pradesh, where voting will begin a week from now. In India’s largest state, on account of his personal appeal, the BJP had picked up a very high proportion of Lok Sabha seats in 2014. Politicians and analysts are waiting to see how much of that goodwill can still be harvested by the BJP this time round.
It is widely felt that a victory for the BJP in UP will make Mr Modi impregnable at the Centre for the foreseeable future, not just the next Lok Sabha poll. On the other hand, a below-par performance can diminish his authority considerably (and of his acolyte Amit Shah, BJP president), and open up intra-BJP fissures which remain concealed from view due to the PM’s current stature in his party and government.
That’s why so much ammunition is going into the UP campaign. Many believe that the “surgical strike” and demonetisation had also been done in the hope of making a positive impact in the state elections, specially in UP.
Indeed, the presentation of the Union Budget in the middle of the poll process raised eyebrows as the Centre influences perceptions throughout the country with its Budget each year, even if specific announcements are avoided in respect of states where polls are being held. It is worth pondering if the look of the Budget would have been different if there were no elections around the corner.
Voting is due to be completed in Punjab and Goa today. For reasons of contiguity with Uttar Pradesh, and thus logistics, polling in the small state of Uttarakhand, once a part of UP, will be held around the early part of the seven-phase Uttar Pradesh election.