Elections are due in the five states of Uttarakhand, UP, Punjab, Goa and Manipur early next year. Covid pandemic notwithstanding, preliminary maneuvers have begun in all states within the prominent parties, with incumbents working hard to shore up their positions. The BJP and Congress are important players in these states, as are they in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh that will go to the polls some months later. There is absolutely no doubt that the results will impact greatly for the rest of its tenure upon the functioning of the Modi Government at the Centre. This is an added element to the criticality of the contest in the states.
Uttarakhand has already had its Chief Minister changed to overcome perceived anti-incumbency against Trivendra Singh Rawat. The present CM is in Delhi to consult with the High Command on the next steps in ensuring a poll victory. These will undoubtedly involve trashing the candidacy of a significant number of sitting MLAs. A more populist approach has been adopted which should help overcome the already feeble challenge being posed by a faction ridden Congress.
UP’s Yogi Adityanath has also launched a most visible public relations campaign, presently focused around his handling of the pandemic. This is felt necessary as the state has been specially singled out by the media, particularly from overseas, for negative publicity (an acknowledgement of the state’s importance in the national perspective). As the most visible icon of aggressive Hindutva politics, he is also an attractive target. Going by his response, however, he is more than willing to take on the challenge.
In the states of UP and Punjab, and to an extent in Uttarakhand, the ongoing farmers’ agitation will play a major role in shaping the verdict. This, more or less, establishes a timeline for the Modi Government to resolve the issue. There is a strong possibility, however, that the farmers’ leaders will be incentivised in various ways to keep the agitation going. The landowning castes in UP, as well as the Sikhs in Punjab, will play a significant role. BJP’s erstwhile most loyal partner, the SAD, has broken away and is busy cultivating this votebank, while Congress under Amarinder Singh retains its popularity within the Sikh community. This position has been challenged by challenger Navjot Singh Sidhu and could create serious problems. As has been seen already, these developments have given a boost to radical elements, who are finding place in every camp. If the West Bengal elections are anything to go by, there is a strong possibility of smaller players being eliminated as voters decide on larger issues of identity.