Race for Raisina Hill

After the announcement of five states assembly elections political pundits have started to calculate the combination and permutation and its impact on 2017 Indian presidential poll

By Anil Anand

In this coalition era propelled by strong emergence of regional satraps every state Assembly elections assumes significance. And what if a round of these elections is happening just ahead of Presidential polls and that too including Uttar Pradesh with the biggest Lower House in among the states?

Notwithstanding the fact that 2014 Lok Sabha elections have re-set the trend of moving away from nearly three-decade of delivering split verdicts and saw BJP getting majority on its own. It has certainly given the saffron party a stranglehold at the Centre with indomitable Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the helm. But finding themselves in a comfort zone, even at the Centre, is still a dream at some distance away from him. The simple reason is the existence of strong regional parties and BJP still trying to find feet in some of the states.

Since the days of one-party sway have long gone by every state Assembly elections also becomes important as its outcome has the potential to changing the power structure of the particular state with some impact on the national polity too. The coming round of elections to five state Assemblies, Goa, Punjab, Manipur, Uttar Pradesh and Uttrakhand has to be viewed in the context of mid-2017 Presidential polls as newly elected members of these Houses would form a strong block of electoral college for electing the new President.

The electoral-college for Presidential election comprises of Members of both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha and MLAs of state Assemblies and those of Delhi and Puducherry, which do not enjoy the status of full statehood.

As Uttar Pradesh has 403-member Assembly, every political party, be it the BJP ruling at the Centre or the Opposition block would be looking forward to do well in this state in order to play a significant role in the Presidential elections. Along with this Punjab (117 seats), Uttrakhand (70 seats), Goa (40 seats) and Manipur (60 seats) combined together have the potential to make the Presidential elections interesting depending on the outcome.

All eyes would be riveted on the outcome of elections in Uttar Pradesh. There is no doubt that BJP had almost swept the state in last Lok Sabha elections winning 71 of the 80 seats which provides it a real head-start to think of sending a desired candidate to Rashtrapati Bhawan. A repeat of 2014 in Assembly elections, which seems unlikely, would further strengthen BJP’s position and a loss or an unimpressive performance could force its strategists to go back to the drawing board to either cobble up support for a desired candidate or work towards developing a consensus.

Both these situations are certainly to the disliking of Modi as he would strongly desire to strengthen BJP-supported electoral alliance to ensure that he played an important role in electing the next President. As it is Uttar Pradesh dictates national politics so the entire focus of BJP and Congress and two strong regional parties Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samajparty on the state. Not only would the outcome make or mar their chances of flexing muscles in the Presidential elections but also could act as a dose of adrenaline for 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

The internecine bickering within the Samajwadi Party has made the four-cornered contest in UP more intense and fluid. A different kind of a political theatre is opening up in Punjab which is second to UP in terms of Assembly strength among the five states. Traditionally it used to be a direct contest between Congress and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) but entry of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has made it a strong triangular contest as Punjab was the only state which sent all four MPs, which the party has in Lok Sabha in addition to sweeping Assembly elections in neighbouring Delhi to form government.

The prevailing ground situation in both these states not only makes the contest interesting but the shadow of Presidential poll would make the contest harder and viciously fought. The indications to this effect are already available.

The ramifications of UP Assembly election outcome would be more serious than the other four states. Its impact would extend beyond Presidential poll to be held in six-month time. The election results would have a direct bearing on 10-Rajya Sabha seats from the state falling vacant in 2018.

If the BJP leadership thinks it imperative to link UP election outcome to Presidential polls, it has an even stronger reason to view it in the context of Rajya Sabha arithmetic where the BJP-led NDA combine is still short of majority and is at the mercy of the opposition parties particularly the Congress which still is the largest group.

The BJP is fully aware that currently it has the best chance to do well in UP in the face a divided Samjwadi Party and a struggling Mayawati-led BSP which was wiped out in last Lok Sabha elections. At present, BJP has 282 MPs in Lok Sabha and 55 in Rajya Sabha apart from 1126 MLAs across the country.

The number of MLAs could go up further if the BJP improves its seats tally in the Assembly polls particularly in UP. The BJP-SAD ruling alliance in Punjab is fighting with their back to the wall and the saffron party is facing a tough contest from Congress in Uttrakhand and Goa. So the significance of fathoming their (BJP) chances in UP.