Thursday, May 6, 2021

Politics – the art of possibilities and managing contradictions at play in Assembly polls

K V Prasad

Politics, it is said, is the art of possibilities and an excellent example of this adage will be demonstrated in the assembly elections to the four States of Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal and Union Territory of Puducherry this summer.

In all the four states barring Assam, the presence of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as an electoral force varies. From a marginal to minor representation in the outgoing Assemblies between a solitary seat in Kerala to three in West Bengal. Overall, the BJP won 64 of the 794 seats across these assemblies.

Assam is the sole exception where the BJP formed a government for the first time winning 60 of the 126 assembly seats. It banks on the work of Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal to retain its grip in the State and the Assembly. The party does have its share of issues ranging against it, from the fallout of anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act sentiments among the minorities and more pressing ones like price rise and unemployment.

Also Read: Congress on suicidal path

Tapping into the uncertainty over CAA and related issues is perfume king and Dhubri MP Badaruddin Ajmal whose All India United Democratic Front plays the role as the principal opposition in the Assembly. The party is now part of a Mahajot (grand alliance) the Congress stitched with Bodo People’s Front, which till recently part of the BJP-Asom Gana Parishad coalition.

Aware that in the absence of stalwart three-time Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, the Congress is pushing its young team of Gaurav Gogoi and Sushmita Deb, to work with Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel coordinating. The Congress is pulling out all stops and party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi joined the campaign spending time with tea workers, whose votes count.

Their significance can be gauged when Prime Minister Narendra Modi mentioned their welfare in a public meeting during an official visit late last month. And eager to deny any advantage to the Congress campaign, the BJP plans to organise six rallies by PM Modi in Assam.

To look at the art of possibilities, on which the BJP is working, one needs to study West Bengal, a state once the stronghold of the Left in general and the CPI (M) in particular. The Left citadel was breached by Trinamool Congress of Mamata Banerjee who now faces immense challenge from the BJP. Relentless campaigns over the past few years resulted in the BJP taking pole position as the principal opposition that won 18 seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls pushing down the Left and the Congress.
Today, the BJP is straining every nerve to breach the stout resistance put up by Mamata Banjeree in a battle of ‘Daughter of the soil” versus ‘’Outsiders” with her supporters daring the BJP to find a credible face to challenge Didi’ amid charges of nepotism and corruption levelled against her government.

Also Read: Bengalis would vote for their daughter

It is a possibility that took the BJP across the Vindhya ranges, in Tamil Nadu through its now-on, now-off ally the AIADMK. In the state the BJP is essentially seen as a party of the North and in two successive assembly elections, 2011 and 2016 the party managed between 2.2 per cent of vote to 2.8 per cent. It is now working with the ruling faction of the AIADMK- led by Chief Minister E Palani Swamy, once a protégé of Jayalalthaa’s close friend Sasikala. Now that she has come out of prison, Sasikala is working to reclaim space with the Chief Minister resisting moves to have an arrangement with her that has a strong backing of the BJP.

The BJP realises the stronghold Sasikala has on the party cadres and her resource mobilisation ability along with T T V Dinakaran could spell trouble for the Chief Minister and his colleague O. Paneerselvam. A divided AIADMK would allow DMK leader M K Stalin to consolidate providing an ideal turf to wrest power, which slipped through DMK’s hand ten years ago. Of course, this will be the first assembly elections after the departure of Dravidian party leaders M Karunanidhi and J. Jayalalithaa.

Yet, as compared to Tamil Nadu, the BJP is on a firmer wicket in Kerala where the party won its first representative in the Assembly in 2016 through veteran O. Rajagopal, who was the Railway Minister in the Atal Behari Vajpayee government. The BJP gained ground between 2011 and 2016 recording a four percentage points rise in vote share and hopes to make further inroads riding on the strength of the work of its mother organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

Also Read: Priyanka at a tea garden in Assam

These elections also offer an equally significant art in politics – managing contradictions. This in particular is already in play in Kerala and West Bengal. It is evident in these two states where direct political opponents the Congress-led United Democratic Front and the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front in Kerala become partners in West Bengal to take on the Trinamool Congress and the BJP.
Although this combination of Left-Congress had an informal working arrangement in West Bengal during 2016 assembly polls, this time around the pact is open following the decision of Comrades from Kerala to look askance. The Bengal-line versus Kerala-line, where in the former favoured a pact with the Congress and the later opposed it, this time around both these lines worked out an arrangement.

Now when the electioneering picks up, national leaders of the Congress and Left would have to deal with the dichotomy. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi preferred to give the first major rally In West Bengal a miss since as an MP from Kerala he has to tread with caution since in Kerala, the UDF has chances to wrest power. How does he manage the contradiction in keeping company with the Left-led alliance in Bengal and locking horns with its leadership in Kerala should be of interest. And of course, results of Kerala, the only state where the Congress can hope to regain power would also determine the future of Rahul Gandhi in the struggle for leadership in the Grand Old Party. (EoM)–

Also Read: W. Bengal to have polls in 8 phases from March 27 to April 29

Prasad K. Ve.
Prasad K. Ve.
Worked as Senior Associate Editor, The Tribune. Senior Assistant Editor, The Hindu. Fulbright-American Political Science Association Fellow with U.S Congress. Thirty-five years in journalism.

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