Assembly polls are no semi-finals

It’ll be wrong to interpret the outcome of elections to five state assemblies as a referendum on Narendra Modi’s prime ministerial ambitions or the anti-incumbency that stares the UPA in the face.

Local elections are a way different from national polls. The alienation there is from provincial administrations and sitting legislatures. The bigger a party’s majority in the outgoing House the higher the anti-incumbency.

Another key factor is the duration for which a ruling entity has been in power: Sheila Dikshit in power for 15 years and MP’s Shivraj Singh Chauhan and Chattisgarh’s Raman Singh aiming for a hat-trick!

So the Congress better watch out in Mizoram it has ruled for ten years and the BJP in MP and Chattisgarh. Rajasthan could be an open game, given the Congress’s 96 seats compared to the BJP’s 78 in the 200 member House. The Desert State is known for regime change every election. But so was Punjab where the SAD-BJP won a second time largely on account of the Congress’s self-defeating ways.

From all available indications, anti-incumbency is the highest against Dikshit’s 15-year-rule with comfortable numbers in the 70-member Delhi Assembly. But conventional wisdom isn’t applicable, the joker in the pack being Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party. Its entry has made the contest right and truly triangular.

In past years, the third force in the metropolis was the BSP. But it’s presence in the fray was noteworthy, not decisive. Known for cutting into the Congress’s Dalit base, it couldn’t stall the Dikshit juggernaut post-1998.

“People know their vote in Delhi will be for Vijay Goel, not Modi,” reasoned Kejriwal after the Gujarat CM’s massive rally. He claimed his party would sweep the polls and form the government.

The ground indeed looks fertile in the national Capital for AAP’s launch in electoral politics. It was here that Kejriwal drew huge crowds in the 2011-12 anti-graft campaign the echo of which is still audible. His party looks certain to mark a presence in the new House. But it’s difficult to wager on it getting to occupy treasury benches in the maiden attempt.

So, if Dikshit retains power, it wouldn’t be as much on the strength of her performance as on an internally fractured BJP and a fractured vote on the ground. In that scenario, it would be unfair to blame Modi for the BJP’s loss or credit the UPA for the Congress’s victory. The same would be true if the results go the BJP’s way.

Politically, however, it would suit the BJP to credit Modi and the Congress to discredit him, depending on the direction the wind takes. In the rival parties’ quest for psychological boost, that’s where the impending local polls will get linked to the 2014 contest.

But parliamentary elections aren’t always the sum total of assembly polls. Example: Congress lost the 1999 general election after winning Delhi, Rajasthan and MP the year before.

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