The state, which has seen rising bitterness and violence between Trinamool Congress and BJP supporters, will see the country’s most staggered assembly poll to date. The election in Assam will be in three phases, up from two in 2016 while Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry will have a single-day poll on April 6. Counting for all the assemblies will be held on May 2.
The elections are a trial of strength for BJP in the wake of the long-drawn agitation by farmers’ unions opposed to the new agri laws. Though the states going to polls are largely unaffected by matters such as procurement and MSP, the resonance of the issues raised by Punjab, Haryana and west UP agri unions will be watched closely as BJP defends the reforms as pro-farmer.
The polls will also test Congress, as it has opted for an alliance in Assam with the pro-minority AIUDF of Badruddin Ajmal and has pacts with Left and DMK in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu respectively. It is the main challenger to the Left in Kerala where it did well in the Lok Sabha polls. Jolted by the loss of its government in Puducherry just before polls, Congress will hope to retrieve some standing in alliance with DMK.
As of now, the Left’s prospects seem to have brightened in Kerala following tactical missteps by Congress that saw it lose ground in the local body elections last year. Yet, the contest is typically close. Tamil Nadu will be without stalwarts J Jayalalitha and M Karunanidhi in an assembly poll for the first time and M K Stalin will look to seal his leadership of DMK with a win that makes him the chief minister.
In Assam, BJP looks to ensure that its clean win in 2016 was not a fluke though it now faces the combined challenge of Congress-AIUDF which is intended to consolidate anti-BJP votes. BJP, on the other hand, sees factionalism in Congress as a factor that helps its cause while it is seen to have the upper hand in Bodo areas and Barak Valley. Its challenge lies in negotiating the Citizenship Amendment Act potholes in a state where “illegal migrants” are not a straightforward ethno-religious faultline.
With the Congress-DMK government losing office in Puducherry, BJP is hoping its alliance with former CM N Rangaswamy, seen to be a popular leader, will see it through along with AIADMK.
Chief election commissioner Sunil Arora, while announcing the dates at a press conference, said the decision to stagger polling in West Bengal over eight phases — unlike six during the 2016 assembly polls (which effectively was seven phases as the sixth phase then was split over two different dates) and seven phases in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls — was based on several factors. These factors, he said, included availability and need for movement of central paramilitary forces as well as “current kind of charges and counter-charges”, an apparent reference to allegations of political violence levelled by BJP against Trinamool Congress and counter-charges by the latter.
“We have to find a kind of mean… way out,” he said, adding that an increase from seven to eight phases was no big deal. To a particular question on why poll in Tamil Nadu, where concerns over excess use of money power had led to rescinding of polls in some constituencies in the past, was to be held in one phase and West Bengal in eight, the CEC reminded that Tamil Nadu had had a single-phase poll in 2016 assembly election as well as 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
An EC official, while speaking to TOI, also pointed out that even in BJP-ruled Assam, the number of phases was raised to three this time from two in 2016 assembly poll.