Except Uttar Pradesh, most of the Hindi States are set to witness a two-party contest. This leaves limited room for the Congress to gain from vote division or possibility of coalitions. And except U.P., other States in the Hindi region are going to elect their State governments very soon — something that will have a bearing on the outcome in the Lok Sabha election. Gains in the Hindi-speaking States of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh contributed a quarter of the seats won by Congress in 2009. Four years later, the Congress seems to be in big trouble in at least two of these heartland States according to the CNN-IBN-The Hindu-Election Tracker survey 2013, conducted by Lokniti-Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS).
Mayawati’s governance better
In Uttar Pradesh, defying the trend of popular support during the first year or so from taking office, only 49 percent respondents are satisfied with the Samajwadi Party (SP)-led State government as opposed to 32 per cent who are dissatisfied. Asked to compare with the previous Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) government, respondents rate Ms Mayawati’s government as better. This however may not help BSP to improve its vote share much. In 2007, U.P. witnessed a dramatic development wherein sections of upper castes supported the BSP while lower Other Backward Classes vote consolidated with Dalit votes to produce the victory of the BSP. That experiment failed and is not likely to be repeated. If anything, the party’s vote share may slide further. Nor is the Congress in a position to benefit from the SP’s non-performance. This situation opens the doors for the electoral comeback of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). As in the mid-1990s, the BJP appears set to attract upper caste and OBC votes. This explains the projected nine per cent rise in its vote share. The consolidation of BJP’s strength can be stalled if only the Congress can force a four cornered contest.
Edged out in M.P.
Congress is in a much worse situation in Madhya Pradesh. Bipolarity of electoral competition does not give the party any chance of benefiting from coalitions; and satisfaction with the BJP-ruled State government does not allow it much space on its own. The State government is one of the few governments to have increased satisfaction level — from net satisfaction of 63 in 2011, it is now 75! Outside the glare of the national media, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has cultivated a strong base for himself and his party in the State — so much so that between Narendra Modi and Mr. Chouhan, nearly half the respondents from the State chose Mr. Chouhan as the candidate for being prime minster. Mr. Chouhan’s popularity and the satisfaction with his government have only widened the gap between the vote shares of the Congress and BJP.
Mixed signals on Gehlot
Another State where the coming Assembly election would be crucial in setting up the context for the Lok Sabha election will be Rajasthan. This is also the State where the Congress did exceedingly well in 2009 winning 20 of the total 25 seats on offer. With both the BJP and the Congress projected to get 44 per cent votes here, the Congress can at least hope to retain an edge over the BJP. If this trend persists till 2014, then the Congress would have managed to resist the State’s tendency over the last two Lok Sabha elections to swing massively from one party to another. For that to happen, the Congress will first have to retain power in the State in the upcoming Assembly elections. As things stand today, people’s assessment of the Ashok Gehlot government seems to be sending mixed signals. While people assess it poorly on specifics related to governance, net satisfaction with the performance of the Gehlot government (percent satisfied minus percent dissatisfied) has gone up from 32 to 42 in the last two years. The trouble with any pro-Congress prognosis however is that over the past four years, the BJP seems to have bridged the huge gap between itself and the Congress gaining seven percentage points against the Congress’s loss of three percent votes.
Chhattisgarh and Delhi
To add to this bleak picture, Chhattisgarh remains a BJP bastion and in Delhi, the Congress may be facing a huge loss of vote share. In Haryana, the Congress government is rated much negatively — it has a net satisfaction of minus two. On the other hand, in neighbouring Punjab, the ruling Akali-BJP government enjoys net satisfaction of 36. Overall, central and north India seem to have very little to offer the Congress by way of hope, except maybe Rajasthan.
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