Raining promises: Competitive populism in the Assembly elections in five States  

Competitive populism seems to have replaced communalism in the campaign 

Updated - November 20, 2023 11:34 am IST

Published - November 20, 2023 12:15 am IST

The ongoing Assembly elections in five States are seen as a prelude to the general election expected in the first half of 2024. Polling has concluded in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Mizoram while campaigning is peaking in Rajasthan and Telangana, which will vote on November 25 and 30, respectively. Competitive populism has been the defining theme of campaigning so far, and attempts at communal polarisation have been relatively understated. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress, the main contestants in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, have sought to outdo each other in promising a widening array of welfare schemes. In Telangana, the Congress, which is mounting a serious challenge to incumbent Bharat Rashtra Samithi, has promised to expand the State’s saturated welfare regime even further. Incumbents in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, the Congress and the BJP, respectively, have relied on new welfare architectures to fight for another term. Voter response to the Congress’s demand for a countrywide caste based census has been mixed. The BJP has been ambivalent on the question, and will wait for the outcomes on December 3 before making up its mind. The party, however, has been vocal in electioneering, about the inauguration of the Ram temple in Ayodhya in January.

Tribal voters have received special attention from the BJP and the Congress. Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched a ₹24,000-crore PM Janjati Adivasi Nyaya Maha Abhiyan for last-mile welfare scheme delivery and protection for Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and Mr. Modi have both claimed a better track record in delivering on election promises they make. Welfare schemes can result in more equitable development outcomes as research shows, but a more thoughtful and researched approach would be healthier for public finances. Parties should seek more common ground in electioneering. Mr. Modi remained the centre of the BJP campaign, relegating the party’s regional satraps into the shadows. The party also shuffled the pack by fielding several Parliament members including Union Ministers in Assembly seats. Though the Congress campaign is being helmed by Mr. Gandhi and party president Mallikarjun Kharge, its regional leaders are empowered to steer the strategy, in stark contrast to the BJP. The nascent coalition of Opposition parties has run into rough weather, with constituent parties turning on the Congress in several States. Evolution of the Opposition space ahead of 2024 will be influenced by the results of these elections, though the voters have clearly made a distinction between Assembly and Lok Sabha elections in recent times.

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