Five States in India go to the polls in early 2022. And by the end of this year, Assembly elections will also be held in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. Since Uttar Pradesh , the largest State in terms of the number of Lok Sabha seats, goes to the polls in early 2022 — along with Punjab , Uttarakhand , Goa and Manipur — this round of Assembly elections is being referred as the semi-final to the final (the Lok Sabha or the general election) which will be held in 2024. As in any match, winning the semi-final would guarantee a spot to play in the final, though it does not guarantee a victory in the final match.
The electoral verdict in the seven States that go to the polls this year (2022) will give us an idea of which party has the larger support base in which State; but these results cannot be an indicator of what might happen in 2024. Many State elections will take place in 2023 which would be much closer to 2024. There have been phases in India’s elections when people have chosen the same party to run the State government as well as the Central government, but it is a trend that no longer holds in present-day politics. In the last five years, there have been several elections such as in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Bihar, when voters have voted very differently while casting their vote for the State government and during the Lok Sabha election. There is no evidence to suggest these patterns would have changed over the last few years. So, in my opinion, the verdict of the State Assembly elections will not be any indicator of what might happen in 2024. In fact, to repeat what I have said earlier, one should refrain from making judgments about the likely outcome of the 2024 Lok Sabha election based on the verdicts in these Assembly elections.
In Uttar Pradesh
But this does not suggest that the verdicts in these Assembly elections will not have any impact on how politics in India might take shape in the coming years. For instance, if the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) emerges victorious in Uttar Pradesh, it would certainly boost the chances of the BJP for winning the 2024 Lok Sabha election; such a result would also boost the stature of incumbent Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath within the party. On the contrary, a loss for the BJP would dampen its prospects in 2024 and affect Mr. Adityanath.
The verdicts in these Assembly elections would also have implications for the other political parties in the fray: namely, the Indian National Congress , the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the Trinamool Congress (TMC) , the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party . Of the seven States which go to the polls, the Congress is the ruling party in Punjab but the main Opposition party in Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Goa and Manipur. It would be important for the Congress to win in some of these States if it is to instill faith in its leadership and morale among its supporters to keep the party’s hopes up for the main battle in 2024. The best bet for the Congress to perform well would be in the States of Punjab (where it is defending its own government), and Uttarakhand and Goa where it is the main Opposition party.
In Uttarakhand, the government has changed every five years ever since the State came into being. With the BJP in power there for the last five years, all eyes are on the Congress’s prospects. But elections are won by mobilising the support base and not by any set rules. Such rules have broken occasionally in the last few years, most recently in Kerala.
AAP as a factor
The Congress also has its task cut out in fighting the BJP as there is now the stronger presence of AAP in State politics; this is likely to help it gain some of the anti-BJP votes, in turn posing a threat to the prospects of the Congress. In Goa, the Congress has lost its shape ever since the last Assembly elections; a number of its MLAs have defected to other parties — mainly to the BJP and the TMC. Given this situation, the Congress is in for a tough fight in Goa. In the case of the elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, and in the event of there being a bi-polar contest, the Congress stands a good chance of winning. But one must not forget that it would be facing a very strong political force, the BJP. The BJP would like to retain Gujarat at any cost, being the home State of both the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, and the Home Minister, Amit Shah. The question is does the Congress have its house in order to be able to defeat the BJP in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh? Given the State-specific scenarios, 2022 is certainly going to be a challenge for the Congress.
AAP is also trying hard to expand its base in various States with an eye on trying to replace the Congress as the main Opposition party to the BJP at the national level if not fill the political vacuum being created by the decline of the Congress’s support base in many States. Much would depend on how AAP performs in Punjab and in other States. A victory in Punjab would certainly boost the party’s prospects and also provide a broader platform for its leader Arvind Kejriwal to emerge as a bigger player in national politics.
The TMC too
The other leader too who is looking forward to playing a bigger role in national politics is the West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC leader Mamata Banerjee. After the thumping victory of the TMC in the West Bengal Assembly elections last year, the TMC is also another party trying hard to expand its base in other States. The party has been successful in drawing in various leaders from other political parties — from Congress, former Goa Chief Minister Luizinho Faleiro, Mahila Congress President Sushmita Dev, Kirti Azad (Bihar), former Haryana Congress president Ashok Tanwar (Haryana), and Uttar Pradesh Congress leaders Rajesh Pati Tripathi and Lalitesh Pati Tripathi. There have also been other political jumps — by former Finance Minister in the BJP government Yashwant Sinha, former Union Minister and BJP MP Babul Suprio, BJP leader Mukul Roy along with his son Subhrangshu and former Janata Dal (United) MP Pavan K. Varma.
These defections to the TMC are an indication of which way the wind seems to be blowing. But the TMC would need to make its presence felt in some of the States in these Assembly elections if Ms. Banerjee is to stake a claim (even if informal) as the leader who should be the consensus candidate from among the Opposition parties to challenge the BJP in 2024. The TMC is working hard in Goa to pose a challenge to the two established political parties, namely the BJP and the Congress. But one needs to wait and see what kind of an impact the TMC can make in these elections in Goa.
The stage for the 2022 Assembly elections and what its impact on Indian politics may be is wide open. We need to wait and watch to see how things unfold in the coming months and over the next two years before the final match in 2024.
Sanjay Kumar is a Professor with the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) and a political analyst. The views expressed are personal