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The X-Factor in 2021 State Polls

Tuesday - March 9, 2021 1:30 pm , Category : INDIA
New Delhi, March 9 (IANS) While attention may be focussed on the protagonists in the upcoming assembly elections in five states, it is the cameo actors who may be emerging as the X-factor to decide the results.
WEST BENGAL
Yashwant Deshmukh, Founder C Voter said the X factor in West Bengal will be the entry of influential cleric Abbas Siddiqui's new party, the Indian Secular Front -- into the electoral fray.
Deshmukh said if the alliance gets successful in poaching on the Muslim votes of Mamata Banerjee it can ruin her prospects of retaining the state. If the Muslim religious leader and his party gets successful in poaching on the Muslim votes of Mamta Banerjee it can ruin her prospects of retaining the state. Also, if the entry of ISF into the electoral battle leads to polarisation of Hindu voters, it can significantly benefit the BJP, he added.
As per the C Voter – Times Now survey findings for 2021 assembly polls, West Bengal is expected to observe a keen contest in the upcoming Assembly elections.
The survey shows that incumbent chief minister Mamata Banerjee is likely to score a hat trick as her party is expected to get 42.2% votes. According to survey findings, BJP can make significant inroads in the state in the upcoming Assembly polls. The saffron party has been campaigning aggressively in the state and it is likely to secure 37.5.0% votes.
Notably, the entry of a Muslim front -- comprising the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) and the influential cleric Abbas Siddiqui's new party, the Indian Secular Front -- into the electoral fray can spell trouble for the Trinamool Congress.
If the alliance gets successful in poaching on the Muslim votes of Mamata Banerjee it can ruin her prospects of retaining the state.
Also, if the entry of ISF into the electoral battle leads to polarisation of Hindu voters, it can significantly benefit the BJP.
ASSAM
Deshmukh said the X factor in Assam is AIUDF contesting elections in alliance with the Congress. While this coalition is likely to get substantial lead in Lower Assam, where there is a significant Muslim population it can lead to Hindu polarisation in favour of BJP in Upper Assam and the party is likely to have a sizable lead in this region, he added.
The CVoter-Times Now survey data indicates a tough contest in Assam in the forthcoming Assembly elections in the state.
As per the survey data, while NDA is likely to corner 42.9% vote share, UPA can secure 40.7% of the votes that will be polled in the Assembly elections.
A regional analysis of potential vote shares indicates a polarized election, the survey data shows Congress –AIUDF combine having a clear lead in Lower Assam, where there is a significant Minority population.
With minority vote gravitating towards Congress-AIUDF alliance, Upper Assam is expected to witness polarisation of Hindu votes, benefiting the BJP and the party is likely to have a sizable lead in this region.
Bodoland is expected to have an interesting contest, if BJP manages that, the party is likely to retain the state. Notably, the absence of Congress stalwart Tarun Gogoi is helping BJP.
TAMIL NADU
This will be the first Assembly election in the state after the death of political stalwarts of Tamil Nadu -- J. Jayalalitha and M. Karunanidhi.
Deshmukh said the DMK has the advantage of grooming MK Stalin, the political heir of M. Karunanidhi, groomed by his late father for 15 years; Stalin has successfully filled the leadership vacuum to a large extent after the demise of DMK patriarch in 2018.
Deshmukh said no such succession has taken place in AIADMK. Political successors of Jayalalitha have struggled to step into Jayalalitha's shoes. This leadership crisis in AIADMK could be a decisive factor in the electoral results going in favour of DMK, he added.
Deshmukh said for the DMK–Congress alliance, this time Stalin adopted an aggressive stand in the seat sharing formula with its coalition partner. Stalin has agreed to give just 25 seats to the Congress, much according to its political weight in the state politics. In 2016, Congress had got 41 seats in the seat sharing formula. It seems that DMK has learned from the Rashtriya Janata Dal's experience in Bihar
A combination of 10 year anti-incumbency and absence of a charismatic successor to J. Jayalalitha is leading to a electoral setback for the ruling AIADMK. Historically Tamil Nadu has alternated between DMK and AIADMK, however in 2016 it bucked the trend and re-elected AIADMK. The surprise win heralded a generational change in the state's politics as both parties lost their top leadership between 2016-21.
In addition to leadership troubles AIADMK is also hobbled by dissension within ranks and loss of allies. The Sasikala faction and AMMK going away will dent AIADMK's electoral prospects.
The survey found that the BJP has been an insignificant player in Tamil Nadu and the scenario is likely to continue for this electoral cycle. The party may notch a respectable vote share but it is overall likely to remain a marginal player in the state polity.
Tamil Nadu is unlikely to repeat electoral history by introducing new actors into the mix. Film actor Rajinikanth has been a non-starter in state politics. He never got more than 5% of approval rating in Tamil Nadu politics. Another film star Kamal Haasan is also likely to remain an insignificant political player in the state.
Notably, smaller parties remain irrelevant in Tamil Nadu politics till they join either of the two main alliances in the state. Therefore a surprise performance from unaligned smaller parties is unlikely, as per the survey.
KERALA
Deshmukh said a notable trend is regarding the shift of Christian votes. The left front in Kerala has made a smart move of bringing Kerala Congress (M) in the alliance as the party has a significant base among the Christian voters in the state. KC(M) joining forces with the Left Front has benefitted the alliance and it was evident in the recently held local body elections. Importantly, swing of Christian voters towards LDF will be a key factor if the alliance returns to power in the state.
Kerala is all set to reelect the ruling LDF and thus buck the trend of defeating the incumbent every electoral cycle. According to the data the electoral race is tight and by no means one sided. Despite a close race LDF has an edge due to the Chief Minister's popularity and changes to the social coalitions underlying both primary alliances.
Incumbent Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan enjoys high popularity ratings due to a perceived deft handling of Covid-19 pandemic. According to the data, voters consider his performance as one that met their expectations during an unprecedented crisis. This is imparting a much needed electoral edge to the LDF that is locked in a tight race with Congress led UDF.
Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic the Chief Minister and his ruling alliance had a negative net approval rating. This was well reflected in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections tally as the coalition managed to win just 1 of Lok Sabha seats in the state. Chief Minister Vijayan turned the crisis into an opportunity in addition to some deft political positioning.
In terms of underlying social coalitions of both major alliances there are notable trends. Hindu voters are migrating towards the BJP. The key however is to understand the source of this migration. Earlier, whenever there was a rise in the vote share of BJP it was mainly because of Hindu voters of Congress moving to the saffron party. Interestingly, now, this swing of Hindu voters in favour of BJP is taking place from the CPI(M) block.
The survey found that Rahul Gandhi's southern gambit is getting lost in translation. His shift of base was meant to herald a change in strategy for the Congress. The aim was to crystallize Congress's perceived advantage in South India and rally the electorate along the North-South divide. Instead of getting the advantage, Gandhi's move to contest Lok Sabha elections from Wayanad has branded Congress as a pro Muslim party and led to anti-Muslim polarisation in the state. Local and national media assessed that Rahul decided to contest from Wayanad because the constituency has a significant Muslim voters. This branding of Congress as pro Muslim party has been one of the major factors for the shift in Christian voters to the LDF camp.
As for BJP, the party has been unable to take off in Kerala. BJP has not been able to emerge as an alternative in the state. Public perception is that BJP has not been to secure the winnable social coalition yet.
PUDUCHERRY
Congress is likely to lose its southern toehold of Puducherry due to anti-incumbency. The sentiment is attributable to unpopularity of the government and the Chief Minister in particular.
Deshmukh said the outgoing Chief Minister V. Narayanaswamy's popularity is lower than the ones of other outgoing Chief Ministers at the end of their respective terms. Clearly, the collapse of his government has not generated any sympathy for him. On the contrary the government's collapse may be the result of astute politicians reading the tea leaves.
Deshmukh said conventionally observers have believed that Tamil Nadhu and Puducherry elections are correlated i.e. the same parties or alliances win both in an electoral cycle. However this conventional wisdom stood belied in last assembly elections when AIADMK under the leadership of Jayalalitha won in Tamil Nadu and the Congress formed the government in Puducherry. Therefore it would be erroneous to assume that DMK and its partners winning Tamil Nadu would ensure a similar electoral outcome in Puducherry.
A loss for Congress does not automatically translate into a decisive win for some other formation. As things stand AIADMK, BJP and All All-India NR Congress are yet to strike a coherent alliance. There is confusion and complete silence in the camp as far as alliance formation is concerned and this can hurt its prospects to garner a majority in the electoral results. Confusion over alliance formation persists as there is no concrete announcement on the issue.
If BJP, AIADMK and All-India NR Congress contest separately there will be a vertical split in the vote share, Congress-DMK combine will return to power. The data therefore indicates that upcoming assembly polls will be a battle of alliances. The alliance with better coordination, ground level cohesion and agility may win the day.
On the other hand, it is expected that the Congress and DMK will soon finalise the alliance and announce the seat sharing formula, however, if they contest elections separately, it will be a cakewalk for the BJP-AIADMK- All-India NR Congress combine, provided the camp strikes an alliance.
Notably, Puducherry is the only Assembly that Congress has been holding on among the five states going to polls, if the party loses elections here, it will carry a strong political message for the party and its leadership. Rahul Gandhi did not visit Puducherry even once during five years of Congress rule here. On the other hand, top BJP leaders have been regularly visiting Puducherry every year.
(Sanjeev Sharma can be reached at sanjeev.s@ians.in)

--IANS
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