Will Nine State Elections This Year Decide The Road To Delhi In 2024?
It's a poll year in India, as nine states will hold state elections before the crucial general elections in April-May 2024. Five big states, namely Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Telangana, and Chhattisgarh, along with four small states in the north-east, viz., Tripura, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Meghalaya, will vote to elect their state governments.
Since these state elections are being held very close to the general elections, drawing comparisons, parallels, and conclusions from the results cannot be ruled out. These states send 116 MPs to Parliament (21% of its strength) and hence, carry significance.
The BJP governs three states, its northeastern national allies govern three more, the Congress governs two, and regional parties TRS and BRS govern one each. The election is critical for Congress because it will be held in both of the states where it still has chief ministers. If it doesn’t win any state, it risks going into general elections without being in power in any state, a first in India’s electoral history.
Comparing Apples To Oranges
Do state results get replicated in national elections? Can these truly be considered semi-finals leading up to the 2024 finals? State elections are very different from national elections. State elections are contested on local issues, while general elections are contested on issues of national importance. Leadership and party symbol play a far bigger role in national elections than in state elections, where the local candidate matters most.
What do the trends of past elections show?
Trend Of Past Elections
The trend of the last three pairs of elections 2008-09, 2013-14 and 2018-19 have been considered for analysis. In 2008-09 cycle, the Lok Sabha results mirrored the state election results in all states, except Nagaland.
In 2013-14 elections cycle, almost all states in general elections repeated the state elections trend, except Karnataka and Meghalaya. While Congress won the state elections and formed government in 2013 in Karnataka, BJP swept the state in general elections.
In 2018-19 election cycle, BJP lost three big states—Rajasthan, MP and Chhattisgarh to Congress, but came back strongly three months later in general elections, sweeping these states in national polls.
Despite the difference in nature of elections, trends actually show a high level of mirroring, though the rate has been declining over the years. The fact that these state elections are held within a year of general elections, there is bound to be an overhang of national issues in these states polls.
BJP contesting state elections and seeking votes in the name of PM Narendra Modi, raising national issues, seem to also have an impact on these state election results, which are very close to the general elections. By this time, the mahaul for the general elections starts building and this has an impact on state elections.
The chatter around whether Modi will make a return or not? Can a united opposition defeat Modi? Can Bharat Jodo Yatra revive fortunes of Congress and Rahul Gandhi hand over a surprise loss to BJP like his mother Sonia Gandhi did in 2004? All these discussions will have a bearing on voting patterns in these states.
Winner Gains Momentum
The party winning in these states does get a psychological advantage, gain confidence and momentum going into the national elections. However, opposition parties would need to work doubly hard to sustain the advantage. This is because of the fact that the Modi factor will come into play in these states in national elections and may erase some of their gains.
A BJP victory in these states lays the foundation for a strong performance in 2024. The party would hope to gain votes in national polls due to the Modi factor, assuming the PM’s popularity doesn’t deteriorate from here.
Strategy Of Opposition
Any setback to the BJP in these state elections will grab headlines and give a filip to opposition’s prospects. The opposition will try to drive home the narrative that BJP is losing public support due to inflation, unemployment, agri distress and a repeat of the debacle of 'India Shining' is possible in 2024.
The opposition as a strategy will need to decouple the state elections from national elections and contest a localised seat-by-seat contest instead of a Presidential style contest. A focused, localised campaign, like in Himachal Pradesh, without making it a personality contest could be the best bet for opposition in these states.
The dilemma Congress faces is that in the two states it is in power—Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh—it can employ only part of this strategy. It can make an attempt to decouple state elections, however it cannot run away from a personality contest. An incumbent cannot contest a localised election, it will have to follow a top-down strategy, focusing on leadership, state-level achievements and a vision for the future, thus playing into BJP’s strong turf.
On the other hand, a Presidential style contest suits KC Rao in Telangana, as both BJP and Congress lack leaders of his charisma who can challenge TRS/BRS. Here, the BJP will be in a dilemma, whether to run a campaign with Modi as face, or to exploit local level anti-incumbency, or a mix of both.
To sum up, the state election results may or may not be replicated in national elections as trends show. However, they are very important as results would create a mahaul in favour of the winner in the state. It is then for the winner to seize the momentum going into 2024 national elections.
Amitabh Tiwari is a political commentator, strategist, and consultant advising political parties and leaders. He was previously a corporate and investment banker.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of BQ Prime or its editorial team.