What is at stake in the forthcoming elections?

When West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee left the SSKM Hospital in Kolkata on a wheel chair on March 12, her left leg heavily bandaged, it seemed to give a twist to the party’s Khela Hobe (The Game is On) slogan. A bruising electoral match will now be played in injury time.

While Trinamool is eyeing a third term in the assembly, BJP wants to build on its 2019 Lok Sabha performance where it won 18 of 42 seats, just four less than the TMC’s tally. With a 40% vote share, BJP was also just a few percentage points shy of Trinamool’s 43.3% in the Lok Sabha polls, and had replaced the Left to emerge as the principal opposition party.

TMC, which contested the 2006 polls in alliance with the BJP and the 2011 elections with the Congress, is facing both in 2021. “The elections are going to be very closely fought this time. Now there is sympathy for Mamata after she was injured in Nandigram. So right now, TMC has an advantage.

Didi’s Left Foot

As Mamata Banerjee wheels out into the election scene, it foretells a bruising fight. Will a split in Muslim votes change the picture?


Prime Minster Narendra Modi at a BJP rally on Brigade Parade ground in Kolkata


West Bengal CM and Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee leaves a Kolkata hospital on a wheelchair

At the same time, the poll dynamics might change in the coming weeks and the pendulum might swing to the other end,” says Samir K Das, professor of political science at the University of Kolkata. That the BJP’s list of star campaigners for the first phase includes 22 Union ministers shows that it is using all its force and might in a do-or-die battle for Bengal.

Even as the scale might look slightly tilted in favour of the TMC now, there could be a split in Muslim votes, with the India Secular Front (ISF) of Abbas Siddiqui joining the Left-Congress alliance. “If Muslim votes get divided, TMC’s loss will be more than BJP’s gain. Muslims this time will not vote en bloc, which means TMC will lose its edge. Then, again, a sympathy wave could lead to a bandwagon effect in favour of Mamata,” says Das.

Elections to the 294-member assembly will be held in eight phases, from March 27 to April 29.


While BJP is stoking anti-Mamata sentiment and banking on TMC turncoats, experts say the going may not be so easy henceforth. Even as the defections of prominent leaders from TMC to BJP creates the perception that the latter has an upper hand, BJP’s biggest challenge in Bengal will be to keep its own house in order.

“All the former TMC leaders who have joined BJP are eyeing some post or the other. How can BJP possibly placate them all? If BJP is not able to manage them, they will rock the boat,” adds Das. Another challenge BJP faces is in projecting it as a truly Bengali party. “Unless it constructs a Bengali nationalist identity, it’s going to be tough at the hustings,” says Das.

Tamil Nadu: State of Change

This election will be the biggest test for the new helmsmen of both Dravida parties


DMK president MK Stalin

This elections mark a generational change in Tamil Nadu politics. Without the towering presence of “Kalaignar” M Karunanidhi and “Amma” J Jayalalithaa, DMK and AIADMK are taking on each other. The stardust in this election season will be sprinkled solely by Kamal Haasan, whose Makkal Neethi Maiam (MNM) has entered the fray, although whether he can do anything more remains to be seen.

It’s also an old battle of doles and welfare politics. DMK leader MK Stalin’s promise of Rs 1,000 a month to female heads of households has been outdone by AIADMK’s assurance of Rs 1,500 for them. Haasan too has promised salaries for homemakers.

The DMK, which has been out of power since 2011 and whose number of seats in the 234-member assembly has not crossed double digits since 2001, is confident of a victory this time. It is that confidence they are trying to reflect in the slogan “Stalin Thaan Vararu, Vidiyal Thara Poraru” (Stalin is Surely Coming, He Will Bring in the Dawn). DMK is trying to consolidate anti-AIADMK votes with an umbrella alliance, which includes Congress, CPM, CPI, MDMK, IUML, MMK, AIFB and VCK. Vijayakanth’s DMDK, which won 2.3% votes in the last election, is in talks with DMK after parting ways with AIADMK.


Ruling AIADMK, which won two consecutive terms in 2011 and 2016 elections, has had to grapple with infighting since Jayalalithaa’s death in December 2016. “The party has withstood the challenges, thanks to the sheer political wisdom of Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami,” says political commentator Maalan V Narayanan.

DMK has driven a hard bargain with its allies, giving just 25 seats to the Congress, 6 each to CPM, CPI, VCK and MDMK, 3 to IUML and 1 to AIFB, while retaining 174 seats for itself.

Meanwhile, a new entrant from Hyderabad has raised eyebrows in the state. The alliance of Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM with TTV Dhinakaran’s Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK) could play spoilsport for both DMK and AIADMK: if Owaisi and Dhinakaran corner some Muslim votes, it could affect DMK. Dhinakaran, whose party got 5% votes in 2019, could also chip away at the traditional Thevar base of AIADMK. “People have sympathy for TTV as there is a feeling that (his aunt and former Jaya aide) VK Sasikala was forced to quit, leaving him in the lurch,” says a senior AIADMK leader, who did not want to be named.

While AIADMK looks to retain power in the state, BJP is planning an entry into Tamil Nadu assembly on the back of this alliance — which a resurgent DMK wants to prevent at all costs.

Assam: Return Ticket

Can BJP retain power in Assam, dousing the anti-CAA fire and defeating the Mahajot?


Paramananda Rajbongshi, BJP candidate in Sipajhar constituency, and BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma in Darrang, Assam

If Assam is the gateway to the Northeast, the road to its capital passes through upper Assam. In the 2016 assembly polls, BJP won more than half of its 60 seats from upper Assam and the party went on to form its first government in the state.

Now, in the run-up to the 2021 assembly elections, BJP has to douse the fire that raged against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in the heartland and placate the people who have been up in arms against the new law and the nonimplementation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC).

The handling of the pandemic has earned the government much goodwill but is it enough to balance the anti-CAA sentiment that set the tone against the government at the end of 2019? “BJP should be able to form a government although its seats might come down on the back of anti-CAA sentiment and NRC issue.

The alliance should get 65 seats in a three-cornered contest,” says Chandan Kumar Sharma, sociology professor, Tezpur University. The BJP is in an alliance with the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and the United People’s Party Liberal of Pramod Boro.


The Congress has put together an eight party Mahajot (grand alliance), which includes AIUDF, BPF, the newly floated Anchalik Gana Morcha, CPI, CPM, CPI(ML) and RJD. A third front has also emerged — of the Assam Jatiya Parishad, backed by AASU, and the Raijor Dal of Akhil Gogoi. How will the Congress’ alliance with the AIUDF play out? “The Congress might win a few seats because of AIUDF in lower Assam where there is a sizable minority population, but in upper Assam AIUDF might be a burden. The tieup has given BJP a tool to attack Congress,” says Sharma.

It will be an uphill task for the BJP-led alliance to achieve its goal of 100 seats in the 126-member assembly. There is rumble in the ranks, too. Senior leaders like Dilip Paul, having been denied a ticket, have resigned from the party. While the NDA might clinch the 64 seats needed to form a government, it has a long, hard road to traverse, not to mention sorting out internal conflicts between the old guard and the new BJP.

Kerala: Comrades’ own country?

It could be a red redux in Kerala as Pinarayi Vijayan seeks votes on the back of handling successive crises, from floods to Covid


Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan and CPI leader Binoy Viswam in Thiruvananthapuram

In a state where defections are rare and the return of incumbent rarer, the Pinarayi Vijayan-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) government looks set for a second term. Vijayan is going into the 2021 Kerala elections on the back of a solid track record of handling successive crises — two devastating floods, Nipah virus outbreak and the Covid-19 pandemic. There is a general feeling that Vijayan has led from the front.

Experts whom ET Magazine spoke to agree that despite facing multiple challenges, Vijayan’s “we shall overcome” attitude has seen him emerge as a strong leader.

The government’s focus on public health, public education and infrastructure — building impressive government schools, which has led to a rise in the enrolment of students, hospitals and roads — could also pay off. Not to mention welfare measures like free food kits for ration card holders.

The gold smuggling case against the chief minister’s then principal secretary M Sivasankar is the only issue that has put the CPM-led LDF on the defensive. But in an election in the middle of a pandemic, if performance becomes the touchstone, Vijayan could be smiling on May 2.


Meanwhile, Congress which leads the opposition alliance, the United Democratic Front (UDF), is mired in factionalism. Political commentators feel Congress is in the middle of a survival battle. While Rahul Gandhi’s deep-sea fishing and swimming went viral on social media, it hasn’t stemmed the impression that the party is dithering. Senior leader PC Chacko resigned from the party recently, blaming factionalism for the weakening of the Congress in the state.

If the minor resentments in Congress blow up, it could hasten the move of some leaders to BJP. The saffron party’s predicament in the state, which has a substantial population of Christians and Muslims, is the lack of supporters even among Hindus. It hasn’t been able to significantly improve its vote share in Kerala over the past five years — and is now busy wooing Christians. Kerala BJP president K Surendran says, “We are surely going to win and make strong inroads into the state. The Christian community, in particular, is with us. All the talk of infighting is false.”

What could throw a spanner in the Left’s hopes is the highly unpredictable nature of swing voters — and even a small proportion of them can sway the results this way or that.

While the main fight is between LDF and UDF, NDA might play a spoiler as it tries to corner Christian votes. It can make this a three-cornered fight in 10-15 out of 140 constituencies, at best. To change its fortunes dramatically, BJP has to win over the core backward caste Hindu voters of the LDF. That is akin to moving a mountain this time.

Puducherry: Territorial Fight

It is a contest between defection-hit Narayanasamy’s Congress and BJP-supported Rangaswamy’s Congress


N Rangaswamy with Narendra Modi

Two months after the collapse of V Narayanasamy-led Congress government, the Union territory of Puducherry is headed for a tricky bipolar contest.

By breaking the Congress, BJP has already got a foot in the door. In the battle between Narayanasamy and N Rangaswamy of the All India NR Congress (NRC), most experts forecast a clean sweep by the latter, which has BJP’s support. With an eye on the 2026 polls, BJP wants to enter Tamil Nadu via Puducherry. “The election in Puducherry is going to be critical for Congress’ existence and BJP’s long-term plans for

Tamil Nadu,” says political analyst R Rajagopalan.


Puducherry is BJP’s ticket to Tamil Nadu. In the 2016 elections, the Congress had contested in 21 seats and won 15. With the defection of seven MLAs in the months before the polls, the Congress is in a tight spot. This time, the party will fight in 15 seats while its allies DMK will contest in 13 and VCK and CPI in one each.

In the other corner, there is the alliance of NR Congress, BJP and AIADMK. While NR Congress will fight in 16 seats, the other two will share the remaining 14 seats. Rangaswamy will be leading the alliance. While BJP seems to proclaim that no territory is too small or insignificant to fight for, Congress has to lift itself and its cadre from the political blow dealt by a string of recent defections.

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