The Election Commission of India on Wednesday announced the schedule of polls in five states, including country’s most populated and politically crucial Uttar Pradesh.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is halfway through his term and has completed two and half years in power. The upcoming elections are not only a referendum on his popularity and his government’s policies, but will also decide the fate of other political bigwigs.
Over 16 crore voters will vote to elect 690 and members of five legislative assemblies between February 4 and March 8.
Elections in Uttar Pradesh will be held in seven phases between February 11 and March 8, while Punjab and Goa will go to polls together on February 4, Uttarakhand on February 15 and Manipur in two phases on March 4 and 8, with counting to be held on March 11.
Here is what at stake for major political parties in the five states that go to polls:
Bharatiya Janata Party:
One of the biggest issues in the upcoming elections is going to be demonetisation, which the Centre claimed was aimed at fighting black money, but sent the country’s cash economy into disarray.
A higher number of seats in assemblies will also help the BJP to improve its number in the Rajya Sabha where it is in minority.
The BJP has completed two and half years at the Centre and it will contest the elections in Modi’s name.
The party is a major stakeholder in all states except for the Manipur where it has not been able to make inroads. It is in power in two states - Goa and Punjab - but the big fight will be in UP which gave it 71 MPs out of 80 in 2014 elections, helping it secure a majority on its own.
While a win in UP or even a respectable tally will be considered a thumbs up to demonetisation, it will be a referendum of sorts on Modi’s popularity as the Prime Minister. The party has not declared a Chief Ministrial candidate meaning win or loss, it will be credited to Modi himself.
The party is battling anti-incumbency in both Goa and Punjab while it is trying to make a dent in Congress’ votes in Manipur.
Uttarakhand, where the BJP tried a coup after breaking the Congress party last year, will also be a test for the parry to prove that it can capitalise on the anti-incumbency and form a government on its own.
The Assembly elections in five states are a matter of survival for Congress.
The party has been out of power from Uttar Pradesh for 27 years and won just 28 seats in 403-member assembly in last election. Multiple reports suggest that the party is in favour of forging an alliance with the Samajwadi Party as the only play Congress has is to latch on to the popularity of incumbent Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav.
The party is in three-way battle in Punjab and Goa where it will try to wrestle power from BJP-SAD alliance and BJP-MGP alliance respectively.
The rise of Aam Aadmi Party in both the states has become a major challenge for the Congress. It has always feared the rise of a third front and the emergence of AAP is a warning sign for the grand old party.
The Harish Rawat government in Uttarakhand, which survived an ugly political battle last year, thanks to the judiciary, is facing an anti-incumbency wave. A loss in Uttarakhand will restrict Congress's power to only six states.
Although Congress has brutal majority in Manipur where it has 50 MLAs in 60-member Assembly, Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh is facing major administrative challenges as the blockade in the north eastern state continues.
Elections in five states will be the first major battle Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi will face on his own as president Sonia Gandhi has mostly kept herself away from party affairs owing to her poor health.
Bahujan Samaj Party:
BSP, a national party led by Mayawati, does not have a single MP in the Lok Sabha. The party once was once a force to reckon with in almost all North Indian states but currently has only 13 MLAs outside Uttar Pradesh.
Party supremo Maywati is trying to consolidate Muslim and Dalit votes in UP to return to power. While her formula in 2007 elections, when she secured a majority for her party, was Dalit plus Brahmin votes, this time her party has awarded tickets to 97 Muslim candidates. The win will also help her increase the tally in Lok Sabha when the country goes to polls in 2019.
Although the BSP is a major contender in UP elections, it is fighting for its survival in states like Punjab and Uttarakhand.
In 2012, the BSP secured 4.28 per cent of votes in Punjab polls but failed to win a single seat. Punjab has considerable dalit votes and Mayawati would want to convert those votes into seats.
In 70-member Uttarakhand assembly, the BSP has three members. The party once had eight MLAs in the assembly and BSP would want to best that performance.
Unlike the previous government in Uttar Pradesh, Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav does not face a strong anti-incumbency. The party has split into two, each being led by Akhilesh and his father Mulayam and the election will decide the future of the Samajwadi Party.
A result favoring Akhilesh will help him consolidate power in the party and could help him uniting the party once again.
A loss in the upcoming election will result in blame-game, meaning a clear split in the party.
Aam Aadmi Party:
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has often blamed the NDA government at Centre for disrupting his government's work in the national capital. The party is trying to secure power in a full fledged state to prove itself and is eyeing both Goa and Punjab.
Punjab gave the AAP four MPs in 2014 General elections and the state seems to be the best bet for the party. A win in the state will help Kejriwal establish the party beyond Delhi. The party lost initial momentum to the infighting also does not have a face to project as a Chief Ministerial candidate.
The AAP has declared Elvis Gomes as its CM candidate in Goa. A win in the coastal state will help AAP to establish its support base beyond North India.
Shiromani Akali Dal:
Sahiromani Akali Dal, which rules Punjab in partnership with the BJP, is facing a strong anti-incumbency wave in the state. Political analysts predict an imminent defeat for the SAD-BJP alliance.
Just like Congress, SAD is also battling the rise of Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP. Ageing Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal has virtually relegated the power to his son Sukhbir and the election will be a test for Badal Jr.