Not going to be easy for the BJP henceforth

With Himachal won and Gujarat retained, the Bharatiya Janata Party now runs the show in 19 states. Himachal Pradesh was in the BJP bag to begin with, and the relative lack of interest shown by both the incumbent Congress and challenger BJP in the Himalayan state’s election campaign proved it, as did the general lack of surprise at the result. Gujarat is where the action was, a sort of quarter-final before the semis of 2018 that will feature the major states of Congress-ruled Karnataka first, and BJP bastions of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan later. Lokmarg looks at the Gujarat result and the next big contests: Gujarat: It’s not easy for Modi from here Gujarat has 26 Lok Sabha seats; a simplistic and gung-ho conversion by the BJP had set the party a 150-seat target in the state’s 182-member House. It was Gujarat’s first state election after Narendra Modi became prime minister, and in that sense a referendum on his performance by the people who propelled him up in the first place.  It was also, like Uttar Pradesh earlier this year, a verdict on the demonetisation exercise of 2016 and the rollout of the Goods and Services Tax. The Congress has ended up with a very respectable 80 seats while the BJP has slipped to 99. The scary part for the BJP is that 27 of the seats featured winning margins of less than 2,000 votes. A mild swing in these seats would have given a mirror image result in favour of the Congress, and that’s how close it was. Voteshare figures, despite being skewed across regions, also show the Congress catching up. What’s worked for the Congress is its alliances with caste groups and the new-found love of temples new president Rahul Gandhi has displayed. It is also significant that the Gujarat result is despite the near absence of Congress organisational structures at the grassroots level across the state in contrast with the BJP’s well-oiled machinery. In the earlier part of the campaign, the Congress questioned the development plank the BJP was selling, and that seems to have partly worked too. The rural vote has been largely for the Congress while the cities and towns have gone with the BJP. A tentative conclusion is that demonetisation and GST aren’t gamechangers in the business centres, like the Surat region that went entirely with the BJP. The flip side is the agrarian distress produced by the trickle-down model of business facilitation that the BJP so aggressively pushes in tandem with the usual socialist government schemes. Exclusion from the pie of slowing growth is manifesting itself in caste terms, and the Congress has picked on it already. Bottomline: The Congress is set to work harder on shedding the rather sticky pro-minority tag it acquired in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Expect more soft Hindutva from the new president. Emboldened by Gujarat, the Congress is likely to build alliances with disaffected caste groups across the nation, like the Reddys of Andhra or the Jats of Haryana. It will also continue to hammer at the development model that the BJP leans on every time. It’s going to get tougher for the BJP from here. Karnataka: The next big one Elections are due in Karnataka in April-May 2018. They will be preceded by early summer elections in three states of the North-East: Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura. The North-East is the BJP’s targeted growth area after the four southern states, and it rules in three states of the region—Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur— already. In Nagaland, the BJP has a comfortable ally in the ruling Naga People’s Front; the resulting Democratic Alliance of Nagaland has ruled the state since 2003. The state is 90% Christian and almost wholly tribal, so the BJP should be likely to hang on to coat-tails of the NPF and hope the peace accord it signed with the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (I-M) in 2015 gives it some traction of its own. In largely Christian Meghalaya, Mukul Sangma heads a Congress government. The BJP took one seat in the last elections but has it hopes up after winning six of the seven Assembly segments in Shillong—one of the two Lok Sabha constituencies of the state—in the 2014 general elections. It’s uphill for the BJP, but there could well be a significant saffron showing here. Tripura is the only Indian state where the communists are in power under the widely acknowledged leadership of Manik Sarkar who will be seeking a Modi-beating fifth consecutive term as chief minister. Having only lost elections for two decades, the state unit of the Congress is at odds and ends. Mamata’s Trinamool is a new player but the BJP fancies its chances in Tripura, Amit Shah making Agartala one of his important outposts in the region. Karnataka, with its huge 224-seat House and 28 Lok Sabha constituencies, is where it gets interesting. It is the only southern state where the BJP has had a government of its own, and thus a support base and local party structures that are considered strong enough in the north and coastal parts of the state. A rainbow of castes and communities, Karnataka’s electorate is always seen in terms of caste combinations. The BJP’s chief minister of choice is BS Yeddyurappa, the man who made a mess of the job his last time, leaving as his Karnataka legacy the memories of chief ministers being changed, scams and scandals. Yeddy is a Lingayat, a powerful community that seeks recognition as a non-Hindu grouping. He has been cultivating the depressed castes with great energy for months now via statewide yatras. The Congress has named serving Chief Minister Siddaramiah as the man they will continue with. Siddaramiah is from a backward caste and has stitched up, probably better than Yeddy, a combination of backward castes and Muslims. Besides, he led the party to victory in two Assembly bypolls soon after the crushing BJP victory in Uttar Pradesh earlier this year. Gujarat is very different from Karnataka but the Congress showing in the western state will be a booster shot for the dole-friendly ruling party. What about Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan? Along with the BJP-dominated tribal hinterland of Chhattisgarh and the North-East state of Mizoram, these two saffron biggies will be headed into elections at the end of 2018. Karnataka will, of course, set the tone but there’s a larger issue at play here. The General Elections of 2019 will be around the corner, and the BJP— that makes it a virtue to prefer simultaneous state and general elections— is more than likely to club them with the big one of the coming summer. It is as likely that the General Elections may be brought forward by a couple of months to avoid an endlessly long election season through the Winter and Budget sessions of Parliament, and for the politically expediency of not setting up a big semi-final right before the national contest. A BJP loss in Karnataka, a real possibility, will turn the likelihood of early general elections into a certainty. A victory will give the party momentum it will not want to lose over the months till the general election. Bottomline: The BJP will put all its got into the Karnataka elections while attempting to continue growth in the North-East but is likely to announce the clubbing of year-end elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram with brought-forward general elections. The Congress must retain Karnataka if it is to put up a fight for the next Lok Sabha. Rahul will have had a few months till then as president. Gujarat was the hop, and Karnataka will be the skip before the big jump of 2019.   // ]]>

All exit polls say BJP to win Himachal, Gujarat

All exit polls on Thursday predicted a clean sweep for the BJP in the Assembly elections held in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, in both of which it was virtually a direct fight between the two parties. While one channel gave a maximum of 135 seats to the BJP in the 182-member Gujarat Assembly, the lowest of 99-113 was given by another in the state which has been ruled by the party for the last 22 years. The ABP-CSDS Lokniti exit poll showed the BJP winning a maximum of 117 seats and Congress 64. The India Today-Axis poll predicted 99-113 seats for the BJP and 68-82 seats for the Congress. The Times Now and India TV-VMR exit poll predicted the BJP will win 113 and the Congress 66. In the 2012 assembly elections, the BJP had won 115 seats and the Congress 61 while the others got six. The Republic-Jan Ki Baat survey put the number for the BJP at 108 and the Congress at 74. The predictions by NewsX-CNX placed the BJP on the top with 110-120 seats and the Congress between 65 and 75. The poll by News24-Chanakya predicted 135 for the BJP and 47 for the Congress in Gujarat. In Himachal Pradesh, where the Congress was in power for the last five years, the exit polls showed the BJP wresting the power with India Today-Axis giving it 47-55 in the 68-member assembly. The ruling Congress is likely to get 13-20 seats. Republic TV-Jan Ki Baat gave the BJP 41 and the Congress 25. The NewsX-CNX poll predicted that the BJP will get 42-50 and the Congress 18-24 seats. The survey by ABP-CSDS in Himachal Pradesh showed the BJP may get 38 and the Congress 29. The poll by News24-Chanakya predicted 55 for the BJP and 13 for the Congress.

(IANS)  
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Highest-ever polling in Himachal at over 74%

Shyam Saran Negi (born on 1st July 1917 in Kalpa, Himachal Pradesh, who cast the first vote in 1951 general election in India – nation’s first election), after casting his vote at a polling booth, during #HimachalPradeshElections pic.twitter.com/DWHhaLia1G

— PIB India (@PIB_India) November 9, 2017 In the first two hours, the state recorded 13.72 per cent polling but by 4 p.m., nearly 64 per cent of votes were cast. A total of 337 candidates, 19 of them women, are in the fray. There are 112 Independent candidates. The main contest is between the ruling Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The Congress has projected incumbent Virbhadra Singh, 83, as its Chief Ministerial candidate, while former Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, 73, is the BJP’s. Both are contesting the elections. Both Singh and Dhumal cast their votes along with family members at their hometowns Rampur and Samirpur respectively. Union Health Minister J.P. Nadda and Congress leader and former Commerce Minister Anand Sharma cast their votes in Bilaspur and Shimla towns. “The BJP has made false promises, run fake campaigns in the state to lure the voters,” Sharma told reporters. After casting his votes, Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, who is try to get at the helm for the seventh time, said he was confident of the Congress getting a majority. On the other hand, two-time Chief Minister and Leader of Opposition Dhumal said the BJP was aiming to get 60 plus seats this time. Women, who form 19 lakh of the over 50 lakh voters, turned out in strength in the rural areas. The electorate also includes 14 transgenders. The Congress and the BJP have fielded candidates on all 68 seats, while the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Communist Party of India-Marxist have fielded 42 and 14 candidates respectively. Shyam Sharan Negi, 100, the first voter of India, cast his vote for the 15th time in the assembly polls at Kalpa in Kinnaur district. Elections official provided him a vehicle for his transportation to the polling booth from his home. For the first time, the Election Commission used VVPAT machines to ensure secrecy of the votes. The highest polling station in the state was been set up at an elevation of over 15,000 feet at Hikkam in Lahaul and Spiti district. It has 194 electors and saw an 85 per cent turnout despite snow in the evening. In Chamba town, the Election Commission made special arrangements for transporting at least 30 patients from a government hospital to their respective polling booths. The vote count will be held on December 18 along with Gujarat. The Congress had won 36 of the 68 seats in Himachal Pradesh in 2012 with a 42.81 per cent vote share, while the BJP bagged 26 seats with a 38.47 per cent vote share. In the 2012 assembly elections, the poll percentage figure was over 73.5 per cent, the highest since 1977, while it was 68.36 per cent in 2007.

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(IANS) // ]]>

Gujarat polls on Dec 9, 14; results on 18th

After facing flak over delinking the schedule from Himachal Pradesh a fortnight ago, the Election Commission on Wednesday announced that Assembly polls in Gujarat will be held on December 9 and 14, asserting that the delay was meant to ensure that relief and rehabilitation work in the wake of devastating floods was not affected.

Declaring the schedule, Chief Election Commission A.K. Joti said the independence and impartiality of the poll panel cannot be questioned on account of the delay which was on account of the flood situation in north Gujarat. The Election Commission has already announced that the results of the elections for the 182-member Gujarat and 68-seat Himachal Pradesh assemblies will be declared on December 18. The date of filing of nominations for the first phase of Gujarat polls covering 89 constituencies in 19 districts will be November 14 and the last date will be November 21. The scrutiny of nominations will take place the next day and the last day of withdrawal will be November 24. In the second phase, covering 93 seats in 14 districts, the nominations will open on November 20. The last date of nominations will be November 27. Scrutiny will be done on November 28 and the last date for withdrawal will be November 30.   The model code of conduct that bars governments from taking policy decisions and announcing new projects came into force immediately in BJP-ruled Gujarat. The schedule for Himachal Pradesh polls was announced on October 12. The hill state votes on November 9. Soon after the Himachal announcement, the opposition parties had come down heavily on the poll panel alleging that it had given the BJP government in Gujarat and Prime Minister Narendra Modi more time to announce election sops.

CEC defends delay in Gujarat dates

Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) A.K. Joti was on Wednesday hard put to defend the Commissions decision, and rejected suggestions of “connivance” with the state government. “There is no question of connivance with the state government. The EC has to take into consideration several factors. The Gujarat Chief Secretary wrote to us on September 27 and on October 2.  “It was requested that the state should be given more time as relief and rehabilitation work in seven adversely affected districts of the state would get slowed after announcement of polls,” said Joti. “The state machinery and officials involved in the relief and rehabilitation works will have to be diverted to poll-related duties, and thus it will affect the rehabilitation work,” he added. Joti served as Gujarat Chief Secretary when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was Chief Minister of the state. Questions on the EC’s credibility are being raised as Prime Minister Modi inaugurated and laid foundation stones of a number of development projects worth thousands of crores of rupees between October 12 and October 24.
  The total number of voters in Gujarat will be 4.33 crore, up from 4.27 crore in the last election. The electors photo identity cards (EPIC) is to the extent of 99.99 per cent. The total number of polling stations will be 50,128 as against 44,579 in the last elections. Electronic voting machines will be used at all the polling stations along with voter verifiable paper audit trails (VVPATs) under which a voter will be able to see the candidate, the party and the symbol for whom they voted. “The Commission has already made arrangements to ensure availability of adequate number of EVMs and VVPATs for the smooth conduct of election,” Joti said. (IANS) // ]]>