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5 Assembly Election Results will also decide who rules the opposition space

From Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress to Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party to Asaduddin Owaisi-led AIMIM to Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party to Sharad Pawar’s NCP, everyone wants a slice of the Congress pie.

Opposition leaders
Many leaders like Akhilesh Yadav, Mamata Banerjee and Arvidn Kejriwal are eyeing the principal opposition position. (Photo India Ahead)

Apart from the normal who wins-who loses discourse, the ensuing elections to the five state assemblies – Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur – will also be important for another reason. They will settle the debate, if not permanently then at least for the next couple of years, over which party other than the Congress – assuming the Congress, as all naysayers keep on predicting, is actually hurling towards oblivion – has the ability and the voter support to take on the well-oiled and well-funded election machinery of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The outcome of the elections will also put to rest the ever-continuing debate, at least for the short run, if the Congress can continue to be at the centre and be the nucleus of the anti-BJP politics in the country.

While the Congress is the only party – apart from the BJP, which currently rules in four of these five states – which will be in the fray in all the five states going to polls beginning later in January 2022, there are several others which are making a claim to the status of being the main party in opposition to the BJP – pan-India.

Initial ground reports suggest that the Congress, despite the infighting and a rudderless central leadership, continues to be hold considerable sway with the voters in four of the five states – in Uttar Pradesh, despite the occasional flexing of muscle by the Congress, the contest could well be between the BJP and Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party (SP). But that hasn’t stopped the others from staking a forceful claim to the throne in the opposition space.

From Mamata Banerjee-led and, so far, predominantly-West Bengal-based Trinamool Congress (TMC) to Arvind Kejriwal’s so-far-Delhi-and-Punjab-centric Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) to Asaduddin Owaisi-led All India Majli-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) to Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) to Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP)… everyone wants a slice of the Congress pie and wants to cast itself in the leadership-in-the-opposition-space role currently being played by the Congress.

But the proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating and the results and performance of these parties in the five states will show if, their assessment about their own strength and support base notwithstanding, voters beyond their current respective areas of operation are ready to replace the Congress with them.

Here’s what could happen – state-wise:

Uttar Pradesh

In all likelihood, based on current trends and surveys, the main contest is between the BJP and the SP, with the BSP and Congress playing supporting roles. Since the 1989 Assembly elections, when the slide of the Congress in the country’s most politically-important state began, the top three positions in the Assembly elections have fluctuated between the SP, the BSP and the BJP. This time, however, there seems to be near-consensus that the BSP, which has so-far maintained a stranglehold over its 20 per cent committed votebank, hasn’t shown any intent to be counted as a serious player. Mayawati is so far largely missing in action.

ALSO READ: BJP Gave 4 CMs To Uttar Pradesh, Only Yogi Adityanath Lasts Full Term

The Congress, despite some high-decibel rallies and public meetings by AICC general secretary Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra, is not likely to cut much ice with the voters. The AIMIM, which had announced its intent to field candidates on 100 seats, is also seen largely as a party that could divide votes but not get enough to win many seats. The AAP, which had shown some intent to emerge as a serious player, has also fallen by and is concentrating on other states where it can actually win some seats.

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Uttarakhand

Here the real fight could be between the BJP and the Congress. The AAP, which has also announced a CM face – Colonel Ajay Kothiyal (retd) – is, by all accounts, not getting enough traction with the voters. The BSP, which also has some marginal presence, isn’t likely to do much damage to any party’s poll prospects.

Punjab

The state is likely to witness a four-cornered contest – it may even turn out to be five-cornered if farmer leader Balbir Singh Rajewal’s new outfit Sanyukt Samaj Morcha (SSM) gets adequate traction and votes. While, most analysts believe the fight for the chair is between the ruling Congress and the AAP, which, many would remember, flattered to deceive in the 2017 elections, the X-factor is: which way will the predominant agriculturist Jat Sikhs vote?

ALSO READ: Punjab Assembly elections 2022: Former Punjab MLA Arvind Khanna, Gurdeep Singh Gosha And Others Join BJP

Will the panthic party Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal), which has a pre-poll alliance with the BSP, be able to find favour with what was earlier its core votebank? Or will the Jat Sikhs tilt towards the Congress, possibly swayed by the rhetoric of state Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu? Or will they decide to ignore them and decide to give a chance to the Kejriwal-led AAP, which recently did well beyond anybody’s expectations in the Chandigarh Municipal Corporation elections?

Another x-factor is: Which way will the Hindu voters go? Will the Capt Amarinder Singh–led Punjab Lok Congress (PLC)-BJP- SAD (Sanyukt) alliance be the final stop of the Hindu voters? There are many who feel that after several decades the border state is witnessing some measure of polarisation within the Hindu population and it could end up being helpful for the Capt Amarinder-led combine.

So while the contest will be Congress versus AAP versus SAD (Badal)-BSP versus PLC-BJP-SAD (Sanyukt) versus SSM, in the end the real fight may be between the Congress and AAP.

Goa

The state has just 40-member Assembly. But the political circus and intrigue, including horse-trading that happens before and after every Assembly election is the reason why the state is the new Haryana – where Aaya Ram-Gaya Ram kind of politics is thriving.

ALSO READ: NCP In Talks With Congress, Mamata’s Trinamool For Goa Polls, Says Sharad Pawar

While earlier the contest used to be between the Congress and the BJP, the highly-visible entry of the TMC and the re-entry of AAP – it contested in 2017 too but couldn’t win a single seat, has turned the contest more colourful and interesting. Several high-profile politicians from both the BJP and the Congress have jumped on to the TMC bandwagon. But conventional wisdom has it that the main fight will be between the BJP and the Congress. But, then, we all know, conventional wisdom often fails at the altar of voter wisdom.

If the TMC performs well here – even its most ardent supporters don’t expect it to form the government on its own, it could help Mamata Banerjee buttress her claim to the main opposition leader mantle.

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Manipur

In the 2012 Assembly elections, the TMC had won seven out of the total 60 seats. But, the number came down to just one in 2017.

With the help of defectors, the TMC hopes to improve upon its 2017 tally. But, most observers believe the main fight will be between the ruling BJP and the Congress.

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