March 07, 2021

Challenges in the Forthcoming Assembly Elections

THE schedule for the assembly elections in Assam, West Bengal, Tamilnadu, Kerala and the union territory of Puducherry has been announced. It stretches from March 27 to April 29.

These elections have their own importance for each state, given the political background specific to that state. However, taken together, they have a wider national significance. Will the outcome facilitate the ongoing drive of the BJP to establish one-party hegemonic rule in the entire country, or will it strengthen the opposition to this authoritarian drive.

Among these five states, only in Assam is the BJP in government. The BJP alliance had won the assembly election for the first time in 2016. It is this capture of power in Assam which helped its advance in the north-east; the BJP formed governments in Tripura, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh subsequently, by hook or by crook.

In Assam, the BJP has sought to use the National Register of Citizens ( NRC) and the Citizenship Amendement Act ( CAA)  to advance its communal agenda. In the run up to this election too, the BJP leadership is indulging in rabid communal rhetoric with the patent aim of creating a communal polarisation. It is therefore of utmost importance, to ensure the defeat of the BJP alliance in this election.

Towards this end, a combination of seven parties has emerged comprising Congress, AIUDF, CPI(M), CPI, CPI(ML), Anchalik Gana Morcha and Bodoland People’s Front. This united opposition grouping should be able to give an effective fight to the BJP alliance.

In Tamilnadu, in 2016, the AIADMK alliance under Jayalalitha’s leadership was able to win a majority and continue in government for another term. The BJP was not part of the alliance. But after the demise of Jayalalitha, the AIADMK leadership got divided and that gave the BJP central government to intervene and since then, the AIADMK has been an ally of the BJP.

In the Lok Sabha election of 2019, the AIADMK-BJP alliance was routed. The DMK-led alliance which included the Left parties swept the polls winning 38 of the 39 seats. BJP is now using the AIADMK as a proxy to penetrate its influence and build up its strength in Tamilnadu. Hence this election is not the usual contest between the two Dravidian parties and its allies as in the past. The fight against the AIADMK is also a fight to check the BJP and its advance. 

In 2016, one of the reasons the DMK alliance could not win the assembly election was because four parties – CPI(M), CPI, VCK and MDMK had contested separately as the People’s Welfare Front. Now all these parties are in the DMK led alliance. It is essential that the DMK strengthen the alliance by a fair distribution of seats to these four parties.

In Puducherry, the Congress government was toppled on the eve of the election by the usual skulduggery of the BJP. First the government was not allowed to function using the Lt. Governor and then defections were engineered. The Congress had been weakened earlier by a factional split and the formation of the NR Congress. The NR Congress-AIADMK-BJP alliance will make a determined bid using its vast money power. It remains to be seen how effectively the Congress-DMK-Left combination can put up a fight to foil the BJP game.

The CPI(M) and the Left parties have the biggest stakes in the elections in West Bengal and Kerala. The situation in West Bengal is the most complicated. The BJP is making a serious bid to capture power in the state. For that, it is deploying all its men and resources backed by the RSS. The 2019 Lok Sabha election saw a polarisation between the TMC and BJP and the latter won 18 of the 42 seats polling 40.6 per cent. The Left Front got squeezed out in this polarisation and got only 7.4 per cent of the vote.

The CPI(M) and the Left Front have been strenuously working to recover lost ground and in the past two years the struggles and movements conducted by the Left parties and mass organisations have helped in reviving mass support for them. The CPI(M) has called for the defeat of the BJP and TMC and the creation of a Left, democratic and secular alternative.

The danger of BJP advance in West Bengal is real. This has led some liberal and Left circles outside Bengal to advocate cooperation with the TMC by the CPI(M) and Left Front. This would be suicidal for the Left and actually facilitate a BJP victory. There is strong discontent against the TMC and its thuggish misrule. A soft attitude to Mamata Banerjee and her party on the part of the Left will drive all the anti-TMC voters into the arms of the BJP. In fact, it is the projection of an alternative combination of the Left Front, Congress and other non-BJP, non-TMC forces that can rally these people and deprive the BJP of additional support.

The contest in Kerala is between the LDF and the UDF. The BJP is aspiring to become the third pole as it knows very well that it cannot be the main contender in these polls. The LDF government under Pinarayi Vijayan’s leadership has a remarkable record of performance – in developmental work and social welfare measures. These won wide appreciation from the people which made the Congress and UDF desperate. Throughout last year, the Congress worked in tandem with the BJP in raising false allegations against the LDF government and the chief minister regarding the gold smuggling cases and other non-existent corruption cases. They conducted synchronised “struggles” aided by sections of the mainstream media. However, rejecting this anti-LDF tirade, the people gave a resounding mandate to the LDF in the local body election in November, 2020.

The LDF is going into the election with renewed confidence buoyed by the expansion of the front with two parties joining it, the Kerala Congress (M) and the LJD. The democratic and secular-minded people of Kerala know from their own experience that the CPI(M) and LDF are the bulwark against the BJP and communal forces. The prospects for a return to office are bright breaking the record of an alternative government every five years. But there are no grounds for complacency, given the fact that both the Congress and BJP are not above collaborating against their common foe.

(March 3, 2021)