New Delhi: Amid
corruption sagas that have dented India's ruling coalition, five
states go to the polls from Monday in the country's largest
electoral exercise in two years that holds the maximum significance
for the Congress and the Communists.
Some 150 million people will be eligible to vote in the April-May
elections in Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and West Bengal
in which the key players are the Congress, the Left, and regional
parties such as the Trinamool Congress, DMK, AIADMK and Asom Gana
Most political pundits believe that ruling parties will be voted out
in most of the five states. If that does happen, the most
significant of changes will take place in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu.
Although the Left Front is overtly confident of retaining power,
West Bengal watchers believe the six-phase elections in the state
are likely to end the over three decades of uninterrupted and
enviable Marxist rule.
"After the Bihar election where it was jolted by the scale of its
defeat, the Congress is looking for solace," political analyst G.V.L.
Narasimha Rao told IANS. "As for the Left, it is now a matter of
Congress spokesman Shakeel Ahmed explained why these elections,
although taking place only in five states, are important.
"Assembly results from any state reflect on the national political
scene and indicate what the preferences are of the people of those
areas and what their priorities are," he said.
The Congress hopes to overcome the divided opposition in Assam to
prolong its rule for another five years and retain power in
Puducherry. In Kerala, going by the past, the Congress-led United
Democratic Front (UDF) has the better chance of dislodging the now
ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF).
The Congress, which rules the country and has a stake in all five
election-bound states, has its fingers crossed although publicly it
voices confidence of a good performance across the board.
The Congress concerns arise from the major corruption scams that
have hit the central government in the past year or so.
These include the second generation spectrum allocation scam that
has led to the jailing of DMK leader and disgraced former
communications minister A. Raja and allegations of corruption
involving the Commonwealth Games last year whose public face was
veteran Congress leader Suresh Kalmadi.
The other worry for the Congress is inflation -- steep hike in
prices of food and other commodities.
"If the Congress scrapes through in this election, it's ok. But if
they suffer big reverses, there will be problems," Rao added.
"The Congress would be looking for a sort of breather so that it can
argue that all the negativity of recent months is misplaced."
A change of guard in Tamil Nadu would hit hard the ruling DMK, which
is embroiled in the spectrum allocation scam, which even Congress
loyalists admit has affected the image of Prime Minister Manmohan
Singh, otherwise still regarded as the "Mr Clean" of Indian
Likely changes in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu would herald two more
women chief ministers: actress-turned-politician J. Jayalalithaa,
who ruled Tamil Nadu during 1991-96, and the passionately
anti-Marxist Mamata Banerjee, who is union railway minister.
The country's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is a
player only in Assam. Everywhere else it is a poor also-ran. In
Kerala, the party has never won an assembly seat till now.
The biggest of the state assemblies is in West Bengal -- 294 seats.
It is followed by Tamil Nadu (234 seats), Kerala (140), Assam (126)
and Puducherry (30).
While Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry will have one day's
balloting April 13, Assam will see two days of polling: April 4 and
11. West Bengal, which has seen a dramatic surge in political
violence, will vote over six days: April 18, 23 and 27 and May 3, 7
Votes will be counted in all five states May 13.
(M.R. Narayan Swamy can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)