Elections 2021: State of play as key Indian states get ready for polls

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Indian polls
The upcoming days would see political parties slug it in India out to form governments in four states and one Union territory
Image Credit: Muhammed Nahas/Gulf News

BJP’s cobra moment

“Ami joldhorao noi, bele borao noi, ami ekta cobra, ek- chobol- ei chhobi.” (Don’t mistake me for a harmless snake, I am a pure cobra, one strike and you become a photograph) As dialogues go, this would be right up Shakti Kapoor’s sleeve, and more than a little out of place from a 70- year- old yesteryear superstar.

But this plays out when you almost promise a Sourav Ganguly and deliver a Mithun-Da!

Actor Mithun Chakraborty’s announcement of joining the BJP just ahead of the PM’s rally in Kolkata may forcefully be his final pit-stop though, the rest of the track is beaten and tried. It is anybody’s guess if and when he goes off the road- the actor has transcended many genres and not just in the movies. The colours of his affiliations have had more shades than the wide- ranging characters he has portrayed.

From a self- confessed Naxal supporter to cosying up with the CPM- Chief Minister Jyoti Basu was “Jyoti uncle,” and later becoming a Trinamool Congress Rajya Sabha MP under Mamata Banerjee, a seat he quit after his name cropped up in the Saradha Chit Fund scam- a group for whom he was the brand ambassador, his roles have been eclectic but transitory.

There was only one mention missing in his bio, and by going saffron he has fixed that. Last month’s meeting with RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat was described as a “spiritual connection.” In the election season it is just another euphemism for politics.

So, will the man hand-picked by the Sangh supremo become the BJP’s CM face in a state many political pundits consider the final frontier? Will the disco dancer embrace Rabindra sangeet or will he flatter to deceive like the blink, and you will miss it appearance in the Rajya Sabha which he attended for just three days and never asked a question?

Although Bengal has an unprecedented line up across parties, top actors as politicians rarely put their actions where their mouth is- hopefully that Cobra sting is one such instance! But anyone will be better than Sunny Deol against whom missing person’s posters were put by a frustrated vote bank in his constituency of Gurdaspur.

Will Mithun Da have more staying power, time and the BJP will decide.

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Didi’s Nandigram Challenge

The person who does have the staying power not just on her long padyatras- foot march, but also on an electric scooter is the only woman Chief Minister of the country, Mamata Banerjee. She was ridiculed for her fuel protest drive by the Prime Minister, “it is good that you did not fall,”- not sure if a man driving that scooter would have got the same reaction- and mocked earlier for being a woman leader by a sexist BJP MP and minister Babul Supriyo who proclaimed that “beti paraya dhan hoti hai.” — a daughter is someone else’s wealth implying that she would be booted out of Bengal in the elections.

On the side she continues to face the might of the BJP’s top brass- PM Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and party president JP Nadda have all descended on West Bengal to take on this one- woman battalion.

In the 8 phase elections in the state, the battle of Nandigram- 150 kms from capital Kolkata is the marque one. In a climate of defections- and it is still ongoing, Mamata takes on her former trusted aide Suvendu Adhikari. After she picked the BJP’s Nandigram gauntlet, she is now being mocked for dumping her traditional seat of Bhawanipore in South Kolkata. In politics, you cannot please some of the people some time, let alone some of the people all the time!

Nandigram holds political symbolism- Mamata’s charge to Writer’s Building began from Nandigram amid the land agitation that toppled the Left Front government ten years ago. That time Adhikari was standing with her, mobilising support. In May, it will be one or the other. And it is a battle for national relevance for both. Holding off the BJP will make Mamata the tallest opposition leader.

Nandigram goes to the polls in the second phase, but from just 3 seats in the 2016 Assembly elections to a climate of unpredictability where no one can forecast the outcome is a victory in itself for the BJP. The party though won’t be happy with just symbolism — expect things to become uglier before it becomes Sonar Bangla.

Priyanka’s Chai pe Charcha in Assam

If Mamata can teach others one thing, it is how to be a street fighter- the one requisite of Indian politics especially in today’s climate. Recently, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra was seen rushing to a rally venue in Assam. She broke into a sweatless jog in the last few minutes and gave a glimpse of her grandmother, Indira Gandhi.

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For just a moment. So, will these elections finally be the coming of age of Priyanka as Indira’s granddaughter in more ways than just the strong physical resemblance?

Plucking tea leaves from a tea garden in Assam though was great optics, the tea workers have traditionally voted Congress, but when the PM has claimed that even the famous Assam tea was brewing an international conspiracy, she may need more than just chai pe charcha.

Until now, Priyanka has been a seasonal politician- turning up more on twitter than on the ground and having confined herself to Uttar Pradesh, where her debut was the biggest no show in recent political history. In the last bypolls in Uttar Pradesh the party lost deposits in 4 out of 6 seats- this despite Priyanka being visible during the migrant exodus as well as the protests over the gang rape and death of a young woman in Hathras.

Since then, there has been much speculation on her moving to Lucknow as the national general secretary of the Congress in charge of Uttar Pradesh, to take on a strong Yogi government that doesn’t give an inch, forget a mile. UP goes to the polls in 2022 but so far neither a bag nor any baggage have been sighted in the capital city. Despite being made to vacate the official bungalow, Priyanka still doesn’t look ready to move out of her comfort zone. But in Yogi’s land, she will definitely need more than a jog.

Elections are Gold in Kerala

Priyanka’s brother Rahul Gandhi though was definitely thinking out of the box. He went swimming in the sea, had a fishing boat outing and did some envious push-ups with students. His actions though are not likely to impress the much older and protesting group of G-23 that isn’t convinced of his leadership skills on a daily basis. They will feel justified, while Rahul was all at sea, 4 Congress leaders from his constituency of Wayanad in Kerala resigned citing groupism.

The Chief Minister of Kerala Pinarayi Vijayan is also predictably not amused but hopes Rahul Gandhi’s swimming dive will boost tourism in the state. He though, has his own troubled waters to swim in. An affidavit by the Customs Department in the Kerala High Court names the CM in the recent gold smuggling case that rocked Kerala.

In the poll season it isn’t always easy to sift the truth from an agenda especially when agencies are their master’s voice. It wasn’t too far back during the Bihar elections when the Narcotics Control Bureau was running a parallel campaign in the so- called memory of local actor Sushant Singh Rajput.

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National investigation Agency (NIA) which is probing the smuggling case has reportedly said that it has not found any evidence. The Chief Minister though is not playing any favourites, accusing both the Congress and BJP equally of trying to bring down the LDF government. As for the Congress and the BJP, they must be left wondering what they are doing wrong.

Tamil Nadu: Sasikala out, DMK-Congress in?

There could finally be some good news for the Congress, a recent poll shows that the DMK- led UPA will wrest power from the AIADMK- led NDA in Tamil Nadu. Election polls in India of course come with a caveat, believe at your own risk.

Meanwhile, the suspense is over- not about when Rahul will take over again as the Congress President- but over the seat sharing of the party with the DMK. The party will contest 25 assembly seats but it is the label of a minor ally in the eyes of the regional parties that has been the one common thread when it come to the Congress and these elections.

Has the grand old party been reduced to the tag of a spoiler, much as Asaduddin Owaisi and his AIMIM? Unlike the Congress, Owaisi though is expected to play a game and perhaps even be a game changer in Bengal. After Bihar and Bengal, the four- time MP Owaisi has also forayed into Tamil Nadu and signed an alliance with Sasikala’s nephew TTV Dinakaran’s AMMK, who had to do some last- minute hustling after Sasikala’s dramatic announcement to quit elections. For now.

Political temperatures are rising, gas cylinders are being promised and Covid-19 at political rallies is all about a prayer on mask-less lips. As four states and one Union Territory countdown to the polls don’t go by the deep- sea diving, cobra pose or the chai pe conspiracy. It ain’t over till the fat lady sings.



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