State elections 2022: COVID to test BJP's dominance

·Columnist
·5-min read

Assembly elections to 5 states are due in 2022. The five states that will go to polls in the first quarter of the year include Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Goa and Manipur. Barring Punjab, the Bharatiya Janata Party is in power in four of these states.

Further elections to 19 Rajya Sabha seats are due in Q2/Q3, which would be determined by the results of the five state elections. 11 of these seats are in UP, 7 in Punjab and 1 in Uttarakhand. The BJP currently has 6 of these seats.

The second wave of the COVID-19 has changed the dynamics of these elections. The health infrastructure has been crippled across states.

Shortage of hospital beds, scramble for oxygen cylinders, blackmarketing of essential medicines, queues outside crematoriums, scenes of dead bodies floating in rivers have sent shock waves throughout the country.

The second wave has hit most of us: 1/5th of households have witnessed a death in family/friend circle, while 1/10th have at least one member turned corona-positive as per a survey by C-Voter.

Public is generally dissatisfied with the handling of the second wave as evident from a decline in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s approval ratings.

With recoveries now exceeding daily cases, it is feared that the virus has moved to rural areas, which lack testing capabilities and adequate facilities.

The daily deaths continue to be above 4,000 despite a decline in new cases by more than 40% and the fatality rate has jumped to 2%.

The focus now has shifted to vaccination, which has been rather slow during this month and expected to catch up from June as supplies increase.

States have to financially provide for inoculation of the 18-45 age group and also import vaccines as domestic manufacturing is not sufficient.

States which were hoping to tap the international markets for vaccines were in for a rude shock when Moderna told the government of Punjab that it would discuss and negotiate only with the central government.

Let’s discuss the state wise position as of now:

1. Uttar Pradesh

UP is the most important state which goes for polls next year. In the recently concluded panchayat elections the Samajwadi Party emerged as the single largest party with 782 seats, 200 more than Bharatiya Janata Party.

What is alarming for the BJP was that the party is trailing the SP even in its stronghold areas of Ayodhya (Ram Mandir temple site), Varanasi (Prime Minister’s constituency), and Gorakhpur (Chief Minister’s constituency).

Normally, the ruling party has an edge in panchayat elections, like SP in UP in 2015, TMC in Bengal in 2018, YSRCP in Andhra and BJP in Gujarat in 2021.

The results are indicative of rural economic distress perpetrated by the first wave and the alleged lax handling of the second wave by the Yogi Adityanath government.

Recently the Allahabad High Court had observed that the entire healthcare system in villages and small cities of the state was "Ram bharose".

What is likely to work in favour of the BJP is the fact that the opposition is disunited. The Mahagathbandhan between BSP and SP has been called off. Priyanka too is focussing on Congress party’s revival in the state.

2. Punjab

Punjab is witnessing a fatality rate higher than the national average. It is also the hotbed of farmers’ agitation against the farm laws.

The state is likely to witness a quadrangular contest between Congress, Akali Dal, AAP and BJP. The Akalis left the NDA after the farm bill fiasco last year.

Amarinder Singh who will be 80 next year is facing rebellion from the Siddhu camp which has accused him of showing laxity in handling the sacrilege investigation. Amarinder has hit back alleging Sidhu is likely to join AAP.

The high command has been silent on the issue so far. The Gandhis do not like powerful leaders like Captain but may not wish for a leadership change in these circumstances.

AAP which emerged as the second largest party in 2017 smells a chance. On the other hand, Akalis face an existential crisis.

3. Uttarakhand

The BJP replaced its chief minister in the state in April this year as rank and file was unhappy with Trivendra Singh Rawat. The state received flak for hosting the maha kumbh during the second wave which was branded as a super spreader event.

The state has a history of alternate BJP and Congress governments. The new CM also has issued many controversial remarks which have not gone down well with the masses.

4. Goa

In Goa, the BJP was able to form the government in 2017 despite Congress emerging as the single largest party. Since then it has consolidated its position in the house with 2/3rd of Congress MLAs merging with BJP.

The positivity rate in Goa is very high (32%) and there have been incidents of patients dying in hospital due to lack of oxygen. The High Court has slammed the state government for seeking waiver of negativer RT-PCR test requirement for 5,400 workers who travel daily to Goa for work from other states.

In Goa, the role of smaller parties and independents will continue to play a key role.

5. Manipur

Manipur is facing similar issues in handling COVID like other states. The government is dependent on support from regional parties. The BJP’s win in Assam recently provided a boost to the NEDA government in the state.

To sum up, with the possibility of a third wave looming large, COVID management is likely to remain a key issue among others like economic development, law and order, price rise and corruption in these state elections.

The incumbent governments need to complete vaccination for a sizable population by the time elections are held to improve their chances of retaining power.

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