Analysis of CSDS Tamil Nadu pre-poll in Indian Express

Today’s Indian Express has the Lokniti-CSDS analysis of the pre-poll conducted in Tamil Nadu. The leading article by Rahul Verma and P. Ramajayam examines the pivotal role of women in Chief Minister Jayalalithaa’s victory. Here’s the key takeaway:

The comparative credibility of leadership seems to have acquired a gender dimension in Tamil Nadu. Women voters delivered a decisive verdict in favour of Jayalalithaa and her party.

While the turnout was 73% for both male and female voters, there were 4 lakh more registered women voters than men. Survey data suggest that women voters rallied behind Jayalalithaa in greater numbers than ever before. The AIADMK led the DMK alliance by 10 percentage points among women voters and, thus, Jayalalithaa’s party drew its votes from the bigger share of the pie. Her party has had an advantage among women voters earlier, but the gap has never been this stark and large.

More women than men found Jayalalithaa a better administrator. They perceived her as caring more for them and for the poor than DMK chief M Karunanidhi. Compared to men, women voters were also less likely to think the AIADMK government was corrupt, the data show; on the other hand, they were more likely to think of Karunandhi as very corrupt. Women voters in comparison to men were more likely to give another chance to the AIADMK. This pattern is replicated across caste, class, and other demographic variables.

Links to all articles below:

On the role of women in Jayalalithaa’s victory by Rahul Verma and P. Ramajayam

On why the DMK fell short by Sam Solomon

On the poor showing of the People’s Welfare Front by Pranav Gupta

On the popularity of prohibition in Kerala and Tamil Nadu by Vibha Attri and Jyoti Mishra

Analysis of CSDS Kerala pre-poll in Indian Express

Today’s Indian Express has the Lokniti-CSDS analysis of the pre-poll conducted in Kerala. The headline article by Rahul Verma, Pranav Gupta, and Nitin Mehta examines the reasons for the BJP’s emergence in Kerala. Here’s they key takeaway:

…the BJP is cutting into the support base of both coalitions [LDF and UDF]. The upper-caste Nairs have remained the nucleus of BJP’s social coalition in Kerala and the party in this election received more votes among this section than the UDF. The BJP’s alliance with SNDP (a social organisation of Ezhavas), however, has not resulted in the desired effects. The Ezhavas are a numerically dominant backward-caste community and represent almost half of the state’s Hindu population. The BJP’s support among the community increased by merely five percentage points in comparison to the Lok Sabha election. Even among the Ezhavas, who reported to be associated with the SNDP, the NDA was far behind the two alliances.

The BJP’s vote share among the Dalits has increased significantly in this election. In fact, the BJP and the UDF won equally among the Dalits, who have historically remained aligned with the LDF. The survey data also suggests that the BJP has succeeded in winning a small segment of Christian voters. Does this development indicate a formation of a new social coalition in Kerala? Can Rajagopal replicate BJP’s Goa model where Manohar Parikkar built a coalition around upper-caste Hindus and Christians? Will the BJP succeed in making further inroads in Kerala?

In the past, the BJP’s success in new frontiers like Karnataka, Haryana, Jammu and most recently in Assam is in large part due to the en-masse transfer of a regional party’s support base. The prospect of this option looks bleak in Kerala and thus the BJP needs to prepare for another round of struggle in the state. The party’s vote share is still a few percentage points below the threshold point beyond which it could start making substantial gains in terms of seats.

Links to all articles below:

On the BJP’s emergence in Kerala by Rahul Verma, Pranav Gupta, and Nitin Mehta

On why the LDF win was unlike previous elections by Sandeep Shastri and KM Sajad Ibrahim

On the nuanced perspective of leftist voters by Hilal Ahmed

Analysis of CSDS West Bengal post-poll in Indian Express

Today’s Indian Express has the Lokniti-CSDS analysis of the post-poll conducted in West Bengal. The headline article co-authored by myself and Professor Jyoti Prasad Chatterjee of Barrackpore Rastraguru Surendranath College examines what went wrong with the Left-Congress alliance. Here’s the key takeaway:

The Assembly elections tested whether a ‘jote’, or alliance, between the Left Front, led by the CPI(M), and the Congress could successfully uproot the Trinamool Congress (TMC) government in West Bengal. That experiment clearly failed. The Lokniti-CSDS post-poll analysis reveals that in contrast to the ‘mahagathbandhan’ in Bihar or the BJP-AGP-BPF combine in Assam, the chemistry of a Left-Congress alliance was not conducive to electoral victory in West Bengal. Insofar as the alliance did succeed, it worked more to Congress’s benefit than the Left’s.

…The fundamental weakness of the Left-Congress ‘jote’ was simple: voters vote differently in state elections than national elections because issues of state governance are different from issues of national governance. The 2014 elections were defined by a debate about development and change at the national level. By contrast, these elections were largely a referendum on the performance of Mamata Banerjee’s TMC government. Fifty-seven per cent of voters were satisfied with the performance of the TMC government, while only 33 per cent were dissatisfied. Among this dissatisfied third, the Left-Congress ‘jote’ won only 65 per cent of votes, indicating that many anti-TMC voters did not think it presented a credible alternative to the TMC.

While the Left’s votes largely transferred to Congress, Congress’s votes did not transfer as consistently to the Left. Among those who voted for the Left Front in 2014, 88 per cent voted for the ‘jote’ while only 9 per cent voted for TMC in 2016. But among those who voted for Congress in 2014, 73 per cent voted for the ‘jote’ and 24 per cent voted for TMC. This lopsided transfer of votes helped Congress win more seats than the Left Front and emerge as the next leader of the opposition.

Links to all articles below:

On what went wrong with the Left-Congress alliance by Sam Solomon and Jyoti Prasad Chatterjee

On the popularity of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee by Jyoti Mishra and Aasmita Aasaavari

On the loss of the Left’s base to the TMC by Shreyas Sardesai and Suprio Basu

On the relative insignificance of corruption as a political issue by Vibha Attri and Souradeep Banerjee

On the BJP’s disappointing returns by Pranav Gupta, Shashwat Dhar, and Nitin Mehta

Analysis of CSDS Assam post-poll in Indian Express

Today’s Indian Express has the Lokniti-CSDS analysis of the post-poll conducted in Assam. The headline article by Sanjay Kumar, Suhas Palshikar, and Sandeep Shastri reviews the meaning of all four election results for national politics. Here’s the key takeaway:

…these election outcomes yet again underscore the importance of state-level political configurations. Not just the fact that in almost each of these four states, state level players made all the difference, but also the nature of competition, its impact on various players, filtering of the national appeals and images, and the social bases that allowed victories and produces losses, are all state-specific. This is what the BJP ignored in case of Bihar and made amends this time around. As we move away from the Modi magic of 2014, this crucial reality would be a major factor in shaping the electoral arena. More importantly, this means that challenge to the BJP can arise mainly from state-based parties — something that ties up with the inevitability of coalitions.

…in spite of its limited success in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, this round of Assembly elections further underscores the rise of BJP as the only truly all-India party. Already in 2014, it had nearly achieved that status, but a robust performance in East and South further strengthens this feature. It took a long time for any party to finally emerge as an all-India party in the wake of the decline of Congress that began in 1989.

…this outcome will be remembered for probably the last leg in the downhill journey of the Congress party. In 2014, it was felt that that was the lowest that the party can stumble. But past two years have shown the depths of its downfall. Both in Assam and in Kerala, it is not extra-ordinary that it lost; but the scale of loss and, more than that, the style in which it lost — bickering, aimless and isolated — makes this outcome another important milestone in the irresistible decline of the Congress party.

Links to all articles on Assam below:

On the unprecedented level of Hindu consolidation for the BJP by Shreyas Sardesai and Dhruba Pratim Sharma

On the BJP’s alliances with regional parties by Sam Solomon

On the BJP’s success among Scheduled Tribe voters by Shreyas Sardesai

On Congress’ decision to not align with the AIUDF by Sanjeer Alam

Counting Day

Election results for Assam, Kerala, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal were all announced today. You can follow the results as they are tallied here or here (with maps!).

In Assam, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) snagged an 86-seat majority through its alliance with the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) and Asom Gana Parishad (AGP). This is the election that attracted the most attention in north Indian media because 1) the BJP had the greatest chance of winning compared to the other state elections and 2) it was the only state in which Congress and the BJP were the principal competitors. Congress won a measly 26 seats, retiring it from its fifteen years in government, while the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) won 13 seats. This result is not surprising, though the magnitude of the BJP’s victory is quite impressive. At sixty seats, the BJP nearly won a majority all on its own. In West Gauhati, the assembly constituency (AC) seat where I observed exit polls and post-poll fieldwork in April, the AGP won.

In Kerala, the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) won a clean victory with 91 of 140 seats, besting the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF), which won 47 seats. Kerala has swung back and forth between LDF rule and UDF rule for the last few decades, so this result is not surprising either. The BJP managed to expand its vote share to 11% (with its ally, the Bharat Dharma Jana Sena) and win its first seat in the niyamasabha with this election. The assembly constituency it won, Nemom, is where I observed pre-poll fieldwork last week. The other AC where I observed fieldwork, Varkala, was won by the Communist Party of India (Marxist). The only remaining question is whether former chief minister (and nonagenarian) VS Achuthanandan or Pinarayi Vijayan will be the next chief minister of Kerala, a question the CPM must decide on in the coming days.

In Tamil Nadu, Jayalalithaa’s Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (ADMK) managed to hold on to power with a reduced majority of 134 out of 232 seats, beating Karunanidhi’s Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) – Congress alliance, which nevertheless expanded its vote share from the 2011 elections to win 89 seats. The much-hyped People’s Welfare’s Front (PWF), a motley alliance of the Communist Party of India (CPI), Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM), Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK), Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC), and Vidhuthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) led by film star Vijayakanth, failed to win even one seat. As Rahul Verma wrote in The Indian Express today, this shows that the Tamil system of two Dravidian parties taking turns in power remains stronger than ever. This election was a milestone in that Jayalalitha bucked the trend of Tamil politics by which the DMK and ADMK are voted out every five years. This result comes something as a surprise, since the exit polls released Monday all showed the DMK-Congress winning (with the exception of CVoter, one of my research affiliates, who called the ADMK victory). The ADMK won in Usilampatti, the assembly constituency where I observed pre-poll fieldwork last week.

In West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee and the Trina Mool Congress (TMC) won in a landslide, winning 214 out of 294 seats. The Left Front-Congress alliance managed to win only 73 seats, with the Congress winning 44 and the Left Front winning 29. A disastrous result for the Left, which dominated West Bengal politics from 1977 to 2011. The BJP won three seats, an improvement over its 2011 performance (when it won none) but did not match its performance from 2014. In Bolpur, the AC where I observed exit polls and post-poll fieldwork in April, the TMC won.

And in the tiny union territory of Puducherry, an alliance between the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and Congress has won 17 of 30 seats.

Overall, these are bad results for the Congress, middling results for the Left, and promising results for the BJP. The Congress has now been on a losing streak for several years at the national and state level. Losing two more states was the last result they needed; the only major state which they now govern is Karnataka (they are also a junior partner in the Bihar government). The Left, though happy to win Kerala, appears to be facing terminal decline in West Bengal, once their stronghold. The Left also failed to win a single seat in Tamil Nadu. The BJP is rejoicing at its big victory in Assam — their first win in the Northeast India — while also pleased to expand on its vote share and finally win a seat in Kerala.

I am happy to say that the CSDS pre-polls (for Kerala and Tamil Nadu) and post-polls (for Assam and West Bengal) were spot on in terms of identifying the trends in these four elections (we did not do a survey for Puducherry). The CSDS/Lokniti team’s analysis of the survey results will be featured in The Indian Express over the next few days.

A Guide to the 2016 Assam Elections

 In April and May, four different states (Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal) and one union territory (Puducherry) are going to the polls to elect new legislative assemblies. Below is a brief guide to the Assam assembly elections. For more information on these elections, please see Pranav Gupta’s overview as well as Sandhya Goswami’s and Vikas Tripathi 2015 EPW article, both of which were consulted for this guide. Uddipana Goswami’s Conflict and Reconciliation: The Politics of Ethnicity in Assam provides a definitive overview of the many dimensions of ethnic conflict in Assam’s colonial and post-colonial history, while Sandhya’s Goswami’s 2003 Journal of School of Political Economy article provides a definitive review of Assam’s political parties.

Assam’s politics are a direct reflection of the state’s uniqueness. Tucked away in India’s northeast, the state is a melting pot of cultural and ethnic identities. It has struggled with separatist violence, religious and ethnic tensions, and debates about the autonomy and independence of its many tribal populations. At the same time, Assam is a state that is developing rapidly and defies simple generalizations.

Like many previous elections, this election will fuse questions over Assam’s ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and religious identity with tensions over tribal issues and illegal immigration from Bangladesh. A Congress-led government that has held office for fifteen years will be fighting against feelings of anti-incumbency. The BJP will try to notch its first win in a state election in over a year, and post its first victory ever as a coalition leader in east Indian state politics.

This election will be a contest between three main electoral players: the Congress-UPP alliance, the BJP-BPF-AGP alliance, and the AIUDF-JD(U)-RJD allianceBecause this is the only one of the four upcoming elections in which the BJP could displace a Congress government, it will probably be the election most closely watched by the national media in Delhi.


  • What is Assam?

At 31.2 million people, Assam is the largest state in northeastern India. Its capital is Dispur, and its largest city is Guwahati. Assam is well-known for its tea and silk, which are the state’s largest exports.

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The state of Assam includes many different tribal populations; twelve percent are categorized as Scheduled Tribes (STs), which qualifies them for targeted benefits related to employment and education.Various movements, peaceful and militant, have occurred in Assam’s post-independent history to demand greater autonomy and sometimes complete independence for different ethnic and tribal groups. Such independence movements during the 1960s to 1980s produced a new set of small states in the Northeast: Nagaland, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, and Mizoram. Indeed, for decades Assam had its own armed separatist movement, the United Liberation Forces of Assam (ULFA), which laid down its arms in 2011 after an agreement with the Assamese and Indian governments.

Not all movements have called for full independence. The Bodos, who make up more than 40% of Assam’s ST population, led a movement in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s that resulted in greater autonomy through the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) that was established in 2003. While the Bodos are the most prominent, several other tribes have won concessions of autonomous governing councils from the central and state governments.

As a neighbor of Bangladesh, Assam has regularly received large inflows of Bangladeshi migrants throughout its history. Considerable tensions have generally surrounded this migration. The Assam Movement, or Assam Agitation, which occurred from 1979 to 1985 was the most organized outbreak of such tensions. The All Assam Students Union (AASU) led protests and demonstrations against undocumented Bangladeshis immigrants demanding that migrants be expelled from the state. This movement came to a head on January 19, 1983, when more than 2,000 Bengali Muslims were massacred in one of the worst pogroms in Indian history. The movement ended in 1985 with the Assam Agreement between the AASU and the government of India, after which the AASU became the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and entered party politics. The AGP won the 1986 and 1996 state elections, governing from 1986 to 1991 and 1996 to 2001.

Muslims constitute the largest religious minority in Assam. According to the 2011 census, 34% of residents were Muslim, the largest of any state outside of Jammu and Kashmir. This population includes Assamese Muslims, Bengali Muslims (i.e., originally from West Bengal), and Bangladeshi Muslims. Because nearly all migrants that have arrived from Bangladesh are Muslim, nativist movements are often inflected with religious overtones. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for example, has stated that all Muslim Bangladeshi migrants will be expelled from Assam during previous campaign trips to the state. On a recent campaign stop, he said that if a BJP government was elected, a fenced border will be built by December 2016 to keep out Muslim Bangladeshi migrants.

Language has also been as another key point of tension throughout Assam’s history. In 1960, the Assamese Official Language Act was passed, making Assamese the sole official language of the state. This act has never been fully implemented however. While Assamese is the official language of much of the state, it is not in three districts of the state in the Barak Valley, where Bengali is the official language. In the four districts of the Bodoland Territorial Council, Bodo is another official language. The Language Act of 1960 has therefore been the subject of much public debate, with some calling for repeal of the law in contrast to others calling for its full implementation.

According to data from the 2011 Assam assembly elections survey, Assamese-speaking Hindus constitute 31% of Assam’s population, Assamese-speaking Muslims constitute 9%, Bengali-speaking Hindus constitute 10%, and Bengali-speaking Muslims constitute 20% [Editor’s note: These figures have been corrected from a previous version of the article, in which figures were not properly weighted to the state’s overall religious demographics per the 2011 census].

  • Why is Assam having elections?

Like Bihar last year, Assam will be electing a Vidhan Sabha, or legislative assembly, to govern the state’s affairs. Assam’s Vidhan Sabha has 126 seats. Whichever party alliance can combined assemble 64 seats will have enough to back a government led by their named chief ministerial candidate. Once the chief minister has secured a majority of votes in the Vidhan Sabha, s/he will name a government of ministers. State governments hold office for five years if they are able to maintain a majority in the Vidhan Sabha.

  • When are the elections being held?

The elections are being held in two phases. In the first phase on April 4, 65 constituencies voted. In the second phase on April 11, the remaining 61 constituencies will have elections. The final results of the elections will be announced on May 19, along with the results of the elections in West Bengal, Puducherry, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu.

  • What are the stakes of this election at the national level?

The Indian National Congress (INC), which for many decades led the national government and many state governments, has been on a downward electoral slide over the past few years. This culminated in their embarrassing loss in 2014, in which the party was reduced to a historic low of forty seats in the Lok Sabha. After Karnataka and Kerala, Assam is the largest state governed by the INC. Losing it would be another embarrassment that shows the party’s diminishing appeal, following  on previous losses in head-to-head contests against the BJP in the 2014 elections of Haryana and Maharashtra. Another Congress loss to the BJP would further embolden other parties seeking to emerge as the national alternative to the BJP.

While successful in the most recent national elections and many state elections in the last few years, the BJP suffered two striking losses in last year’s elections in Delhi (to AAP) and Bihar (to a grand alliance of JD(U), RJD, and the INC). Prime Minister Modi and BJP President Amit Shah are eager to turn this narrative of losses around, especially with the crucial elections in Uttar Pradesh only a year away. Modi and Shah aim to extend their party’s advantage over INC in state and national politics, since the INC after all played only a minor role in the Delhi and Bihar elections.

  • What are the main parties contesting? What are their electoral strategies?

As in any Indian election, a multitude of political parties are contesting the polls. Three main alliances have emerged:

1) Indian National Congress (INC) – United People’s Party (UPP) alliance

Led by Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, who has led the state since 2001, the INC will be facing a tide of anti-incumbency after winning elections in 2001, 2006, and 2011. The Congress party in Assam faced a major rebellion last year, when minister Himanta Biswa Sarma left over the question of succession and joined the BJP along with nine other Congress members of the legislative assembly (MLAs). The weakened Congress government is hoping to focus on its record of development in Assam, and will be leaning heavily on its Assamese Muslim vote bank while also hoping to pull a significant share of votes from Assamese Hindus, Bengali Hindus, and the tea tribes.

While there was talk last year and earlier this year about a potential alliance between INC and the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), nothing emerged from such talks. The electoral calculation may be that a tie-up with the AIUDF, which speaks to the aspirations of the Bengali Muslims in the state, could hurt the INC with its traditional voters among the Assamese Hindu and Bengali Hindu communities.

Without any major allies, the INC will need to either win a majority of seats largely on its own or a definitive plurality that gives it a mandate to make alliances with other parties (most likely the AIUDF) after the election. Congress recently tied up an alliance with the United People’s Party (UPP), a recently-launched Bodo party, which will compete in four constituencies in the Bodoland Territorial Council areas.

The INC will contest 122 of Assam’s 126 seats, while the UPP will contest 4 seats.

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Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi

2) Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) – Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) alliance

This alliance is being led by the BJP’s union minister of youth affairs and sports, Sarbananda Sonowal. Sonowal, who belongs to the Sonowal tribe that is categorized as ST, was once a member of the AASU and the AGP. In contrast to the Bihar elections last year, in which Prime Minister Modi’s heavy involvement was deemed a strategic failure, the BJP will rely heavily on popular Assamese leaders. This includes Himanta Biswa Sarma, who is directing the BJP’s electoral strategy.

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Union Minister Sarbananda Sonowal

The BJP is hoping to win a large share of the Assamese Hindu and Bengali Hindu vote in the state, which powered its win in half the Lok Sabha seats in the state in 2014. In previous elections, the BJP’s base consisted primarily of Bengali Hindus in the state, since the AGP and INC had cornered most of the Assamese Hindu vote. The 2014 Lok Sabha elections changed these dynamics when the BJP won seven seats while the AGP won zero.

Himanta_Biswa_Sarma_briefing_media_at_his_office_dispur

Himanta Biswa Sarma

Through their alliance with the AGP, the BJP will aim to unify the Hindu vote, as Hindus make up 62% of the state’s population. In order to appeal to both Assamese regional sentiment and Hindu religious sentiment, party spokesmen have been referring to the AIUDF, a Bengali Muslim outfit, as their main opponent instead of the INC. BJP talk of building a fenced border to keep out Bangladeshi Muslim immigrants also serves to highlight religious and ethnic differences and thereby consolidate the Hindu vote among both ethnic Assamese and Bengalis.

The BJP will also try to expand its vote among tribal communities. Six ethnic groups that currently have Other Backwards Class (OBC) status in Assam — Tai Ahoms, adivasis (also known as tea tribes), Koch Rajbongshis, Morans, Sooteas, and Motoks — are seeking Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to expand the educational and employment benefits provided to these communities. At the beginning of March, the BJP government in Delhi established a committee to recommend ST status for these communities by May, following through on a campaign promise from the 2014 national elections.

The BJP has also made a strategic alliance with the major Bodo party, the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF). After thirteen years in alliance with the INC government, the BPF broke their alliance in 2014 to tie up with the BJP for the upcoming state elections. As the predominant political force in the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) areas of north Assam, this was a coup for the BJP, since the BPF is likely to perform strongly in the BTC constituencies (they currently hold twelve constituencies).

Lastly, the AGP, for so long the vehicle of regionalist sentiment in Assam, decided to tie up with the BJP for this election cycle. As mentioned above, the AGP has faced a secular decline in vote share since the 1990s when they were at their peak strength. Their pre-poll alliance with the BJP is a recognition of their declining electoral strength in Assam.

In this alliance, the BJP will contest 84 seats, the BPF will contest 16 seats, and the AGP will contest 24 seats. Two other political parties representing tribal communities, the Rabha Jatiya Aika Manch  and the Tiwa Jatiya Aika Manch, will also be contesting 1 seat each under the BJP symbol.

3) All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) – Janata Dal (United) (JD(U)) – Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) alliance

The All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) has emerged as a growing electoral force in the last decade. Established in 2005 by Badruddin Ajmal, a religious leader and scion of a wealthy perfume manufacturer family, the AIUDF has made itself the electoral home for Bengali Muslim votes in the states, winning the second-largest number of seats (18) in the Vidhan Sabha elections of 2011. The AIUDF’s increasing share of the Bengali Muslim vote has come largely at the expense of Congress. In 2014, AIUDF won three Lok Sabha seats in Assam, equalling Congress’ total in the state despite a lower vote share due to the geographic concentration of their supporters.

The AIUDF has been eager to frame itself as the major opposition force to the BJP in Assam. Though not in an official alliance with the Congress, the AIUDF will not be contesting seats in Upper Assam so as not to split the anti-BJP vote in this region. If the AIUDF-led alliance and Congress each win enough seats, it is possible that a coalition government could be brokered after the election.

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AIUDF leader Badruddin Ajmal

Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, who led a successful grand alliance of the JD(U), RJD, and INC against the BJP in last year’s Bihar elections, tried to produce a similar alliance between the AGP, AIUDF, and Congress for Assam. No such alliance emerged, though JD(U) and RJD, which do not presently hold any seats in Assam’s Vidhan Sabha, ended up aligning themselves with the AIUDF. Both Kumar and Bihari political stalwart Lalu Yadav will be campaigning during the upcoming elections in an effort to establish a presence in Assam.

The AIUDF will contest 76 seats, while the JD(U) and RJD will each contest 12 seats.

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Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar

Lalu

RJD leader Lalu Yadav

The Left Front will collectively contest 59 constituencies in Assam: the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM) will contest 19, the Community Party of India (CPI) will contest 18, the All India Forward Bloc (AIFB) will contest 10, the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) (CPI(ML)) will contest 9, and the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) and Revolutionary Communist Party of India (RCPI) will each contest 2 seats.

The All India Trina Mool Congress (AITMC), which presently governs in West Bengal, will also be contesting 25 seats separately.

  • Where does each party expect to perform well?

The infographic map below from Mint below examines where each party has performed well in the past two elections, the 2011 Vidhan Sabha elections and the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

Assam-Battle-Ground_web

The blue stripe in the upper left corner of the first map (Winner – 2011 AE) is Bodoland, and the BPF is likely to win these assembly constituencies again. The constituencies colored in yellow in these first two maps, where AIUDF won the largest share votes, are the areas where Bengali residents are most heavily concentrated: Lower Assam in the western pocket of the state and Barak Valley at the southern end. AIUDF will again be competing in these areas.

Note the mass of red in the second map (Winner – 2014 PE). This is Upper Assam, where Assamese Hindus and Muslims are concentrated, and the density of red shows that the BJP won this area decisively in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The AIUDF-led alliance will not compete in these constituencies so as not to split the anti-BJP vote with Congress.

The BJP knows that its strength lies in Upper Assam; its alliances will help most in Lower Assam. Without any major allies, Congress will be competing statewide and hopes that the upstart UPP might be able to delivering some Bodoland constituencies at the expense of BPF.

  • Who is going to win the election?

Conventional wisdom has been that Congress, facing strong anti-incumbent headwinds after fifteen years in government, is likely to lose a number of seats while the BJP is likely to emerge as the largest party in the state. BPF’s breaking of its alliance with Congress to join with the BJP after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and the AGP’s recent addition to this alliance show that regional parties expect the BJP to have the upper hand once all the votes are counted.

Three polls by major survey organizations have been released so far. The first, conducted by CVoter (who, full disclosure, is one of my research affiliates) for India TV, projects the BJP-led alliance to expand its vote share (from 34% to 35%; note that the BPF did not contest with the BJP in 2011) and the Congress’ to shrink (from 39% to 36%). It does not project a majority for the BJP-led alliance, since 57 seats overall would be a few short of a majority. However, this poll was fielded before the addition of AGP to the BJP-led alliance and thus presents a favorable picture for the BJP.

At the beginning of April, CVoter released a new poll for Times Now showing similar results: the Congress alliance winning a vote share of 37%, BJP-led alliance alliance winning 35%, and the AIUDF-led alliance winning 12%. Based on the seat projections released with the poll, neither Congress nor the BJP would hold a majority of seats in the Vidhan Sabha. Such a scenario could make Badruddin Ajmal’s AIUDF the kingmaker in government formation negotiations.

A third poll conducted by ABP-Nielsen, and also fielded after the announcement of the BJP-BPF-AGP alliance, projects that the BJP-led alliance will win a sizable majority of 78 seats. It is noteworthy that in both the CVoter and ABP polls, Congress is projected to win significantly more seats than AIUDF.

However, we will not know the final results of the election until Kerala, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal have all voted by the middle of May. The results for all these state elections will be announced on May 19.

*Thanks to Pranav Gupta, Jyoti Mishra, and Rahul Verma for their reviews and comments.

Questions? Anything unclear or in need of further explanation? Please add any additional questions to the comments.

Tremors of dissent and debate rattle Delhi

What types of speech should a democratic society permit? Can speech be anti-national, and who defines the terms of anti-national speech? What is the role of universities in promoting dialogue around these questions?

These are some of the questions that India has been grappling over the past week, following the arrest of Jawaharlal Nehru University Student Union (JNUSU) president Kanhaiya Kumar on seditions charges. The story has now gone international; the New York Times has published a few articles on it, as has the BBC.

The basic outline of events is this: on February 9 at JNU, a leading Delhi university famous for its passionate leftist political activism, an event was planned to be held to protest the 2013 hanging of Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri separatist convicted for his role in the December 2001 terrorist attack on the Indian parliament. The event, to be held by former members of the Maoist-leaning Democratic Students’ Union (DSU), was denied permission by the university after members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the BJP’s student wing, informed the university. The DSU then sought the help of the JNUSU and other Left-leaning political groups, such as the All India Students’ Association (AISA) and Students Federation of India (SFI), to gather in support of their right to protest. In the midst of confrontation between ABVP and the other student groups, some slogans were shouted in support of Pakistan, Afzal, and Kashmiri independence. On February 12, police arrested student union president Kanhaiya Kumar on the charge of sedition, which can carry a sentence of three years up to life imprisonment. His request for bail is currently being reviewed by the Supreme Court.

Since then, protests have enveloped JNU as both students and professors struck and police surrounded the campus premises. Government ministers have commented in interviews on the dangers of anti-national rhetoric, and opposition party leaders — including Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi — have spoken out against the arrest. It is impossible to understand the national furor that has erupted over this issue without familiarizing oneself with the national debate about rising intolerance in India. The arrest is coming less than one month after the suicide of Rohit Vermula, a Dalit PhD candidate who was suspended from the University of Hyderabad allegedly as a result of government pressure. To those who are critical of the BJP government, the JNU debacle is the latest episode in a sustained effort to suppress dissenting views.

A mass protest was held today from Mandi House to Jantar Mantar, in the heart of Delhi’s downtown — pictures below. At the heart of it were JNU’s students and their numerous Left political associations. As per JNU students, more than 10,000 people were in attendance at the march.

Here is a nice primer on the different Communist student groups, for those curious about the ins and outs of student politics on JNU. The involvement of the Left in these protests may energize their party members in Kerala and West Bengal, where state elections are to be held in the middle of this year. Stay tuned to see how this issue informs political debate in India, both at the national level and in upcoming state elections.

Protest 1

Protest 5

Protest 2

Protest 4

Protest 3

Protest 6

Protest 7