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Cong, BJP brace for semis before LS polls

Wednesday, 15 October 2008 - 4:00am IST

This is a critical round for the two chief claimants to that seat, the Congress and the BJP.

But BSP hopes to rain on their parade

NEW DELHI: The Election Commission’s announcement of dates on Tuesday for assembly polls in the five states of Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, and Mizoram set the stage for the penultimate round of elections before the final showdown next year when the battle to claim the seat of power on Raisina Hill will be fought.

This is a critical round for the two chief claimants to that seat, the Congress and the BJP. Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh are their main battleground and although these are state elections, both parties see them as a dress rehearsal for the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. The results, therefore, assume a larger-than-life importance because they will be the tea leaves in which the two parties will read their forecast for the future.

All four states are traditionally bipolar with the Congress and the BJP locked in a straight contest. However, this time, there is a wild card entry, the BSP, which hopes to upset the applecart of the two national parties by emerging as the dreaded third force.
The BSP has virtually no history in this region, except in parts of Madhya Pradesh. But after the party surprised all including Mayawati by winning 17 municipal seats in Delhi last year, the Dalit czarina has developed ambitions of spreading her wings outside UP.

The victory was put down to sheer fluke at that time but since then, Mayawati has spent considerable time cultivating political space for her party in these states, all of which share borders with UP. She seems to be relying on a “trickle down’’ effect from her stronghold.

It’s a moot point how many seats the BSP will succeed in winning. But it could influence results in enough constituencies to tip the balance. And with Mayawati making a play for the Congress party’s vote bank of Dalits and Muslims, the BSP has become a bugbear for Congress candidates.

The BJP will be defending its government in MP, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan while the Congress will be trying for a third consecutive term in Delhi. Being so close to the centre of power and with the general elections nearing, the campaign will see a mix of local and national issues, with security, terrorism, and price rise dominating the discourse.

Surprisingly, neither party looks confident about its prospects. Both are ridden with factionalism and may soon be busy putting out bushfires in the form of rebel candidates and defections to the BSP once the process of ticket distribution begins.

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