After months of hectic campaigning, results for the crucial assembly elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, and one Lok Sabha and six assembly by polls across five states will be announced on Thursday .
At stake are the AAP’s shot at national relevance , the BJP’s ability to battle anti-incumbency and assert itself as the national hegemon, and the Congress’ continuing struggle for relevance. In focus, interestingly, will be the #2 spot in Gujarat (there seems to be a consensus that the BJP will win easily with the only debate being about the margin) and Himachal Pradesh, where the contest is expected to be a close one between the BJP and the Congress.
In Gujarat, exit polls across the board have predicted a clear BJP win in a state where it has been in power since 1998 , hasn’t lost an election since 1995, and where Prime Minister Narendra Modi served as Chief Minister from 2001 to 2014. The turnout in the state has however seen a dip, with 64.33% eligible voters casting their ballot, as opposed to 68.39% in 2017 .
The state is seeing its first three-cornered contest in at least 30 years, with the Aam Aadmi Party fighting the polls in earnest, and making some inroads in areas such as Surat in south Gujarat. Opinion polls show a likely split in the opposition vote between the Congress, the traditional opposition to the BJP in Gujarat, and the newcomers AAP, benefitting the BJP, which returned its lowest winning tally of 99 seats in 2017.
The results in Himachal Pradesh are expected to be much tighter, with exit polls predicting a close battle. Chief Minister Jairam Thakur of the BJP is attempting to break an over thirty-year-cycle of the incumbent losing the assembly elections, with the Congress fighting the elections with a host of promises including reinstatement of the old pension scheme, gas subsidy and relief against rising inflation. In the 2017 polls, the BJP won 44 of the 68 assembly seats, with the Congress winning 21.
The polls are set to be a straight contest between the BJP and the Congress, the latter fighting its first election without veteran Virbhadra Singh.
Elsewhere, elections are also being held to the high profile Lok Sabha seat of Mainpuri, necessitated by the death of Samajwadi Party patriarch and former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav. In a seat which has been a family pocket borough, the party has fielded his daughter in law Dimple Yadav who came up against Raghuraj Singh Shakya of the BJP. Uttar Pradesh will also see the results of bypolls in Rampur Sadar and Khatauli, the former also a prestige battle between the BJP and the SP, given it was necessitated by the disqualification of senior SP leader Azam Khan.
The Kurhani bypoll in Bihar is also significant, as it brings two former allies, the JDU and the BJP face to face for the first time since Chief Minister Nitish Kumar ended his party’s alliance with the BJP in August , and joined hands with the RJD to form government. The seat is currently held by the RJD.
The other seats going to the polls are Sardarshahar in Rajasthan, currently held by the Congress, Padampur in Odisha, currently held by the BJD, and Bhanupratappur in Chhattisgarh, a reserved seat for tribals currently held by the Congress.
To be sure, in none of the assembly seats will the results of Thursday significantly alter the composition of their respective state assemblies. Which is why the focus will be on the winner in Himachal, and the No.2 in Gujarat.