We take a look at some of the key States in this election and how regional players could influence the balance of power in New Delhi. Together, these States account for 249 seats, nearly half of the members in Lok Sabha. If any of the two national parties want to form a Government, it must learn to find inroads into these crucial States…
In April and May, nearly 814 million voters will make their way to polling booths across the country to cast their votes in the largest democratic elections in the world. The general elections, in which voters will choose a total of 543 members to the lower house of Parliament, or Lok Sabha, will also decide the fate of the Indian National Congress, the oldest party in the country, which leads the governing coalition in New Delhi. Several political analysts and opinion polls have projected that the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, led by the Hindu nationalist leader Narendra Modi, will have the best chance of forming the next Government. But complicating factors include the emergence of Aam Aadmi Party and a host of strong regional players that could turn their collective backs on any national alliance.
Regional players are important for two reasons: One, they often pair with one of the two national parties in seat-sharing agreements that set each up for a sizable portion of parliamentary representation. Two, after the votes are cast and counted, some regional parties shuffle around to align themselves with the clear national winner, or if there is none, form a Third-Front Government of their own. We take a look at some of the key States in this election and how regional players could influence the balance of power in New Delhi. Together, these States account for 249 seats, nearly half of the members in Lok Sabha. If any of the two national parties want to form a Government, it must learn to find inroads into these crucial States:
Uttar Pradesh: This State sends 80 lawmakers to the lower house of Parliament, the largest batch in the country. Both Mr. Modi and Rahul Gandhi, the vice president of the Congress party, will be running for their parliamentary seats in this State. Mr. Modi has been declared as his party’s official candidate for the temple town of Varanasi, and Mr. Gandhi is looking to retain his seat in his family borough of Amethi, which he won in 2004 and 2009. Looking to diminish the fortunes of the two national parties are the Samajwadi Party, led by Mulayam Singh Yadav, and the Bahujan Samaj Party, led by Mayawati, who goes by one name. Both enjoy strong influence in the State.
West Bengal: The eastern State of West Bengal offers a maximum of 42 parliamentary seats and is one of the few states historically loyal to the Communist parties. The State assembly was led by the Left Front, the umbrella group of leftist parties, for over three decades until it was defeated in the 2011 state elections by the Trinamool Congress, a regional party led by the firebrand leader Mamata Banerjee. Ms. Banerjee’s party also secured the majority over both the Left Front and the Congress party in the 2009 general elections by winning 19 seats in the Lok Sabha. The Bharatiya Janata Party won a lone parliamentary seat in 2009. Ms. Banerjee, who recently began the national campaign for her party, wants to take a significant number of seats once again to position herself as one of the prominent regional parties in the national fray.
Maharashtra: With 48 seats, Maharashtra holds a potential political arsenal for national parties like the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, provided they continue to partner with strong regional allies. While the Congress party is allied with the center-left Nationalist Congress Party, a regional party that broke away from Congress in 1999, the Bharatiya Janata Party has a longstanding partnership with the Shiv Sena, a right-wing regional heavyweight that has outsize influence on the State’s politics and ethnic Marathi voters. The Aam Aadmi Party, led by the anticorruption crusader Arvind Kejriwal, has so far announced 46 candidates in the State and could pose a threat to the two alliances.
Tamil Nadu: This southern State holds 39 seats and is one where the two major national parties are almost entirely at the mercy of strong regional parties. For several decades, the State has been ruled by the two dominant Dravidian parties, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, led by Muthuvel Karunanidhi, and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, led by J. Jayalalithaa, which have strong ties to south Indian ethnic groups. Ms. Jayalalithaa, a former Tamil film actress who runs the State, has her eye on gaining a national presence, and internal fighting within Mr. Karunanidhi’s corruption-plagued party may give her a victory. Neither leader has agreed to partner with the national parties, though the Bharatiya Janata Party announced a list of smaller regional allies in the State recently.
Bihar: This State has the largest number of different castes and subcastes, whose votes are hard to predict. Bihar sends 40 elected representatives to the Lok Sabha and represents an interesting three-pronged battle. The first two fronts involve the Janata Dal (United) Party, which runs the State, and the Bharatiya Janata Party alliance, which found a new regional partner after the Janata Dal (United) Party decided to split with the national party. The third player in the State, Congress, which does not have a large base in Bihar, has allied with the Rashtriya Janata Dal, led by Lalu Prasad Yadav, a politician who was convicted of siphoning hundreds of millions of dollars from the state’s animal husbandry department for more than a decade. He was jailed briefly but is now out on bail.