Cues from Municipal Polls
It is sometimes a debatable issue whether Parliamentary and Assembly elections give clear indications of how different political parties are likely to fare in municipal elections and so on. The reverse equations are also sometimes not entirely predictable, though the fact remains that the outcome of such elections do have a way of telling us what the trends are likely to be in Parliamentary and Assembly elections. With the assembly elections of Assam just a year away, it is tural that people should be trying to draw indications from the outcomes of the elections to the 32 municipal boards and 42 town committees. Of the 746 wards in these elections, half are reserved for women. The Congress is set to contest all the seats in these elections and seems confident of winning most of them. In the elections of 2009, the Congress had won over 400 wards. According to Assam Congress president Anjan Dutta, this time too the prospects of a Congress victory are very bright because urban voters of Assam are educated and conscious. The party has appealed to them to use their heads to vote for the party that has done a lot for the State. This time, a total of 14,84,496 voters (12.6 per cent more than the 2009 elections) will cast their votes in the municipal elections.
Political observers have reasons to attach a great deal of importance to the municipal elections because they believe that the results of the municipal polls will reflect how much the key contestants—the Congress, the BJP and the AIUDF—have gained or lost in urban areas since the Lok Sabha elections of last year. One can, of course, pretend (like Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi did during the Lok Sabha elections of 2014) that the results of these municipal elections will have no bearing on the Assembly elections of 2016. But the people know what to believe, and as far as the urban segment is concerned, even political developments in New Delhi could have some impact on municipal elections here. And what has been happening at the tiol level since the Lok Sabha elections of 2014 is far from encouraging from the Congress point of view. In almost every State Assembly election since the parliamentary elections of 2014 the share of the Congress vote has dwindled remarkably. In Maharashtra, Harya and Jammu & Kashmir the Congress has got further margilized. In recent weeks, Congress members, big and small, have started quitting the party. The exit of former Environment Minister Jayanti tarajan from the party with an explosive letter to Sonia Gandhi detailing the kind of interference in her work as minister by Rahul Gandhi has been followed by serious doubts about the advisability of remaining in the Congress expressed by veterans like Karan Singh. Do Tarun Gogoi and Assam Pradesh Congress chief Anjan Dutta honestly believe that none of these developments will influence the electoral decisions of urban voters in Assam whether they are voting in municipal elections, Assembly elections or Parliamentary elections? Do they honestly believe that tiol or regiol waves have no impacts on municipal elections even when the focus is on urban voters? Do they really believe that the promise of Rs 1,000 crore as development fund for every ward that votes the Congress to power will clinch the issue in all the 746 wards? Apart from wanting to elect the most suitable candidate, people also keep in mind which political party is likely to win the largest number of seats because they do not wish to waste their votes. Is Congress going to be that political party? There are good enough reasons to be sceptical this time regardless of the results of 2009. One recalls the optimism of Gogoi about his party during the last Lok Sabha elections. However, one also recalls the dismal showing of the Congress. Quite obviously, nothing can be taken at face value in electoral equations in times of change unless votes cast are left to hatch for over a month as during the Assembly elections of 2011.