India's State Elections Reflect a Mood for Change


It had to be seen be believed. New Delhi had never been so invigorated for an election. People waited in queues for hours without complaint and the Election Commission had to extend the deadline by two hours so that everyone waiting could cast their vote. The Delhi assembly elections, held on Wednesday, were no normal election — at stake is not only the electoral fortune of traditional parties like the long-ruling Congress and opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), but the popularity of the newly launched Aam Aadmi Party (abbreviated AAP, meaning “Common Man’s Party”). The latter created a sensation among Delhi’s constituents with its high voltage campaign on the issue of corruption.

The presence of the third party in the national capital’s assembly elections casts an air of uncertainty on the outcome of the election. Just five months before the national elections, scheduled to take place in May 2014, all of India remains transfixed by Delhi’s outcome this week.

Besides Delhi, four more states — Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Mizoram — are in the process of choosing a new government.Those elections ended last week and they await results this Sunday as well. Some political analysts say that the outcomes of state elections just before the general elections are important indicators of the national mood.

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If exit polls are to be believed, the ruling Congress is in for a major humiliation. None of the polls give the oldest party of India any hope in the states that voted recently. If the psephologists are to be believed, Congress will lose Delhi for the first time in 15 years and take a beating in Rajasthan at the hands of the BJP. On the other hand, the right-wing BJP seems to be consolidating itself in states like Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh, which it has been ruling for over a decade. The only hope for the Congress Party seems to be the northeastern state of Mizoram where it is expected to retain power.

Overall, the exit polls tell us what was largely expected and predictable. Delhi’s fate remains the most curious.

How far the AAP will make a dent in the state which has traditionally witnessed partisan  politics remains a major questions. The AAP, which has its origin in the anti-corruption movement that took India by storm in 2011, has captured the imagination of Delhi’s denizens and opinion polls have been giving it a majority in the 70-member Assembly in Delhi. However, the exit polls aren’t currently in favor of the party. Nevertheless, its expected electoral performance seems to be damaging the chances of the established BJP and Congress.

Another remarkable factor of these latest elections in India is the turnout rate. A high turnout has been a phenomenon in this round of state elections in all five states that concluded voting on Wednesday. The capital registered votes from around 70 percent of the eligible population while the central Indian states of Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh saw record turnouts of 72.5 percent and 75.4 percent respectively. The western Indian state of Rajasthan saw a similar 74.4 percent turnout, around ten percent higher than in 2008. On the other hand, voters in the northeastern state of Mizoram turned out at an impressive rate of 81.2 percent, maintaining the state’s previous record.

The data are not only indicative of people’s growing trust in the dynamism of democracy but also symbolic of a broader clamor for change across India.

The results of the elections in these five states will be announced on Sunday. The final verdict that day will set the mood for next year’s general elections, but if one goes by the palpable mood at the polling stations on Wednesday, the clamor for change is already overwhelmingly discernible — a warning sign for the Congress-led ruling alliance in Delhi.

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