What’s in store for the upcoming state elections

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The Election Commission of India on January 8 announced the schedule of assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa, and Manipur. Elections in these five states will be held from February 10 to March 7 in seven phases, and results will be declared on March 10. Here is what the assembly elections entail.

The Bharatiya Janata Party has the highest stakes in the elections

In four of the five states going to polls, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is in power either on its own or through an alliance (Manipur). To be sure, the BJP has decided to contest the Manipur elections on its own this time. This means that stakes are the highest for the BJP in this round of elections. Of the 690 assembly constituencies, the BJP holds 58.8% of the seats.

The Congress, governing Punjab and the main opposition party in Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur, won 20.3% of the total seats in the last round of elections to these states. The results of the 2017 assembly elections in these states did not change much in the 2019 general elections as well. Since Uttar Pradesh contributes 63 parliamentary seats to the BJP’s tally of 303 in the Lok Sabha, assembly results in the state will likely set the tone for 2024 national elections.

See Chart 1: Map of seats won by BJP and Congress in 2017 and 2019

Divergence in nature of states

The five election-bound states show great divergence in their geographical and socio-economic characteristics. While Uttar Pradesh is India’s most populous state with its stand-alone population of 199.8 million at the time of 2011 census making it 4th among 216 countries (excluding India) in the world for which data was available in that year from the World Bank, Goa and Manipur are among India’s smallest states in terms of population. Uttarakhand, which was carved out of Uttar Pradesh in 2000, is a sparsely populated hill state.

In terms of rural-urban distribution of population, Goa is the least rural state while Uttar Pradesh has the largest share of rural population. Even in terms of the number of electors per assembly constituency, there is a great variation among these states. This number varies from 373,654 in Uttar Pradesh to just 28,919 in Goa.

See Chart 2: Share of rural-urban population

Composition of the electorate

Different social groups will hold keys to power in each state. While Manipur has among the largest shares of scheduled tribe population in the country, Punjab has the largest share of scheduled caste people. In Uttar Pradesh, other backward classes at 53.2% of its population (Hindu OBCs are 40.5%) will play an important role in the outcome.

Both Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand have a predominantly Hindu population, while Punjab, Manipur and Goa have a significant share of religious minorities. After the bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories, Punjab is India’s only major state where a religious minority group (Sikhs) is in majority.

See Chart 3A and 3B: caste and religious composition of population

More than a Congress-BJP contest

These elections are going to be more than just a Congress-BJP contest.

In Uttar Pradesh, the largest state going to polls, the main contest is likely to be between the incumbent BJP and the Samajwadi Party (SP). The SP, after having unsuccessfully tried alliances with the Congress in 2017 and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in 2019, is contesting in an alliance with the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) and other smaller parties this time.

In Punjab, the Aam Admi Party (AAP), the main opposition in the state, is hoping to make the most of an election where both national parties are facing internal dissent. While the BJP lost its alliance partner Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD, which itself will be fancying its chances in alliance with the BSP) because of the three farm laws, the Congress will face a challenge from Amarinder Singh, the ousted chief minister. The All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) can at least play spoiler or become important in post-poll alliances in Manipur, where it had won seven assembly seats in 2012 but only one in 2017, and also in Goa, where it has formed an alliance with the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP). In both these states, the Congress was the single-largest party in the last assembly election but failed to form a government, as it did not have enough allies for a majority.

Chart 4: AC-level seat share in 2017 and 2019

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