19:58 GMT13 April 2021
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    The two-month election process in five states began last week with the formal announcement by the Election commission of India. Voting for five assembly elections will begin on 27 March, and it will be held in several phases in states such as West Bengal and Tamil Nadu. The result will be declared for all states on 2 May.

    Ahead of polls in four Indian states, the Congress party war rooms in central Delhi, the Gurdwara Rakab Ganj and the party offices in Akbar Road are now buzzing with more activity than they have seen since the 2019 parliamentary elections.

    The election will be held in the states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Assam and West Bengal and one Union Territory Puducherry. 

    The Congress war room is highly secured and entry is being stringently controlled among the media to senior-level functionaries only. It has, however, been observed that spokesmen and senior leaders have started talking to the media more frequently than was the case two months ago.

    "Two months ago, no matter how important the issues were, the leader was only available during the media briefing, and most of the party leaders' offices were either locked or used by someone else," Jainendra Kumar, a TV journalist, highlights.

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    Shekhar Iyer, a senior political analyst, believes that the forthcoming elections "arguably will have a greater significance for the Congress party than usual".

    In the states of Kerala and Assam, where Congress is the main opposition party, it "can hope for a win, but its inroads are tough and the party has to campaign extensively".

    "In Kerala, no party since 1977 has been elected for two continuous terms," Iyer noted. 

    At present the state is governed by the Left Democratic Front (LDF) alliance which is led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M)). Other parties in the alliance are the Communist Party of India, Kerala Congress (M), Nationalist Congress Party, Janata Dal (Secular) and Indian National League. 

    "The Congress-led United Democratic Front performed exceptionally well in the 2019 parliamentarian elections by winning 19 seats out of the state's 20 parliamentary constituencies," Iyer said. "But in 2020, the state ruling alliance CPI (M)-LDF won the local elections, and Congress failed to match its performance in the parliamentary elections," he added. 

    Rahul Gandhi, a prominent member of Congress and heir of the powerful Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty, has been campaigning extensively in Kerala for the past two weeks. 

    Elsewhere, in the north-eastern state of Assam, Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi got the election campaign started. The state is considered a Congress stronghold - the party governed the state for years - but it lost to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Power in 2016.

    ​"There are many problems in Assam which may help Congress to win: unemployment, the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) - but the party's leadership has to highlight these issues among voters very aggressively," Iyer explained. 

    The Indian Parliament cleared the CAA to enable "persecuted" Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Jains, and Parsis from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan seek citizenship.

    However, civil society groups and several political parties in Assam lodged their strong protest to the bill on the grounds that giving state citizenship to these migrants will be an attack on the identity and rights of the tribal people of the state.

    Assam is also one of the states in India which has seen violent clashes between the police and people because of the Act. 

    However, another issue for Congress in Assam is that the party lacks a "state chief face". 

    "After the death of Senior Congress leader and three-time chief minister of the state Tarun Gogoi in April 2020, there seems to be no big Congress leader in the state who can run the election campaign," Iyer added. 

    In the other two states, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, Congress is a junior player contesting in alliance with the state party Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the Left front.

    "Going by a recent opinion poll survey, the grand old party is unlikely to taste electoral success in any of the states. This is a disturbing thought for the Gandhis (Rahul and Priyanka) who are trying hard to defy opinion poll survey forecasts for Kerala and Assam," Professor Bhanu Kumar Jha said. 


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