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Delhi News: Within the next few weeks, five states — Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Delhi and Mizoram will go to polls. The Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will be locked in the biggest popularity test ahead of Lok Sabha polls due next year when Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram vote in November-December.

It is by now well established that the Indian electorate is sensible enough to differentiate between the various elections, and changes its voting behaviour as per the nature of the government to be elected, but then at least for a decade, pollsters and political pundits have developed the habit of looking at these elections as semi- finals before the final contest for the Lok Sabha elections. 
While the Congress rules Delhi, Rajasthan and Mizoram, the BJP governs Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. 

Sampath said a total of 110 million electorate - of the country's 714 million - will be eligible to vote in the five states. 

Both the BJP and Congress vowed to sweep the polls. 

BJP's Sudhanshu Trivedi claimed his party will retain power in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh and oust the Congress in Delhi and Rajasthan. The mood in the country, he said, "is in favour of BJP". 

Rashid Alvi of the Congress said his party was confident of forming governments in all five states. 

Political pundits were more guarded. 

Experts said it would be a key test for both parties in the run up to the parliamentary elections. 

Pradip Kumar Datta of Delhi University's political science department told IANS that the state elections "will be significant, and in a way will be a testing ground for (BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra) Modi. Unless the BJP does very well in these polls, it will not be able to attract allies (for Lok Sabha). If the BJP does better than its earlier standing in the five states, it will be a clear demonstration of Modi's vote catching abilities." 

Nisar-ul Haq of the political science department of Jamia Millia Islamia, however, predicted "a very close fight between the Congress and BJP". 

"It will be major election because it is coming right before the general election," Haq told IANS. 

The Election Commission said by-elections will also be held for the assembly constituencies of Surat West in Gujarat and Yercaud in Tamil Nadu on December 4 - along with voting in Delhi and Mizoram. 

"All measures are in place to conduct free and fair polls," Sampath said, putting the number of polling stations at 130,000 in the five states. 

Thousands of police and paramilitary forces will provide security to the staggered elections. 

The balloting in the five states comes at a time when Modi is spearheading a very vocal election campaign for the BJP with 2014 in view. 

The Congress and the BJP will be the main players in Delhi (70 seats), Rajasthan (200), Chhattisgarh (90) and Madhya Pradesh (230 seats). Mizoram has a 40-member assembly. 

Since its birth last year, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) led by activist-turned-politician Arvind Kejriwal has emerged as a key but untested force in the national capital on the strength of its anti-corruption drive. 

Delhi University's Datta warned that AAP could wean away a section of the BJP's middle class voters disgusted with corruption as well as the poor who normally vote for the Congress. 

Sampath said the model code of conduct, which bars governments from giving away sops to voters, comes into effect immediately. 

The Lok Sabha election is due in May 2014, followed quickly by polling in Sikkim, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. Haryana and Maharashtra are also due to go to the polls next year. 

For the first time, voters will have a choice to go for "None of the Above" (NOTA) option on the ballot papers and Electronic Voting Machines if they don't like any of the candidates. 

Haq welcomed the introduction of NOTA factor. "It is a good step." 

Recently, when the BJP decided to choose Harsh Vardhan as its chief ministerial candidate for the Delhi assembly, the veteran Lal Krishna Advani made a reference to the fact that New Delhi was one of the first parliamentary seats won by the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, as the BJP was known in those days. 

Political parties spent Rs.136.88 crore in the 2008 assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Mizoram, Delhi and Jammu and Kashmir, the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) said Monday. 

According to the NGO, which analysed poll expenditure details submitted by the parties to the Election Commission, while the BJP did not spend any money on publicity or travel during these elections, the Congress declared an expenditure of Rs.102.56 crore. 

The Nationalist Congress Party is the only national party which did not submit its expenditure details. The National Conference of Jammu and Kashmir was the only regional party to submit its expenditure -- Rs.1.36 crore. 

Political parties are required to submit a statement of expenditure to the Election Commission within 75 days of the end of assembly elections. 

The ADR statement said the total funds collected by the national parties during the 2008 elections were Rs.182.12 crore. 

The Congress received 93.43 percent of the Rs.81.92 crore received by it in cash while the BJP got 85.60 percent of the Rs.14.44 crore it collected in cash. 

The Bahujan Samaj Party received all its funds in cash - Rs.76.20 cror. 

According to ADR, unlike the collection mode, the preferred mode of expenditure by political parties was through cheques or demand drafts. 

The ADR has demanded more transparency in the finances of the political parties especially during elections "when it is said that black money plays a major role". 

So, though for all practical purposes, the voters in these states are actually going to choose only their state governments, their actions are going to have a larger- than- life political significance on the national landscape. It can be asserted very safely that the political morale of the two poles of the national alliances –the Congress from the UPA and the BJP from the NDA would be affected by the outcome in these five states. Right now, the score stands even, at 2- 2, with the BJP holding Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, and the Congress reigning in Rajasthan and Delhi, with Mizoram being numerically in the equation, and politically on a neutral ground. All the elements that add to the drama and suspense in the electoral arena are in full play. 

There are the individual ambitions of the state leaders from both the parties, there are the factional divides, there is the anti-incumbency factor for all the governments, and above all, the two protagonists for the 2014 battle — Rahul Gandhi from the Congress and Narendra Modi from the BJP, are flexing their muscles in a warm up exercise for the 2014 battle. 

Both of them are not restricting their roles to mere speech making or the on stage show of strengths. But they are also playing a role in the electoral strategising as well as the selection of the candidates, so that they can steer the outcomes towards a favourable conclusion. 

In the process, the Congress- versus- BJP contest is getting sharper contours. The electoral choice before the voters in these states is now moving from the amorphous struggle for power, to a more crystallised choice between two competing and contrasting approaches and options. Rahul Gandhi has been now asserting that the BJP’s brand of politics is divisive, whereas Narendra Modi is making a pitch against the dynastic politics of the Congress. 

Of course, there is an array of micro factors that influences the overall outcomes in such assembly elections. Often, the smaller parties make a big difference, as in the case of Delhi, the Aam Aadmi party might end up making a difference between the winners and losers. But then, in the final analysis, it is the macro picture that will matter in the public perception, and the pundits would be left debating the ifs and buts associated with the micro factors. In the case of Chhattisgarh, one such element is the role of the left wing extremists. 

They have always pronounced that they are against the very concept of democratically elected governments, and also the scheme of things as per the constitution. But then in the last two elections, 2003, and 2008, they have made a major difference. 

Ironically, even though they are ideologically opposed to the right wing BJP, their stance has only helped the BJP come to power in the state. In 2003, the BJP won 10 out of the 12 seats in the Bastar region dominated by the left wing extremists, and in 2008, it got 11 out of the 12 seats. In a 90- member assembly, this is all that it requires coming to power. 

This time, this factor is all the more accentuated as in May this year, the frontline leadership of the state unit, including the state president, Nand Kumar Patel, former union minister, Vidya Charan Shukla, and a senior tribal leader, Mahendra Karma, along with 27 others, were killed in a daring attack in the Bastar region itself. The Maoists have already issued their customary call, asking the people to boycott these elections and sounded dire warnings. 

Notwithstanding the billing as the semi- finals these elections have seldom decided the winner in the ensuing Lok Sabha elections. For instance in 2003, the BJP came out triumphant in three states — Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. 

Indeed, this triumph was one of the reasons that pushed the BJP leadership to advance the Lok Sabha polls. But in the May 2004 polls that followed, the party tripped, and the Congress led- UPA- I came to power at the centre. According to political observers, it was a shock defeat for the BJP, and it took quite a long time coming to terms with it. Then again, five years later in 2008, the BJP did well to retain Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, and marginally lost Rajasthan, but then this did not prevent the Congress from coming back to power at the head of UPA- II in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. 

Now, the BJP governments in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh are battling the two term incumbency as they gear up for the November battle. Pre- poll surveys have indicated that they are well poised for a third term, as the ratings of the respective chief ministers, Shivraj Singh Chauhan and Raman Singh, surpass those of the challengers from the Congress. Similarly, in Rajasthan, the incumbent Congress chief minister, Ashok Gehlot, faces a tough challenge from a resurgent former chief minister, Vasundhararaje Scindia, and only the Delhi chief minister, Sheila Dikshit seems to be on a strong wicket. 

But then perhaps, Modi would be wondering if it would be useful to win these states, and then end up losing the 2014 battle, if the law of averages is to be believed. But then Indian voters are known to stun all — the politicians, the pollsters and the pundits. The next weeks are going to be fun filled for them. 

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