Poll reverses unlikely to lower BJP pressure on Cong

Irrespective of the outcome of the five assembly elections, the battle lines have already been drawn for the grand finale in 2019 with issues like Robert Vadra's alleged murky business deals, Christian Michel's deposition in the Agusta Westland corruption case or the prospects for the return of tycoon Vijay Malaya expected to keep the political pot boiling for a while.

Even partial success for the Congress, like winning the assembly elections in Rajasthan – it seems to be the lowest hanging fruit at the moment if most pollsters are to be believed – will help the party gain the confidence of opposition parties in order to lead a joint front to take on Narendra Modi's chariot in the Lok Sabha elections.

Any additional gain will only work as much needed oxygen for the party. The BJP will be worried if it loses even one state but might not lose sleep over it. There are indications that any adverse verdict in any or all of the three Hindi heartland states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, will be more of a reflection on the performance of state governments. In that sense the verdict will not be a report card on Prime Minister Modi's popularity.

The Prime Minister was aggressive during the poll campaign and equally threatening to the Congress and its first family about the pending cases of alleged corruption. The build-up for 2019 has been launched with the Prime Minister bringing the National Herald case to the election campaign. The central agencies are probing tax irregularities against the Gandhis.

The extradition if Christian Michel has provided fresh ammunition to the government to target the Congress.

Christian Michel is expected to spill the beans in the Agusta Westland helicopter deal with the needle of suspicion being on the Gandhi family for being the beneficiaries of the contract. It serves two purposes for the government. His interrogation will keep the Congress leadership on the back foot and the BJP will find a counter for the allegations of corruption in the Rafale fighter jet contract signed by the Modi government with France.

In fact, multiple fronts have been opened with the Enforcement Directorate showing some urgency against Robert Vadra after not making much gains in the last five years about his alleged wrongdoings in land feals.

The Modi government has another chance to kill the opposition's poll plank of inaction by the centre to bring back fugitives from abroad as extradition proceedings against Mallya are reaching decisive stage. If the Modi government is able to bring back the business tycoon from the UK to face the law, it will become a major election point for the BJP which is often ridiculed by the opposition for letting the defaulters flee from the country. Prime Minister Modi greeted Sonia Gandhi on her birthday in Sunday but it is clear that these niceties have limited shelf life as the knives are out and the stage is already set for the campaign for 2019.

On the regional front, the BJP continues to find ways to conquer new frontiers. After limited success of its campaign over the Sabarimala issue in Kerala, the party is ready for a head-on collision with Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal. Its plans for a rath yatra have been for the time being but the party is not stepping back on the issue. BJP president Amit Shah's mission Bengal is on track as are plans to make a big splash in Odisha.

In Telangana, the BJP has already sent feelers to the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti to join hands in case they fall short of numbers on December 11. A realignment of political forces is on the cards.

Gautam Datt