The battle of the hustings begins in earnest from Chhattisgarh on Monday with voting in assembly polls taking place in constituencies in Maoist-affected areas of the state. This will set the stage for the electoral fight in five states over the next month.
The stakes are high for both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as the elections are expected to set the trend for the Lok Sabha polls to be held April-May 2014.
The BJP is aiming to retain its governments in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh and unseat the Congress in Rajasthan and Delhi.
Opinion polls have shown the BJP in a position to form governments in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, the three states in which it is virtually in direct contest with the Congress.
However, the fight is triangular in Delhi where Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party seems set to queer the pitch for both the Congress and the BJP.
The polls in the four Hindi heartland states are also crucial as the winning party in each state is expected to carry the momentum to the Lok Sabha polls. The four states together account for 72 Lok Sabha seats. The Congress is also aiming to retain Mizoram in the north east.
Most of the 18 constituencies going to the polls in Chhattisgarh Monday fall in the Maoist affected areas.
Campaigning ended in these seats Saturday with both the Congress and BJP bringing in their star campaigners. If it was prime ministerial aspirant and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi for the BJP, the Congress fielded party president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also addressed party workers in state capital Raipur.
The remaining 72 seats in Chhattisgarh will go to the polls Nov 19.
Electioneering is also expected to pick up momentum in the coming days in Madhya Pradesh (230 seats) and Mizoram (40 seats) which go to the polls Nov 25.
Voters will cast their ballots in Rajasthan (200 seats) Dec 1 and and Delhi (70 seats) Dec 4. Counting in the four Hindi heartland states will take place Dec 8 and for the Mizoram assembly Dec 9.
Both BJP and Congress leaders expressed optimism about the outcome in the five states.
BJP vice-president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said the party will form governments in the four Hindi heartland states and perform well in Mizoram.
"People are satisfied with the performance of BJP governments in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. Both chief ministers Raman Singh and Shivraj Singh Chouhan have taken development to every resident of their states. The UPA government has given a lot of money to Congress governments in Delhi and Rajasthan but they have misused the funds," claimed Naqvi.
He said price rise and "corruption of UPA government" were factors in the assembly polls and the outcome will impact the Lok Sabha polls next year.
Also expressing confidence, Congress spokesperson Meem Afzal said the party was optimistic of forming the government in Chhattisgarh and was in a very good position in Madhya Pradesh. He said the Congress had improved and consolidated its position in Rajasthan and its government in Delhi had a good track record of development.
"The opinion polls will prove wrong. We will emerge victorious," he said.
Afzal said the outcome of assembly polls "may or may not have an impact" on the Lok Sabha elections.
Meanwhile, Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati is also expected to address rallies in the poll-bound states. The Communist Party of India, Communist Party of India-Marxist, Samajwadi Party, Janata Dal-United and Nationalist Congress Party are among the other parties fielding candidates.
According to political analyst Aswini K. Ray the outcome of the assembly polls is likely to have a bearing on the BJP and Congress in terms of potential alliance partners for the Lok Sabha polls.
"In these terms, the elections will be indicative," said Ray, a former professor of political science at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
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