Brace for a battle of alliances

Nitish Kumar is eyeing a fourth term amidst waning popularity, growing anti-incumbency and rise of Tejashwi-led coalition

The tenure of the Bihar Assembly ends on November 29 and in an ordinary situation, a new Assembly should be elected before that date. Going by the character of the State, had it not been corona times, Bihar would have been witnessing huge election rallies, mass political movements, political realignment, cross-party movements, political allegations, counterclaims, etc.

Not that the political drama has not started already, but it is not at the scale Bihar generally witnesses. The game of jumping parties too has started. This season, the game started when five Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) MLCs joined the Janata Dal (United) or JD(U). In response to it, the RJD snatched JD(U) leader and former Industry Minister Shyam Rajak. In the next level, the JD(U) responded by onboarding four RJD MLAs. As of now, this game is in its initial level and will mature as elections get nearer.

Game of Jumping
This political equation will not only be played by jumping parties, we will also witness cases of jumping alliance. On the one hand, the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) chief in the NDA is angry with Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and on the other, Jitan Ram Manjhi, upset with the RJD-led Grand Alliance, has switched over to the JD(U)-led ruling alliance.

If I am not wrong, the chief political strategist of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the initial days will play a very silent game in Bihar and ignite the voters without playing any active game of onboarding candidates from other parties or forging a fresh alliance. He will change his strategy only when the Election Commission announces the election dates. I believe he will play all his moves when the game reaches the matured level.

The political equations will change with each level and the last final levels are likely to throw up a complex political equation.

Dynamics of Date
The sentiment of political parties tells that the opposition in Bihar wants the Assembly election deferred but Nitish Kumar wants it on time. If the election is deferred, Bihar would be voting under President’s rule, and that will be advantage opposition. The main opposition parties are not in favour of holding an election till the threat of coronavirus is neutralised.

The principal opposition parties — RJD, Indian National Congress (INC), and the CPI — have written to the Election Commission seeking a deferment. The opposition wants President’s rule in the State for some time before elections. Interestingly, even the LJP has called for deferring the Bihar polls. It is important to understand that the LJP has never accepted JD(U) as its natural partner and the JD(U) also treats the LJP as one of the extended partners of the NDA.
The most critical player of all, the BJP, has not shared its view on the question. The BJP maintains that it will go by what the Election Commission decides.

Political Equation
It is a known fact that Nitish Kumar has more control over the government while the BJP has more loyalist voters. This political combination — of a clean image of Sushasan Babu and the loyalist voter base of the BJP — is the most potent political equation in the political landscape of Bihar. The major partner of the alliance is the JD(U) and the BJP is playing the role of a strong secondary party. Yet, it’s the JD(U) that is the weak part of the strong equation and not the BJP.
The political situation in Bihar is more like Maharashtra rather than Punjab. This is yet another State where the BJP is stronger than the alliance partners but has still opted to play second fiddle. Bihar is also one of the States where the combined might of the opposition can make a difference to the electoral outcome.

It is important to ponder what role the BJP will play in Bihar. Will it follow the Punjab model, or will it experiment with the Maharashtra model. Irrespective of the political stand the BJP takes, it is going to play a key role. The future political play of the BJP in Bihar is a function of the local leader it can project in the State.

The BJP cannot take an independent stand as it does not have a leader, who is acceptable to all. It is known to all that till Nitish Kumar is at the helm of affairs, it will be difficult for the BJP to announce an alternative. A few months of President’s rule may give the BJP a window, and Nitish Kumar knows it.

Fading Charisma
Nitish Kumar is known for his clean image and non-corrupt governance. This has helped him gain the image of ‘Sushasan Babu’. He, in his first two terms as Chief Minister, restored governance and law and order in the State. He extensively worked on infrastructure, women empowerment and education for girls, and other must-to-have things for a progressive State. But he could not deliver the same in the third term. His is now widely seen as an ineffective government.

There is a popular belief that the magic of Sushasan Babu is waning. Nitish Kumar eyes a fourth term as Bihar’s Chief Minister with receding popularity, rising anti-incumbency, changing caste equations, depleting voters’ confidence, rising corruption, new criminal networks, rise of parallel economy, unemployment, reverse migration, and rise of Tejashwi Yadav-led coalition.

On top of these challenges, there is hardly any new reform that has been pushed or proposed by him to improve the current status of education, healthcare, infrastructure, investment, industrialisation, employment, etc. This creates a perfect scenario for Tejashwi Yadav to pitch this election against him.

The political equations are changing rapidly. The voters of Bihar have started to believe that Nitish Kumar managed the governance of State well but failed to bring in development. The charisma of Sushasan Babu is fading and it is being aggressively challenged by Tejashwi Yadav. In this scenario, if the NDA fails to stitch an intelligent alliance, the result may surprise all of us.

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Jharkhand Election: Yet Another Hung Assembly in Making

Jharkhand Election: Yet Another Hung Assembly in Making

In 2014 for the first time Jharkhand witnessed an alliance getting a majority government with BJP winning 37 seats (in 2015, 6 MLAs of Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (JVM) had joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) taking the party tally to 43) and the alliance partner All Jharkhand Students Union (AJSU) winning 5 seats. This was the first majority government since the inception of the state and it had raised the expectation of the voters.  

The 2014 verdict was an opportunity given to its first non-tribal chief minister of Jharkhand – Raghubar Das to change the fortune of the tribal state. If I must go with the popular sentiment, he failed to meet the expectation of the voters. Post facto, the sentiment in the state is that the Tribal leaders like Hemanth Soren, Arjun Munda, Babulal Marandi ruled the state better than this non-tribal chief minister. Contrary to popular belief the party is of the opinion that, Raghubar Das has been a protagonist of development in the state; and he is the most popular face in Jharkhand politics. This overconfidence may prove to be an expensive affair for BJP. In all fairness, it will only be apt to say that the voters of Jharkhand are not happy with Raghubar Das but they have nothing against Narendra Modi, or the party BJP. 

Rise of Intellectual voters 

In 2019 Lok Sabha elections, BJP defied the collective might of opposition alliance and improved its vote share from 35.5 percent to over 50 percent. It is widely believed that the rise in the voteshare was a function of the popularity of Narendra Modi. Most of the political analyst if not all in the state believe that though the party in parliamentary elections won 12 seats out of 14 in the state, but the discontent from the local leaders was visible in the conduct of the voters. 

In various occasions Indian voters have proved that the performance of the parliamentary election is not a yardstick to determine the performance of the assembly elections. The voting pattern of Indian voters has always been different in parliamentary and assembly elections. This election may not be an exception. 

It is an established fact that Indian voters are intelligent, and they know how to reward and punish the political leaders and political parties. The voters of Jharkhand are evolved and believe in punishing the leader for the nonperformance as they did in 2014 assembly election. In 2014, Babulal Marandi lost from both the seats he had contested, Hemant Soren lost Dumka seat but managed to win Berhat, Arjun Munda faced a humiliating defeat, Sudesh Mahto lost at his home turf. The voters of Jharkhand punished ex-chief ministers in last assembly election, but they rewarded prime minister in the recently concluded parliamentary elections.

Where do we stand? 

At the outset it looks like BJP and alliance partner AJSU has the upper hand and as the second largest national party, INC has no mass leader in the state. In absence of a strong mass leader INC is banking on Hemant Soren of the JMM to do wonders for the alliance. JMM on the other hand is desperately trying to retain the party’s core vote base – STs. The third critical political force in the state election JVM is banking on the combined might of Babulal Marandi and the disgruntled leaders of JMM, INC, and BJP. These three prominent political entities in the state will decide the future of the 2019 election. 

In recent times, INC has lost its two former party presidents to the rival parties – AAP and BJP

 In my views, the 2019 assembly election in Jharkhand will not be fought on the development plank. It is going to be a classic old school election that will be fought on the backdrop of cast equation. This election, furthermore, will be all about the athematic of vote bank rather than the sentiment of development and growth. This election is all about the hyperlocal issues. It is about Jameen, Jal, and Jangal. This election is also about the identity of Jharkhand. In this election the recent verdict on Ram temple will also play a critical role. This election is not about the development of Jharkhand. It is not about the personality war. It is also not about the charisma of the political leaders. It will not be wrong to say that this is one of the rare elections of recent times where Modi may not play the critical role. 

In absence of a prominent opposition it is going to be a little easy for BJP to retain power but there is a chance for the opposition to win back the state. I believe, only if the opposition can create a groundswell based on popular sentiments like bad governance of Raghubar Das, trial issues around Jal-jameen-jangal, ignored Brahmins and Kayasthas, and all big talk by Raghubar Das and no development they can stitch a tight win. Otherwise, in Jharkhand in absence of a capable alternative the voters of Jharkhand will vote for BJP. 

In the given scenario, if the opposition manages to run an intelligent campaign based on theme – one, Jal-jameen-jangal to ignite the ST sentiment; two, influence disgruntled BJP voters with campaign like “Raghubar Teri Khair Nahi, Modi se Koi Baair Nahi” not to vote for Raghubar Das or avoid going to booth on the polling day; three, dissuade Brahmins and kayasthas by campaign designed around “Brahmins and kayasthas ka Dushman – Raghubar Das”; four engage Muslims and SC votebank by running a silent campaign “We are the only Hope” they can ignite the latent feelings of the voters, overturn their sentiment. But, unfortunately the opposition has no great mass leader to run the campaign. 

The bigger challenge is neither INC nor the alliance partner JMM has any mature or dependable face. The alliance is expected to depend on the face value of Hemant Soren to pull the election campaign in the right direction. But in my views, Hemant is yet to mature as the dependable force of Jharkhand Politics. He is still a mass leader in making. The alliance lacks a dependable face like Sharad Pawar in Jharkhand to spearhead the opposition’s campaign. In absence of the mass leader the opposition campaigns need to be managed by the voters and volunteers and not by the leaders of the party. The leaders should only support them and agree to the voice of voters. It is important to understand that when you don’t have mass leader who can carry the burden of the campaign, make voters your star campaigner. 

As on date, the voters of Jharkhand are not happy with Raghubar Das and state-BJP, but they don’t have any strong alternative. The opposition in the state is fragmented and two of the large leaders – Hemant Soren and Babulal Marandi are fighting their last battel of survival. If the grand alliance had all opposition parties – INC, JMM, JVM and others, Jharkhand could have got another stable government in 2019. As JVM is not part of the grand alliance it will play the role of an intelligent spoiler. The current situation may throw up a surprise where JVM will end up emerging as the party that will decide the future chief minister of Jharkhand.

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Madhya Pradesh may go Gujarat way

Madhya Pradesh may go Gujarat way

INC’s failure to offer a credible alternative or a robust alliance may help the BJP beat strong anti-incumbency

The forthcoming Assembly election of Madhya Pradesh in many ways can be compared with the recent Assembly elections of Gujarat — the election that the INC lost, not the one that the BJP won.

Madhya Pradesh is one of the key States of the Hindi belt, which sees a direct contest between the BJP and the INC. It is yet another State that has seen a strong BJP government for three terms and the INC has been struggling to claim the State back.

Even after the Gujarat debacle, the INC has not learned the art of communication and its communication in MP is as confused as it was in Gujarat. The popular perception suggests that the theatrics of temple run will not help it in Madhya Pradesh just like in Gujarat. This is one of those dramas that voters enjoy but don’t consider while voting.

Just like Gujarat, the caste and communal equation in MP is beyond the politics of the Hindu-Muslim divide. It is about winning each caste separately, including SCs and STs. A majority of voters of Madhya Pradesh, in their 40s and 50s, still have fresh memories of bad governance of INC Chief Minister Digvijay Singh. Voters of MP may not like Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan of the BJP but they for sure still hate the INC. So, what is the mood in the State?

No clear alternative
It is widely believed that there is a strong anti-incumbency of three terms but the voters of the State are not in a position to find any clear alternative. Like in Gujarat, in MP too the INC has failed to identify one single face that can challenge Shivraj Singh Chouhan and build a credible narrative for the party.

A defined alternative will help the INC win more vote share than the state of ambiguity. It will not be wrong to say that in the absence of a clear choice, voters are still backing Chouhan as the preferred chief ministerial candidate. The problem with the INC is it has not yet declared its chief ministerial candidate despite having four candidates – Arjun Yadav, Digvijay Singh, Kamal Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia.

At times, one gets a feeling that the INC is planning a decisive, focused and determined campaign, especially since there is some amount of anti-incumbency and an opportunity for the party to cash in.

‘Unhappy’ farmers
Farmers’ concerns are the biggest political pitch. The party that manages to win the trust of farmers and has answers to suicides and offers good policies related to farm and farmers will have an edge. Further, the party with strong grassroots workers — who can take the message of the party to the farmers and the rural households — will hold an advantage.

Scams aren’t big issue
Big scams such as Vyapam, sand mining, dams and ponds, mid-day meals have still not hampered the image of Shivraj Singh Chouhan. He is still seen as progressive, development-oriented, humble, down to earth and man of the masses. It is the failure of the INC to build a successful groundswell around these large scams.

Soft Hindutva bad strategy
Madhya Pradesh can’t be polarised on the Hindutva agenda. The position of hardcore Hindutva leader is already occupied by Shivraj Singh Chouhan and soft Hindutva will not work. I wonder why the INC is not focusing on the issues of development, big scams and other progressive issues that attract eyeballs of the millennial.

Caste plays a big role
The positioning of the INC as a party that believes in soft Hindutva is not an effective positioning. Madhya Pradesh prefers to votes for caste. Religion is not the core issue here. Roughly 60% of the voters evaluate the caste before casting their vote. Caste-based social engineering is key to the success in the State.

ST, SC central
In Madhya Pradesh, STs, SCs and Muslims (roughly 21%, 15% and 6% respectively) are the big vote banks of the INC. The State has a strong ST and SC population, which is a traditional vote bank of the INC, but the BSP has been successfully consolidating them to its advantage.
Moreover, the BJP has been working hard for the last few years to win over these voters. This move has disturbed the traditional vote bank of the BJP — upper castes and OBCs — but this may help the BJP win over a new set of ST and SC voters.

No Hindu-Muslim divide
MP cannot be polarised on the lines of Hindu-Muslim divide. This is one of the States like Gujarat that has a negligible Muslim vote bank. Over 90% of the voters are Hindus. It will only be apt to say that the caste and communal equation in MP is beyond the politics of the Hindu-Muslim divide.

Alliance was key
The tribal vote has a strong presence in 35-40 seats in MP. In these tribal-dominated areas, the combined might of the INC and the BSP would have won almost all seats but now that the INC and the BSP are not together, the result will be different. Moreover, the voting patterns in the last three Assembly elections indicate that the INC has a loyal voter base of over 30%, the BJP enjoys 35%, and the BSP roughly 5%. This basic arithmetic of voter’s loyalty suggests that an alliance was one of the safest ways for the INC to romp home.

The win and loss in MP will mostly be decided by fence-sitting voters who decide their preference in the final leg of the election campaign. In such a scenario, the last leg of political campaigns will change the dynamics of the election result. The BJP with the political campaign expertise of Modi and Shah, and the positive image of Shivraj Singh Chouhan will be able to challenge the INC once again. Well-crafted campaigns of Modi and Shah in last 15 days could swing a minimum of 5% voters to their fold.

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Karnataka: Too tough to call

Karnataka: Too tough to call

A classic case where the BJP may win without any strengths and INC may lose for its weaknesses

Coastal Karnataka

The region has three districts – Dakshina Kannada, Uttara Kannada and Udupi accounting for 19 seats. Coastal Karnataka is the stronghold of the BJP and all the three MP seats are held by it.

However, in the 2013 Assembly elections, the INC did extremely well here winning most of the seats. The BJP then was a divided house but now they are united. The JDS has very little presence and depends on the charisma of individual leaders.

Dakshina Kannada (Mangalore): The district has witnessed a bipolar contest between the BJP and INC in the last few elections. It has been a strong INC bastion but many INC leaders, including Janardhana Poojary, are unhappy with the Chief Minister and district in charge minister on their minority appeasement policies. This might help the BJP consolidate its position here.

Udupi: The BJP had swept this district in 2008 but lost ground in 2013. The united BJP in 2018 is a strong house with mass leaders like Haladi Srinivas Shetty and Jayaprakash Hegde.

Uttara Kannada (Karwar): It witnesses a bipolar contest between the BJP and the INC except in two seats where the JDS is strong. This election, the BJP tried hard to consolidate its position riding on pro-Hindu sentiments.

Old Mysore and Bangalore

Bangalore is part of the Old Mysore region but the voting pattern here is very different from the rest of the region. It has for long been a stronghold of the BJP. Moreover, the major local community of the city – Brahmins — normally favour the BJP.

Though there has been a direct contest between the BJP and the INC, in two seats, the JDS puts up a tough fight. In 2013, even with the divided house, the BJP got 12 seats but in the 2015 BBMP polls, it could get only 100 of the 198 seats.

Bangalore Urban has 28 Assembly constituencies. Rest of the Old Mysore region has 87 Assembly seats in 13 districts — Davangere, Chitradurga, Tumkur, Shimoga, Chikkamagalur, Hassan, Kodagu, Mysore, Chamarajnagar, Mandya, Bangalore Rural, Kolar, Chikkaballapur.
The INC dominates the region. While the BJP is a strong competition in Chikkamagalore, Shimoga, Kodagu, Davanagere, Tumkur, and Bangalore Rural, the JDS is strong in Mysore, Chamarajnagar, Mandya, Hassan, and Ramanagara.

Old Mysore is dominated by Vokkaliga and Kurbas. The BJP is the only party that does not have good support of the Vokkaliga community. With the induction of SM Krishna, a Vokkaliga, the party may gain some confidence of these voters.

A detailed analysis will help us understand the situation of Old Mysore better.
Davangere: The area sees a bipolar contest between the BJP and the INC except in one seat where the JDS too is present.

Chitradurga: Though it has witnessed a bipolar contest between the BJP and INC, independents have surprised them. This election, the united BJP is in a good position with ST leader B Sriramulu back in its fold.

Tumkur: Sees a triangular contest in 8 seats where BJP has a presence. In another three, it’s a contest between the INC and JDS. The JDS has a presence in all the seats.

Shimoga: Is the home district of BS Yeddyurappa and Eshwarappa. Shimoga is also considered as the Karnataka headquarters of the BJP. In a few seats here, it’s a triangular contest and in others, it is a direct fight between the BJP and the INC.

Chikkamagalur: In 2008, the BJP had won 4 seats but as a divided house, it could only win 2 seats. The minority politics of the INC will help the BJP consolidate Hindu voters here.
Hassan: It is the home district of HD Deve Gowda and the JDS is very strong here. This election we may witness a rise in BJP vote share owing to its Parivarthana Yatra.

Kodagu (Madikeri): Support for Tipu Jayanti by the INC would polarise votes in favour of the BJP.

Mysore: It is Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s home district. It would be a tough fight between the INC and JDS.

Chamarajnagar: Sees a triangular contest among the BJP, INC, and the JDS-BSP alliance. The results here would be very interesting as the JDS and the BSP have joined hands and prominent Dalit leader Sreenivasa Prasad has joined the BJP.

Mandya: The fight is between the INC and the JDS. BJP doesn’t have a presence in this district.

Bangalore Rural: In 2008, the BJP won 3 seats but lost all in 2013 election. Bangalore Rural is now dominated by the JDS.

Kolar: This is one of the rare areas where independents have a stronghold. — Concluded

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Karnataka: Close and critical call

Karnataka: Close and critical call

Demography, cultural and ethnic dynamics play an important role in this southern State

The Karnataka Assembly election is one of the key political contests before the parliamentary election of 2019. It is important for the INC to win Karnataka as it is the largest State where it is still in power. The BJP wants to win Karnataka as the State is perceived as the gateway to south India. It is also important for the JDS as its performance will decide its future in politics.

There are many political parties in the field — INC, BJP, JDS, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Maharastra Ekikarana Samiti (MES), Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) and Mahila Empowerment Party (MEP) — but the fight is mainly among the INC, BJP and the JDS.

It is important to know the demography, cultural, and ethnic dynamics of Karnataka to understand the election dynamics. Karnataka can be divided into four distinct regions – North-West Karnataka (Mumbai Karnataka), North-East Karnataka (Hyderabad Karnataka), Coastal Karnataka, and Old Mysore and Bangalore. In this part, we analyse the first two regions:

North-West Karnataka (Mumbai Karnataka)
Mumbai Karnataka is a stronghold of the BJP. In a few seats, the JDS can challenge the dominance of the INC and the BJP, but this dominance is owing to strong candidates rather than the party. Mumbai Karnataka is Lingayat-dominated. Siddaramiah is trying his best to break the monolithic BJP vote bank by giving separate religious status for Lingayats. The other dominant force is Marathi influence and the Mahadayi issue.

Karnataka Election

The popularity of the BJP here is because of mass leaders BS Yeddyurappa, Jagadish Shettar and Prahlad Joshi, and the foundational work done by the RSS. Moreover, the pro-Muslim image of the INC would also help the BJP consolidate vote share in this region. A detailed analysis of all the six districts will help understand the situation better.

Belgaum: Of the 18 seats, there has been a bipolar contest between the BJP and the INC in 15. In three seats, the MES is strong and there is a straight fight between the MES and BJP. The BJP is quite strong in this district. In 2013, the divided BJP got 11 seats – BJP (9), KJP (1), BSRCP (1), with roughly 40% votes. If the BJP manages to consolidate Hindu (Kannada and Marathi) votes, it can win most seats.

Bagalkot: It was BJP’s fort in 2008 with 47% vote share, but the numbers changed in 2013 and the party won only one seat. The Parivarthana Yatra by Yeddyurappa was well received and if BJP maintains the momentum, it could double its tally.

Karnataka Election

Bijapur: The INC may challenge the dominance of the BJP here by fueling the Lingayat issue but the BJP local leadership has put up a spirited fight.

Dharwad: This region witnesses a bipolar contest between the BJP and the INC. The JDS has a presence in one seat. In 2013, the united BJP got roughly 40% and INC 37% vote share; and in 2008, it was 47% and 39% respectively.

Gadag: The BJP had swept all the seats in 2008 and lost all in 2013 due to the division of votes between the BJP, KJP and the BSRCP.

Haveri: The BJP is very strong here and had won 5 seats in 2008 with 42% votes. With strong candidates, it may repeat the performance.

The Mumbai Karnataka region contributed to the success of BJP in 2008. Backed by its Parivarthana Yatra, the region is likely to do the same this time too. But the Lingayat card may change the numbers.

North-East Karnataka (Hyderabad Karnataka)
There is some amount of Telugu dominance in this region. With 40 Assembly constituencies, it has a strong mix of Dalit, Minorities, Reddy-Vokkaliga and Lingayat voters.

The region, on one hand, is dominated by BJP leaders like Reddy brothers and B Sriramulu and, on the other, is home to tallest INC leaders Mallikarjun Kharge and Anil Lad. All the six districts – Bidar, Gulbarga, Yadgir, Raichur, Bellary, Koppal would witness a close contest between the INC and the BJP.

Bidar: The JDS can play a spoiler. In the last election, the united BJP got 38% and the united INC (after Karnataka Makkala Paksha joining it) had 34% vote share. The Parivarthana Yatra might have a positive influence here.

Gulbarga: This district has 13 Assembly constituencies. Here, Yadgir needs a special mention as this district was created by the BJP and is now the party’s stronghold. The JDS has a strong candidate in one seat. Moreover, the united BJP also performed very well in zilla panchayat elections though, the INC won the Gulbarga parliament seat. The fight here will mostly be a function of the right candidate selection.

Raichur: Here 4 seats are reserved for the STs and one for SCs. The district has mostly witnessed a bipolar contest between the BJP and the INC except in 2 seats where the JDS has strong candidates. It is important to note that in the last Assembly election, of the 47% vote share of united BJP, 17% was managed by the Badavara Shramikara Raitara Congress Party (BSRCP) of Sreeramulu. With Sreeramulu back in the BJP, the party could do well.

Bellary: While 5 seats are reserved for STs, 2 are for SCs. Bellary is Sreeramulu’s home district and a power centre of the Reddy Brothers.

Koppal: JDS is strong in one seat. As the BJP was a divided house, the INC won the last election in this district. If the voters go back to the united BJP, the same will be reflected in the results.

The outcome of the 2018 election results of the Hyderabad Karnataka region would mostly decide the fate of the next government in the State. This is the only region where the fight between the INC and the BJP would be very close and critical. In the other regions, the outcome is mostly defined and very little can be changed.

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