By Richard Rossow
Forgotten amidst the mayhem of India’s national election, four Indian states are simultaneously holding elections for their respective legislative assemblies. These four states include just over 10% of India’s total population. The winners of these state elections will form the government in their states. The states, their populations, and the incumbents:
|Arunachal Pradesh||1.5 mn||April 9, 2014||Congress (42/60 seats)- 2nd consecutive term|
|Andhra Pradesh||85 mn||April 30 (Telangana), May 7 (Andhra Pradesh)||Congress (156/294 seats)- 2nd consecutive term.|
|Odisha||42 mn||April 10 and April 17||BJD (103/147)- 3rd consecutive term.|
|Sikkim||600 th||April 12||SDF (32/32)- 4th consecutive term.|
The results of these state elections will be announced on May 16- the same day as the Lok Sabha election results. Andhra Pradesh clearly dominates this group in terms of population — and has been the Congress Party’s largest source of parliament seats across the last 2 elections by a very wide margin. On June 2, a new state called Telangana will be carved out of the northwest section of the state and officially come into existence. So in essence, these elections are for five state assemblies.
Impact on Congress vs. BJP:
Congress is currently in charge of 12 states in India (if you include Andhra Pradesh, which is now under President’s Rule), compared to the BJP’s 5 states. The rest are led by regional parties.
If these state elections go as predicted and Congress loses in both of the post-division parts of Andhra Pradesh, the party may be down to 11 states- their lowest number of states controlled since 2008. While the BJP is not competitive in these states (in 2009 the BJP won only 2.8% of the vote in Andhra, 15.1% in Odisha, 5.2% in Arunachal, and .3% in Sikkim), they may still gain if the Telugu Desam Party, a key member of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) coalition, comes to power in Andhra Pradesh. The state elections will most likely harm Congress, and may provide a bit of benefit to the BJP.
Impact on American Interests:
The typical storyline about the “rise of regional parties” is overblown. Regional parties hit their peak strength in terms of states controlled, and members of parliament, about 15 years back. However, Indian state governments can play important roles in supporting or resisting closer Indo-U.S. ties. For example:
- Supporting Business-Friendly Central Government Policies: One of India’s most critical pending economic reforms- a constitutional amendment to allow a national Goods & Services Tax (GST)- will need to be approved by a majority of Indian state assemblies if Parliament passes the amendment. Having states aligned with the party in power in Delhi will help smooth this process. Other key reforms that may be attempted by the next government, such as fixing the country’s broken state electricity grids, will also need active contributions by state governments.
- Creating Business-Friendly Local Environments: Every state government has the power to create dramatically different business environments. For American investors, working with stable, business-friendly state governments can have an important impact on their operations. On the flip side, we have seen anti-business policies by new state governments damage India’s overall investment environment when they reversed positive policies or refused to honor agreements made by their predecessor governments.
- Becoming Indian Brand Ambassadors: Some of India’s more dynamic chief ministers have had success in visiting key economic partners and directly encouraging investments into their state. Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, and former Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu have been among the most successful models. Person-to-person contact with state leaders helps infuse confidence into business and government leaders.
While attention is naturally focused on the much larger parliament election, results from these state elections can play an important role in the trajectory of our bilateral relationship.
Richard M. Rossow is a senior fellow and holds the Wadhwani Chair in U.S.-India Policy Studies at CSIS.