New Delhi: They may be battles for control of five states. But the overall outcome will mean a lot to the Congress and to the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government it leads.
Analysts feel a good performance will be a morale booster to the UPA government that is battling an image crisis, while a poor showing will add to its woes ahead of the country`s presidential polls.
Of the five states facing the ballot, the contest in Uttar Pradesh -- the country`s most populous -- has greater portends for national politics. With 403 assembly and 80 Lok Sabha seats, it will be a four-way race involving the ruling Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Samajwadi Party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress.
The Congress has high stakes in the other states too. It rules Manipur and Goa and is the main opposition in Punjab and Uttarakhand.
If the Congress fares well in the staggered polls, it will give a shot to the Manmohan Singh government and enhance the stature of Rahul Gandhi as a strategist and mass leader.
Rahul Gandhi is focussing almost all his energy in Uttar Pradesh, in the hope of repeating the 2009 Lok Sabha magic when he led the Congress to the number two slot, surprising friends and foes alike.
If the Congress wins Uttarakahand and scores well in Uttar Pradesh, it is sure to boost Congress prospects in the Rajya Sabha election in the two states.
The two states together have at least 11 Rajya Sabha seats falling vacant in April. The Congress is in a minority in the Rajya Sabha, a critical handicap for legislative business in parliament.
Congress leaders said the party`s performance in the five assembly polls would determine the degree of external support needed to get its candidate through in a presidential contest.
If BJP batters the Congress in Uttarakhand and Punjab, the former will be dlighted.
Elections will be held later this year in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat, where the Congress has been reduced to a poor second vis-a-vis Narendra Modi.
Political commentator S Nihal Singh said if the Congress performs well in the polls, it will stabilize the Manmohan Singh government.
"In that case it will be in a better position to deal with difficult allies like the Trinamool Congress. It will feel little more confident in pushing reforms which have got struck," Nihal Singh said.
Political analyst BRP Bhaskar said: "If BJP or Congress improve their position in Uttar Pradesh, it will go in their favour in the overall national context."
A Congress surge will add to Rahul Gandhi`s stature and help the process of generational transition in the party.
Congress leader Shakeel Ahmed told IANS that the outcome of assembly elections will not make a difference to the central government. But BJP`s Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said the polls will have "an important bearing" on national politics.
"The elections, especially in Uttar Pradesh, will have a direct impact (on national politics). I do not see a good result for Congress. The UPA alliance can break," Naqvi warned.
The staggered polling began Jan 28 in Manipur. The results will be declared March 6. The last phase of polling in Uttar Pradesh will conclude May 3. Goa goes to the polls the same day.