Next year will see seven assembly elections in India, including the biggest of prize of them all - Uttar Pradesh. In addition, President Pranab Mukherjee's term will also end, setting the stage for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP to anoint a new President.
In UP, it looks like a close fight between Mayawati's BSP and an energized BJP, with incumbent SP and CM Akhilesh Yadav busy with party and family infighting that is taking a serious toll on the government. In the event of a four-way contest, the BJP seems set to form its first government in the state in over two decades. However, there are rumors of a Congress-SP alliance that has the potential to up end equations and return a shaky coalition government - although going by the experience of Congress alliances in 2016, that might not quite translate to reality. All eyes remain on the most crucial factor - the CM candidates of each party, particularly the BJP.
In Uttarakhand, the incumbent Congress government that has a wafer-thin majority seems set to be voted out, with voter disenchantment growing due to a sense of directionless and a government accused of nepotism. In Manipur, CM Okram Ibobi Singh faces a challenge from the Iron Lady Irom Shamila Chanu, whose electoral debut will be clearly watched, even as both the BJP and the TMC look to make significant inroads at the cost of the Congress. The story is similar in Himachal, with the incumbent CM facing a volley of corruption and nepotism charges, and voters looking to the BJP for change.
In Goa, the ruling BJP looks dominant as the leading Opposition Congress continues its meltdown. While more and more leaders leave the Congress, the loss of Manohar Parrikar to the Narendra Modi Cabinet has spelled trouble for the incumbent CM, with resistance coming from within as well as from the highly-charged mother language issue. The black horse is the AAP, which has not made the same mistakes as in Punjab, and which may replace the Congress as the chief opposition party.
In Punjab, the controversy-laden SAD-BJP alliance government of Prakash Singh Badal and his family seems ready to be booted out after it won an unprecedented second consecutive term five years ago. Congress VP Rahul Gandhi has virtually stayed out of Punjab and allowed the popular Capt. Amrinder Singh to lead the charge, and it seems set to reap the dividends of having a popular, local leader. A few months ago, Punjab looked set to be the first full state that the AAP would form a government in, but Arvind Kejriwal's theatrics and brazen corruption by the local party has tilted the scales back in the Congress' favor.
And finally, in Gujarat, while the ruling BJP looks shaky going into its first election in the state after Chief Minister Narendra Modi's historic 2014 Lok Sabha victory, the Opposition continues to be hopelessly disarrayed, clinging on to the hope that the Patidar agitation would weaken the BJP enough for it to lose a majority and thus enable some sort of horse trading. Whether BJP President Amit Shah will give Gujarat enough personal attention is left to be seen, but the scars of Anandiben Patel's failed term as CM will haunt the BJP going into the election.
As for the Presidency, in 2014, it was speculated that LK Advani may be elevated to that position as one of the founders of the BJP. However, his hobnobbing with the Lutyens elite and outbursts against the Modi government have made him far less likely to be considered for that post. And given Modi's style, his choice for the Head of State will surely surprise a lot of us.