It is very rare that an assembly election campaign throws up no trends at all, but this would seem to be the case with the Maharashtra and Haryana polls, which take place today.
In Maharashtra, the old alliances between the Congress and the NCP and the Shiv Sena and BJP have fallen apart, leaving the field wide open. In Haryana, the BJP has lost its ally the Haryana Janhit Congress and the ruling Congress is neck deep in trouble. With the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) making an all out bid for power, Haryana too is anyone’s for the taking.
In both states, the BJP seems to want to go it alone. It feels that it can sail solo in both states, riding on the wave of its spectacular Lok Sabha victory. But in Maharashtra, despite an energetic campaign led by the prime minister himself, the party will feel the loss of its ally, the Shiv Sena.
The Sena may not be quite the force it was under the late Bal Thackeray, but it is a formidable opponent in any election.
The Congress has been in the driver’s seat for 15 years, so there is a great deal of disillusionment with it, especially given the allegations of rampant corruption.
In Haryana too, the Congress has been mired in accusations of corruption, especially related to land deals. In Haryana, an imponderable is the caste factor that often overtakes party loyalties. In Maharashtra, both the Shiv Sena and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena have raised fears that a victorious BJP could hive off Mumbai from the state.
Now this is impossible, but is calculated to play on Marathi sentiment. The Congress has suffered in both states from a largely lacklustre campaign and its inability to come up with issues and ideas that could capture the voters’ imagination. The BJP feels that an extension of the issues it raised in the Lok Sabha campaign could do the trick, though earlier bypolls showed that it does not always work this way.
The outcome of both these polls will have a major bearing on the other elections due this year in Jharkhand and Jammu and Kashmir. Bihar goes to polls late next year.
There is a certain tiredness about all the parties in the fray in Maharashtra and Haryana, a disconnect with the new voter who is impatient with old shibboleths. In Haryana, there has been a surge in popularity of independents who have focused on local issues like water and sanitation.
For the Congress a good showing may be what it needs to galvanise its demoralised rank and file. For the BJP, victory could be a validation of its campaign based on strong leadership. For the Sena it is a fight for survival.
With such high stakes involved, the counting day promises to be as exciting as the day the Lok Sabha results were declared.