The October assembly elections in Maharashtra, Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh are crucial for both the Congress, ruling in all these states, and BJP.
The Congress, fresh from its impressive performance in the Lok Sabha elections held in April-May, faces the challenge of defending the states, while for the BJP, the elections could not have come at a worse time.
Already demoralised after getting a drubbing in the general elections, the BJP is facing severe infighting, which intensified over the past fortnight.
Of the three states, the focus will be on the biggest — Maharashtra — where the main contest will be between the ruling Congress-NCP alliance and the BJP-Shiv Sena combo.
The state, ruled by the Congress-led alliance since 1999, provided a lead for the ruling combine in the Lok Sabha polls by winning 26 of the 48 seats in the state.
But though drought and price rise should have been the main worries for the combine, the leaders seem to be more anxious over the emergence of a third front in the state.
The third front comprises 15 parties, including the Left parties and the Janata Dal. The Congress fears that the front, buoyed by several Republican Party of India factions, would eat into the secular vote bank.
Talks are yet to begin between NCP chief Sharad Pawar and the Congress leadership, though Congress spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi told a news channel on Monday: “The alliance is intact.”
The NCP wants to contest on the 2004 seat-sharing arrangement, but the Congress, which won 17 Lok Sabha seats this time against the NCP’s nine, wants more.
In Haryana, the Congress came to power in 2005 after nine years, winning nine of the 10 seats. A demoralised and divided Opposition appears unlikely to pose a stiff challenge.
Caste equations will hold the key in the state dominated by Jats. Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, himself a Jat, seems to have emerged a tall leader of the community.
What’s more, the snapping of ties between the BJP and former chief minister O.P. Chautala’s Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) recently added to the troubles of the Opposition.
Arunachal Pradesh will have symbolic importance at the national level, since it may add to the Congress score or losing tally, depending on the outcome.
(With inputs from Mumbai and Chandigarh bureaus)