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State polls: Exam time for Congress

Having replaced Vilasrao Deshmukh just after the Mumbai attacks November last, Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan is bracing to face his greatest political battle.

india Updated: Oct 11, 2009 23:50 IST

Will Cong-NCP be lucky again?

Having replaced Vilasrao Deshmukh just after the Mumbai attacks November last, Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan is bracing to face his greatest political battle.

When the results of the assembly polls in Maharashtra are declared on October 22, Chavan hopes to lead the Congress-National Congress Party (NCP) combine to a third win since the alliance was born in 1999.

These are the first elections since the delimitation process, in which maps of the constituencies were redrawn on the basis of increase in population.

Apart from the Congress, defending its turf after the wins in 1999 and 2004, the polls are a make-or-break situation for a fragmented opposition too.

For the Shiv Sena, the main Opposition party, the elections are crucial. If the party fails to win, the party’s executive president, Uddhav Thackeray, will lose more ground to cousin and political foe Raj.

No wonder ageing Sena supremo Bal Thackeray, 83, on Saturday lashed out against his estranged nephew during a campaign rally in Mumbai, even if it was via video-conference.

“These days, someone has suddenly developed love for Maharashtrians and is accusing us of betraying their cause,” Thackeray said in a reference to the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) founder.

The BJP, the Sena’s ally, is hoping that a win in Maharashtra will help reverse its dwindling political fortunes.

Voters are confused since all parties are revealing a bankruptcy of ideas, said B Venkatesh Kumar, a political analyst.

“On one hand there is the Congress-NCP, which has done precious little in terms of development in the past decade. On the other, there is no viable alternative. Adding to the confusion are Raj Thackeray, playing the native card and a number of rebels who have jumped in the fray,” said Kumar.

Then there is the unknown entity, the rebel with a cause.

Even if the fragmented third doesn’t eat into the Congress-NCP vote, strong rebels such as Sunil Deshmukh, contesting as an independent from Amravati against the President’s son, could upset even the best-laid plans.

It’s advantage Congress as Oppn is at war with itself

Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda is sitting pretty.

Following Congress victories in nine out of 10 Lok Sabha seats from the state in May, he and his Cabinet colleagues had been unanimous about going in for early assembly polls. Their argument: there would not be a “better time”.

The polls were, thus, advanced to October 13, five months ahead of schedule. That calculated gamble seems set to pay off.

The party is benefiting from the absence of any obvious anti-incumbency disadvantage, a series of broken Opposition alliances and a fragmented polity that has led to a five-cornered contest in the state.

“In four and a half years, we have created a cordial atmosphere and carried out more development than in four decades since the creation of the state. What has the INLD or any other party got to offer? They are not even sure of their agenda,” said Hooda, 62.

The Indian National Lok Dal (INLD)-BJP alliance, which fought the Lok Sabha elections together, broke up after their dismal showing, and the tie-up between 79-year-old Bhajan Lal’s Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC) and Mayawati’s BSP also came apart a few months ago.

But the Congress may not repeat the near sweep of the Lok Sabha polls. The two main opposition parties — the INLD, led by Om Prakash Chautala, 74, and HJC — still retain pockets of strong influence and the resources to make a fight of it, in roughly three dozen of the state’s 90 assembly seats.

“The multi-cornered contest is to our advantage. The HJC, BJP and the BSP will dent the Congress (base) whereas our vote share will go up considerably. The Congress policies have made the poor poorer. It is time to bury this government,” said Chautala.

Then, the BJP and BSP are also giving a tough fight in more than a dozen constituencies.

They are counting on the undercurrent of discontent due to the rise in food prices and have focused their campaigns on corruption, power shortages, nepotism in recruitment and the Rohtak-centric, lopsided development.