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India’s opposition faces a tough test | Analysis

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s possible success in the state polls will add to its national dominance

columns Updated: Oct 08, 2019 08:28 IST
Shashi Shekhar
Shashi Shekhar
Polls in Maharashtra, Haryana, Delhi, Jharkhand and Bihar over the next year will shape national politics
Polls in Maharashtra, Haryana, Delhi, Jharkhand and Bihar over the next year will shape national politics(Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)
         

Election fever is at its peak in two important states — Haryana and Maharashtra. After the return of the Narendra Modi government in the 2019 elections, this is the first test of whether the prime minister’s popularity remains intact, or whether the Congress and regional parties have mustered the capability to challenge this. The polls will also determine the direction and state of politics in the days to come.

A strong opposition is important in any democracy. Unfortunately, the opposition is missing entirely at present. These elections are an opportunity for the regional opposition parties to register their presence.

After this round of elections, polls will follow in Jharkhand and Delhi in early 2020, and Bihar at the end of next year. These five states send 119 members to the Lok Sabha and 49 to the Rajya Sabha. The mandate in these states will find resonance in the politics at the Centre. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) does not have a majority in the upper house, and needs as many seats in as many states as possible to fill this gap. Had the chief ministers of Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana not cooperated, the government could not have taken such important decisions as the abrogation of Article 370 or triple talaq. In addition, when it comes to critical constitutional amendments, the government needs not only a majority in both the Houses, but a two-thirds majority. There are clear national implications of the polls.

Maharashtra was, at one point , dominated by the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). But it has now become a severe challenge. This election is going to be an acid test for NCP chief Sharad Pawar who has dominated state politics for almost four decades. Important leaders in his party are drifting away; he himself is old and unwell; and his ally, the Congress, is very weak.

There has been friction in the ruling coalition of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Shiv Sena. And there was speculation that the Sena was getting ready to take the plunge on its own, and contest separately, in this election. Uddhav Thackeray agreed to the alliance just before elections and said the understanding was that Shiv Sena would be the senior partner when it came to state polls. But the results of 2019 general elections made it clear to him that the BJP has now evolved from the junior to senior partner. The Sena has had to agree to contest a fewer number of seats. This is a decisive turn in the Sena’s politics.

The other departure in Sena’s politics is the decision of Aaditya Thackeray to contest. The party’s founder, the late Balasaheb Thackeray, believed more in supporting candidates than contesting elections himself. The Sena remained in power for almost four-and-a-half years, but Matoshree — the Thackeray residence — remained more powerful than the chief minister’s secretariat. By launching Aaditya in these elections, Uddhav wants to send across a message to Shiv Sena workers that the masters of Matoshree will not remain in the wings but will lead from the front.

The situation is quite the opposite in Haryana. There are 90 assembly seats in the state. In the last elections, the BJP got more than half the seats (47). The ruling Congress won only 15 seats and took third place, while Om Prakash Chautala’s Indian National Lok Dal occupied the second slot with 19 seats. The BJP clearly got the mandate here, but the opposition was not quite finished. The general elections, however, completely annihilated the opposition. The ruling party got 58% of the votes and won all 10 seats. The Congress got only 28.5% of the votes. Like in Maharashtra, the opposition here also is a victim of discord and disintegration. It needs a strong political tonic to survive, but nothing seems to be in sight. It’s certain that if no miracle takes place in Maharashtra and Haryana, then the opposition will face another severe jolt. The first impact of this will be in Jharkhand, for the political ripple effect of BJP’s victory will quickly extend to the state.

In Bihar, Nitish Kumar had contested the previous assembly elections in alliance with Lalu Yadav. This time, Nitish is with the BJP. If the BJP wins the elections in all these three states with ease, will it then consider Nitish the leader of the coalition or will it be tempted to contest on its own? As of now, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) narrative is that Nitish is our captain, but we have the example of Shiv Sena where the power balance quickly shifted. The Bihar story remains uncertain. There is one other key variable in the upcoming polls — the state of play in Delhi. Will Arvind Kejriwal be able to curb the BJP’s winning spree ? We do not know yet, but the answer will have significant implications.

Let me end with greetings for Vijayadashmi. Let’s hope the bitterness of elections will not spoil the warmth of this festive season.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan
The views expressed are personal

First Published: Oct 07, 2019 18:17 IST

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