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Monday, Oct 21, 2019

Two parties, two stories

How the Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress have prepared for polls is a study in contrast

editorials Updated: Sep 22, 2019 19:06 IST

Maharashtra and Haryana go to polls on October 21. This is the first set of assembly elections after the Lok Sabha polls.
Maharashtra and Haryana go to polls on October 21. This is the first set of assembly elections after the Lok Sabha polls. (HT Photo)
         

Maharashtra and Haryana go to polls on October 21. This is the first set of assembly elections after the Lok Sabha polls. The polls are happening in the backdrop of extremely significant decisions by the Narendra Modi government, particularly its move to change the constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir. It is taking place amid an economic slowdown, and recent government measures to address it. These issues will shape voter preferences, as will state-specific factors, and the performance of the respective governments and the local representative over the past five years. But fundamentally, the two polls are a study in contrast about the mode of functioning of India’s two national parties.

Soon after the Lok Sabha elections ended, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) began preparations for the Maharashtra and Haryana state elections. The party held preparatory meetings; narrowed down on the target for each state; and threw its weight behind the incumbent chief ministers, Devendra Fadnavis and Manohar Lal Khattar, thus stemming the possibility of any internal jostling. It began the process of identifying issues and possible candidates; remobilised the organisational machine and activated workers who had just finished with the national polls to go back to voters; and appointed national in-charges for the states for better coordination. It deployed Fadnavis in Maharashtra and Khattar in Haryana on state-wide yatras; commenced rallies by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president and Home Minister Amit Shah; and unleashed a propaganda blitz on the achievements of the respective governments. By the time polls were announced on Saturday, discussions in the BJP were not about whether they would win in the two states — but the extent of the victory and how they could better their performance of 2014.

The Congress, meanwhile, spent the past four months - knowing fully well that elections were about to happen this year - paralysed. It dealt with a national crisis of leadership when Rahul Gandhi resigned as president, with an alternative in Sonia Gandhi being found only last month. Factionalism in poll-bound states persisted, with the sharpest being in Haryana. A compromise formula was only found two weeks ago on the issue of leadership in the state. It is struggling with the desertion of leaders in Maharashtra. The party has not been able to identify issues — or target the BJP on the ground on its sources of vulnerability like the economy. And its social coalitions in both states is weak. The two stories of the two parties shows Indian democratic competition is becoming increasingly one-sided.

First Published: Sep 22, 2019 19:02 IST

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