BJP looks to extend victory run as Maharashtra, Haryana vote today
Voting day: The elections are being seen as significant for they will reflect if the BJP’s popularity is intact or has depleted after Narendra Modi formed the government the second time around and took significant decisions, including changing the constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir.Updated: Oct 21, 2019 10:25 IST
Voting for the assembly polls has begun in Maharashtra and Haryana, in the first set of elections after the Lok Sabha polls of 2019. In both states, chief ministers from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Devendra Fadnavis and Manohar Lal Khattar, are seeking second terms even as the Congress and other regional forces seek to challenge the BJP’s dominance.
The elections are being seen as significant for they will reflect if the BJP’s popularity is intact or has depleted after Narendra Modi formed the government the second time around and took significant decisions, including changing the constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir. It will also be a test of whether the Opposition has been able to revive. The polls are happening at a time when there is a general economic slowdown, which the government has sought to address through corrective measures in recent weeks.
BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya said he was confident that the party will win both the state elections. “ The return of the BJP government in Maharashtra is necessary for a stronger India and corruption-free administration. The Haryana government has remained honest and transparent to people while remaining aloof from casteism,” he said.
The Congress, however, maintained that the BJP failed to fulfil people’s mandate in the two states.
“We are really hopeful to do well in Haryana as we have worked really hard and every voter knows how the Khattar government has failed the people of the state, ” Vineet Punia, Congress’s communications department secretary said.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior Congress leader involved in the Maharashtra elections said: “This has been a state which the Congress and the NCP ruled for consecutive 15 years. We are trying to highlight local issues as well as national problems such as economic slowdown and unemployment. Voters have turned up in large numbers in our rallies and we are hopeful to turn the ride.”
The BJP has waged a more energetic campaign in the two states - relying both on the appeal of Modi, who campaigned actively, and the track record of the state governments. In contrast, while Congress president Sonia Gandhi has not campaigned on the ground, former president Rahul Gandhi addressed public rallies in both the states over the past week.
The two states have their own specific contours.
The Maharashtra assembly has 288 seats. The battle here is bipolar, with the BJP-Shiv Sena constituting one pole and the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) the other. This is different from the 2014 assembly polls when all four parties fought separately.
This is also the first time that while being a part of the same alliance, the BJP is contesting more seats than the Sena in the state, firmly establishing it as the senior partner. Chief minister Fadnavis is seen to have emerged as a leader in his own right, and success in this election could put him in the race for a spot in the national leadership at some point in the future. For the Sena, this is a significant poll for it comes in the middle of a slow ideological transition it is seeking to make from being perceived as an extremist outfit to one which is more open and inclusive. It is also the first time a member of the Thackeray family, Aaditya, is contesting the polls. The Opposition has suffered from major desertions and infighting. The Congress is faction-ridden. Key leaders of the NCP, especially those with interests in cooperatives in the state’s sugar belt, have moved to the BJP.
In terms of issues, the ruling alliance is banking on the revocation of Article 370, the perceived integrity of Fadnavis, the stability of the last five years, and central and state welfare schemes. The Opposition, led primarily by the veteran leader, Sharad Pawar of the NCP, has focused on agrarian distress, growing unemployment, slowdown in growth, corruption scandals.
And in terms of social coalitions, it is hoping to consolidate both non-Maratha castes (“upper castes” and OBCs in particular, and a segment of Dalits), but also make inroads into Marathas because of its support for reservations. The Congress-NCP is hoping to retain Marathas, Dalits, Muslims, and win back sections of OBCs.
Haryana has 90 assembly seats, where the BJP has set a target of over 75. Its key opponent is the Congress, which was embroiled in deep internal factionalism till September, when, finally, the party leadership decided to give the reins of the state to Bhupinder Singh Hooda and Kumari Selja. The third force in the state, the Indian National Lok Dal, led by Om Prakash Chautala, has seen a split with the emergence of the Jannayak Janata Party.
In terms of issues, chief minister Khattar is banking on the Modi government’s decisions on Kashmir, its central welfare schemes, his own image of honesty, improvement in the state’s recruitment processes, and the state government’s welfare measures.
The Congress has raised, like in Maharashtra, issues of both a dip in farmer incomes and economic slowdown affecting industrial hubs and employment. While the BJP hopes to retain its non-Jat coalition, while making inroads among Jats, the Congress is banking on Jat consolidation, and the support of Muslims, and sections of Dalits.
Explaining how the outcome of the polls will be interpreted, Rahul Verma, fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, said, “If BJP on its own fails to win big in Haryana and with the Sena in Maharashtra, there will be a sense that the economic performance is now affecting Modi’s brand. If BJP retains its dominance and sails through, it cements the party’s dominance and means that it now making inroads among the votes of dominant castes - Jats and Marathas in this case. And if the BJP wins a two-thirds majority, then be prepared for five years of Opposition-less politics in these states.”