Maharashtra, Haryana elections on October 21

Fadnavis and Khattar will be the BJP’s public faces in Maharashtra and Haryana respectively in the elections that also promise to be a test of resilience for the Congress after its electoral rout in the Lok Sabha polls and the ability of interim president Sonia Gandhi to breathe new life into the Congress.
Bypolls will also be held in 64 assembly constituencies across different states, and one Lok Sabha constituency, on October 21, chief election commissioner Sunil Arora told reporters.((Photo by Rahul Raut/HT PHOTO)
Bypolls will also be held in 64 assembly constituencies across different states, and one Lok Sabha constituency, on October 21, chief election commissioner Sunil Arora told reporters.((Photo by Rahul Raut/HT PHOTO)
Updated on Sep 22, 2019 12:09 AM IST
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Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByHT Correspondent

Voters in Maharashtra and Haryana will choose new state assemblies on October 21 in the first electoral challenge faced by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) since it won a second straight term in power at the Centre in May under Prime Minister Narendra Modi .

Results of the elections will be declared on October 24, said the Election Commission, which unveiled the poll schedule in New Delhi on Saturday. Bypolls will also be held in 64 assembly constituencies across different states, and one Lok Sabha constituency, on October 21, chief election commissioner Sunil Arora told reporters.

Both states are ruled by the BJP, in an alliance with the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, where Devendra Fadnavis in 2014 became the first politician from the party to become chief minister; the BJP had been the junior partner to the Sena earlier. Both state governments have completed their full five-year terms in office. In Haryana, the BJP formed its first majority government in 2014 under chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar.

Fadnavis and Khattar will be the BJP’s public faces in the two states in the elections that also promise to be a test of resilience for the Congress after its electoral rout in the Lok Sabha polls and the ability of interim president Sonia Gandhi to breathe new life into the grand old party. Sonia Gandhi was chosen interim chief after her son Rahul Gandhi resigned in May taking responsibility for the Congress’s electoral rout.

“The morale of the Congress is at an all-time low. The BJP will likely sail through in Haryana and in Maharashtra,” said Neelanjan Sircar, assistant professor at Ashoka University and visiting senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research. “But how much of a fight will the Congress put up? In times like these, we need a credible and vociferous opposition to give voters a choice. These elections will tell us a lot about the health of democracy in India.”

Both national-level factors and specific state-level configurations and issues are expected to influence the outcome of elections in both states and the bypolls.

Having come to power with a bigger majority on its own in the Lok Sabha in the April-May general elections, the BJP goes into the state polls with a four-and-a-half-month track record in its second term in which it has passed the triple talaq bill that criminalises the Muslim practice of instant divorce; and pushed through measures to end the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcate it into two states -- J&K and Ladakh -- among others.

A slowdown that caused economic growth to decelerate to 5% in the quarter ended June, the slowest in more than six years, has been a cause of concern, but the government on Friday unveiled a ~1.45 lakh package of corporate tax cuts to address the downturn. The tax cuts were praised by corporate chiefs and brought instant cheer to the markets.

The polls will also be a test of whether the BJP and Modi’s popularity remains intact — the PM has already begun campaigning in both states and appealed to the voters to repose faith in the party. Simultaneously, they will serve to signal whether the Opposition has been able to regroup after its Lok Sabha poll rout.

In a series of tweets, BJP president and Union home minister Amit Shah said the party’s governments took Maharashtra and Haryana to “new heights” of development and called upon party workers to highlight the achievements of the ruling dispensations in the poll-bound states. “I urge all the voters of Maharashtra and Haryana, especially the youth, to vote in large numbers and participating in choosing a strong government and ensuring the development and progress of their states,” he said.

But while this will serve as the national backdrop, both states have their own particularities, political context, social groups, and issues, which will play a key role in determining the outcome.

The Congress said it would win both state elections. “Congress will win in both these two states. The BJP government is now recognised by (economic) slowdown and (Kashmir) lockdown. The current government is a capitalist government that has been made by capitalists and run by capitalists. People have decided to defeat this government and they will get a befitting reply to it in the upcoming elections,” party spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said.

Maharashtra; a battle of coalitions?

The Maharashtra assembly has 288 seats. There are two broad formations in the state: the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) of the BJP and the Shiv Sena (SS) and the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) combine.

This is distinct from the last state polls, when the four parties had fought separately. The BJP emerged as the single-largest force, and formed a post-poll partnership with the Sena. The alliance has, however, often been acrimonious, particularly because the Sena has been reduced to a secondary status.

The two parties fought together in the recent Lok Sabha polls, and won 41 of the 48 seats in the state. An analysis by election researcher Ashish Ranjan, based on the Lok Sabha poll outcome, showed that the BJP-Sena was leading in 227 of the 288 assembly segments. An alliance for the state polls has not been formally announced yet, with negotiations over seat-sharing still underway between the two parties. But it appears certain that, if the alliance stays, the BJP will contest more seats, and Fadnavis will be the de-facto CM candidate.

The NDA is banking on Modi’s continued popularity, support for the Centre’s moves in Kashmir, Fadnavis’s emergence as a strong state leader, and both central and state-level welfare schemes, and the fact that besides its own social coalition staying intact, the NDA will also be able to make inroads among the Marathas after it moved to provide reservations in government jobs and college admissions for the community.

The confidence was visible on Saturday when Fadnavis, in response to a question whether he will get another term, said at the India Today Conclave in Mumbai, “Do you have any doubt?”

The NCP and Congress have decided to contest 125 seats each. The alliance is banking on agrarian distress, drought in pockets of the state, rising unemployment and a perceived divide between the BJP and Sena cadres on the ground to go against the ruling coalition. It is also counting on NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s political and electoral skills.

“There is a lot of resentment among people about the the BJP-Sena government, and they want a change. Voters will bring the Congress-NCP and their allies back to power with a thumping majority,” state Congress president Balasaheb Thorat said.

Leaders of the Opposition alliance, in private conversations, admit that they begin with a disadvantage and reversing the momentum of the BJP, so soon after the Lok Sabha polls, would be a tall order. A spate of high-level desertions from both Congress and the NCP has depleted the leadership and lowered the morale of party workers.

Khattar eyes second term

Haryana has 90 assembly seats. In 2014, the BJP won 47 seats and has now set a target of 75+ seats in the state. The party won all the ten seats from the state in the Lok Sabha polls, with researcher Ashish Ranjan’s analysis showing that BJP was ahead in 79 of the 90 assembly segments.

The BJP’s victory in the state in 2014 was due to both a high degree of anti-incumbency against the Congress government of Bhupinder Singh Hooda, the appeal of Modi, and the consolidation of non-Jat communities.

Khattar, a low-profile organisational man with a background in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, was appointed chief minister after the poll victory. He came under criticism for his handling of a Jat agitation for reservations and the violence that left 41 people dead following the 2017 conviction of self-styled godman Ram Rahim Singh for rape.

Over the past two years, Khattar has strengthened his administrative hold, built an image of being clean and honest, focused on welfare delivery, and, while keeping non-Jat communities with the party, expanded — to some extent — the BJP’s outreach to the Jats. Modi’s popularity and support for the move in Kashmir is also expected to help the BJP.

BJP’s primary battle is with the Congress. But the party has been in the grip of intense factionalism. Hooda had for long been engaged in an internecine battle against the party’s Haryana chief, Ashok Tanwar. A compromise formula was found only earlier this month when Kumari Selja was appointed the party president in the state, and Hooda made the campaign committee chief.

But the divisions have percolated to the ground. The Congress is also struggling to expand its social base beyond Jats, and for Jat support, it is competing with two other forces -- Om Prakash Chautala’s Indian National Lok Dal, and its breakaway faction, Jannayak Janata Party.

Among the most interesting of the by-elections are those to fill 15 assembly seats in Karnataka that fell vacant after the disqualification of Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) legislators whose rebellion caused the two parties’ coalition government to collapse in July, paving the way for a BJP government under BS Yediyurappa to come to power. The state government has a thin majority and the results of the by-polls will be crucial in determining Karnataka’s political texture.

Eleven seats in the Uttar Pradesh assembly will also be up for grabs, and the outcome will give a sense of the extent of political support the Yogi Adityanath government -- midway through its tenure -- enjoys or whether the Opposition can spring a surprise. The lone Lok Sabha seat going to the polls is Samastipur in Bihar, which was held by the late Lok Janshakti Party leader Ram Chandra Paswan.

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Friday, January 21, 2022