By Harihar Swarup
The coming elections in Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand, expected to be held next month (October), are considered politically significant because they will reveal the popular rating of the BJP; how much it fell after Lok Sabha election or went up. The elections to Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh assemblies showed that the BJP rating had fallen sharply after the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
BJP will be contesting polls in Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand as party in power. The saffron party is expected to play up the national sentiments — be it the Balakot strike or the recent abrogation of Article 370 that removed the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. Another positive for the BJP is that the Congress party is its main adversary in Maharashtra and Haryana, while in Jharkhand it may have a tacit understanding with JMM to take on the ruling party.
The Congress has got the ball rolling in Haryana with the appointment of Kumari Shelja as the state unit chief and former chief minister Bhupender Hooda as the Election Committee head. BJP leader and Chief Minister Manoharlal Khattar has been carrying out Jan AsirwadYatra since August 18 and the party is happy with response of the people.
With changes in Haryana Congress, the infighting in the party has almost ceased. Haryana assembly elections are expected to be held in October to elect 90 members. The term of current assembly, elected in 2014, will expire on November 2. The Congress has 16 MLAS in the outgoing assembly; as many as 12 of them are Hooda supporters. Though the pair of Hooda and Sailja has got very little time, they have both started populist conferences. The pair has contacted workers of three dozen constituencies.
Maharashtra is by far most important state, going to polls in October and the ruling BJP- Shiv Sena faces a serious challenge by Congress-NCP combine. Both the parties have finalised their seat sharing arrangement. Both the parties are set to contest 125 seats each. “We have decided to leave 38 seats for our allies”, said NCP Chief Sharad Pawar.
Maharashtra Congress chief Vijay Thorat said talks were on to rope in SP and BSP into alliance. He claimed that “no discussion had taken place over the inclusion or exclusion of Raj Thacker-led MNS in the opposition alliance”.
The NCP was initially keen on roping in MNS but a section of Congress leadership is of the opinion that Raj’s presence in the alliance will hurt its support base among North Indians voters. Many in the Congress prefer that MNS contest independently to engineer a split in Shiv Sena’s Marathi vote bank in cities.
On Raj Thackeray, Pawar claimed that MNS leader was keen on ensuring that elections were boycotted. “This stand is unacceptable to us and there was no point in having talks with him further,” Pawar said.
The Maharashtra Assembly has 288 seats. In 2014 both Congress and NCP, which have been allies since 1999, fought separately. That year the Congress contested 287 seats and won 42. The NCP contested 278 and won 41. The last time two parties fought as allies was in 2009; the Congress contested 170 seats, winning 82: the NCP fought on 113 and won 62. In 2004, which was the first election that the two fought with a pre-poll alliance, Congress contested 157 seats, winning 69, while the NCP contested 124 and won 71.
The ruling BJP-Shiv Sena alliance has been facing hurdles. The relations between the two alliance partners has not been smooth for sometime with Shiv Sena becoming more demanding and asking for more say in governance. The alliance has run into more trouble and reached almost a point of breakdown as Sena is demanding that the party (Shiv Sena) and the BJP should contest on equal number of seats on the pattern of Congress and the NCP. This condition of Sena is not acceptable to the BJP. In the midst of bickering, observers feel, that Sena-BJP alliance may collapse. In that event both BJP and Sena may be hurt in the coming elections.
In a new development the Congress top brass has asked for MPs and Union Ministers like Milind Deora, Sushil Kumar Shinde and other senior leaders in Maharashtra to contest the forthcoming assembly election. The idea has not been received well. Shinde, for one, found it ridiculous. He told the Congress leadership that he was even unwilling to contest Lok Sabha polls but contested it under party pressure. Since his daughter, Praniti, is already contesting, there is no question of his returning to state politics.
Former MP from Nagpur, Vilas Muttemwar, said since his son, Vishal was contesting assembly polls, he need not contest. Deora said he was not interested in contesting the state elections. So also Sanjay Nirupam ruled his contesting assembly election. Another Congress leader, Ashok Chavan, whose name was there in the list, has decided to contest from Nanded.
Assembly elections in Jharkhand are due to be held in November-December to elect 81 members. The term of assembly ends on December 27. The poll may involve several phases due to the left-wing extremism threat and deployment of forces. (IPA Service)