By Kalyani Shankar
The Election Commission has sounded the poll bugle for the two BJP ruled states — Maharashtra and Haryana — which will go for elections on October 21. The BJP is not only eying a big comeback but also with a much bigger margin. The saffron party is poised to win both the states mainly because of the disarray in the opposition ranks.
This election will be a test for the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as it will be the first Assembly polls after his 2019 impressive Lok Sabha win. The Centre’s crucial decisions like the revocation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, the National Register of Citizens and the ban on Triple Talaaq are on test. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’s leadership also is at stake, although the BJP is depending on the Modi magic. Above all, the results will show whether the sliding economy is going to be a factor for voters. Mumbai is the financial capital of the country and economy is a big issue in these polls though the Modi government has announced a slew of announcements for giving a push to the economy in the past one month.
However, the BJP has to guard against trouble regarding the defectors from the Congress and the NCP and also about the ticket distribution. The BJP is looking for an opportunity to emerge as an umbrella party like the Congress earlier. The saffron party has been on an accelerated path of growth since 2014 Lok Sabha polls. In 2014 Assembly polls, after the four-way contest, the BJP emerged as the single largest party, followed by the Sena (63), Congress (42) and the NCP (41).
The BJP ally Shiv Sena is still haggling about the seat sharing and also bargaining for the Deputy chief ministership for Aditya Thackeray, son of Uddhav Thackeray. The Sena has welcomed with open arms defectors from the Congress and the NCP. The party finds itself that it has to guard against the BJP onslaught. The BJP has overtaken Sena in the past 24 years, which has registered only 3.09 per cent increase while the BJP grew by 16.3 per cent.
As for the Congress, this will be the first Assembly election after the return of Sonia as the Congress President. The Congress and its alliance partner Nationalist Congress Party are the main challengers to the BJP-Sena combine. The Congress is in disarray both at the local and national level, its morale is at its lowest and is facing not only leadership crisis but also factionalism and indiscipline. The more important worry is the mass erosion, as several leaders including the leader of opposition Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil and former minister Harshavardhan Patil have left Congress and joined the BJP while Abdul Sattar joined the Shiv Sena. Sonia Gandhi has been trying to bring back some order but it is too little too late. The BJP and Sena have made inroads in the Western Maharashtra, Vidarbha and Marathwada. A win in Maharashtra, where the Congress had remained dominant for decades, would go a long way in boosting the morale of the party.
Congress Party’s alliance partner NCP too is not in good health.
The two parties, which joined hands in 1999 after Pawar launched his new outfit, ruled Maharashtra together for 15 years but had also, contested the 2014 assembly polls separately. But like the saffron parties, the Congress and the NCP also reunited for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Pawar is fighting a lonely battle with some of his long time associates and staunch supporters like Vijaysinh Mohite Patil, Padmasinh Patil and Madhukar Pichad, leaving him to join BJP. The ageing Pawar is not in good health and has lost his grip. The NCP too is facing factionalism and indiscipline. So the two ailing parties will find it difficult to challenge the combined might of the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance.
Though the Congress-NCP combine is the major challenger the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA), led by Prakash Ambedkar, has been trying to emerge as the third front in Maharashtra’s largely bipolar politics. The VBA will only cut into the votes of the combine.
The opposition has identified farm crisis, economic slowdown, rural distress and unemployment as the major poll issues while the BJP wants to showcase the achievements of the Modi government and the state government. It also wants to invoke nationalism and its strong leadership.
Maharashtra, a major state, is significant in a multiple ways. The BJP wants to consolidate its strength while the Sena is trying to guard its turf. For NCP, it is survival while for the Congress it is keeping up its relevance. Prakash Ambedkar is expecting a big break. Many predict the fight may be one-sided as BJP has an edge in Maharashtra with the momentum gained from the Lok Sabah verdict, coupled with the growing stature of Devendra Fadnavis. It will not be a big surprise if the two saffron parties win the polls effortlessly. (IPA Service)