By Harihar Swarup
Believe it or not, Congress has improved its position in election-bound Haryana and Maharashtra. Giving reigns of the party to Shelja and Bhupendra Singh Hooda, the Congress has consolidated its position electorally in Haryana. In Maharashtra, the Congress-NCP alliance poses a challenge to BJP-Shiv Sena. In what looks political vendetta, the Enforcement Directorate has registered a case of money-laundering against NCP chief Sharad Pawar on the eve of elections. If there is a case against NCP supremo, why the ED waited for so many months? Why it remembered the alleged case when elections are so near? Evidently, the BJP wants to tarnish Pawar’s image to get his votes. Will this move succeed? Perhaps not, because electorate has become too mature to see through the game.
In a brave gesture, Pawar said that he would voluntarily visit the ED though he has not received any summons from the ED. “I will cooperate with the investigative agency. I also want to understand what the exact crime is. For the next one month, I will be campaigning across the state. I will be spending a lot of time outside Mumbai. In such a situation, if the ED decides to send me some sort of love message and in case I am not in Mumbai, they should not think that I have become invisible and am not traceable”, he said.
Pawar claimed that the people of Maharashtra were wise enough to understand why he was being targeted. “Elections are just around the corner, nominations are to be filed. This issue has been raised at this juncture. People know what it means”, he said.
Meanwhile, five NCP activists were detained as party workers staged protest outside ED office in Mumbai to condemn the registration of money-laundering case against Pawar and 70 others.
In about a month, Maharashtra and Haryana will have new governments following assembly elections scheduled to be held on October 21. It won’t come as a surprise if the next governments in these states seem similar to the current ones, because in both these economically dynamic states, the incumbent BJP chief ministers enter the electoral arena as firm favourites. In a sense, the BJP dominance of the polity here echoes the national situation. Despite the lacklustre economy and visible shortcomings elsewhere, the Opposition in the two states have consolidated better, sinking inter-party differences.
Both Devendra Fadnavis in Maharashtra and Haryana’s Manohar Lal Khattar are closely associated with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who will remain an important factor even in these assembly elections. Their rise, in one sense, is linked to Modi’s ascendency within BJP. As Chief Ministers handpicked by Modi, they go into coming elections with some positives. Neither one is weighed down by perception of presiding large-scale corruption. In addition, both have managed to neutralize the political challenge from dominant social groups—Marathas and Jats, who have for long had a tight grip on the chief minister’s post.
On the downside, Maharashtra and Haryana are weighing down the large-scale economic problems. Rural distress, combine with frequent water scarcity in large parts of Maharashtra, has hurt both the states. In addition, both have a reasonable manufacturing base, particularly in the automobile sector, which is reeling on account of the economic slowdown. But the Congress, the main challenger in both the states, has somewhat improved its position. Even if the party has managed to retrieve some ground by averting a spit in Haryana and concluding a seat sharing arrangement with NCP in Maharashtra, it seems to lack the ground presence or spirit to take political advantage. A seat-arrangement with NCP in Maharashtra is expected to provide good showing.
Khattar has said that his campaign in Haryana is encapsulated by the acronym SHE (security, health and education). The campaign will revolve around BJP’s strength, which include central schemes closely associated with Prime Minister Modi. In Maharashtra the party’s challenge seems to come mainly from within such as its uneasy equation with ally Shiv Sena, which is having a real hard time coming to terms with junior partner. Overall, as the campaign in the two states picks, it appears, it will not be cakewalk for the BJP.