By Harihar Swarup
Poll campaigning is at its peak in two important states—Haryana and Maharashtra. After return of Narendra Modi government in 2019 elections, this is the first test of whether the Prime Minister’s popularity remains intact, or whether the Congress and regional parties have mustered the capability to challenge this. The polls will also determine the direction and state of politics in the days to come.
A strong Opposition is important in any democracy. Unfortunately, the Opposition is missing entirely at present. These elections are an opportunity for the regional opposition parties to register their presence.
After this round of elections, polls will follow in Jharkhand and Delhi in early 2020 and Bihar at the end of next year. These five states send 119 members to the Lok Sabha and 49 to the Rajya Sabha. The mandate in these states will find resonance in the politics at the Centre. The BJP does not have majority in the upper house, and needs as many seats in as many states as possible to fill the gap. Had the chief ministers of Odisha, Andhra and Telangana not cooperated, the central could not have taken such an important decision as abrogation of Article 370 or triple talaq.
In addition, when it comes to critical constitutional amendments, government needs not only a majority in both houses, but two-third majority. There are clear national implications of polls.
Maharashtra was, at one point, dominated by the Congress and the NCP. But it has now become a severe challenge for both the opposition parties. Forming the government now is going to be an acid test for the NCP chief Sharad Pawar, who had dominated the state politics for almost four decades. Important leaders in his party are drifting away; he himself is old and unwell; and his ally, the Congress, is very weak.
There has been friction in the ruling coalition of the BJP and Shiv Sena. And, there has been speculation that the Sena was getting ready to take a plunge on its own and contest separately. In this election, Uddhav Thackeray agreed to the alliance just before election and said the understanding was that Shiv Sena would be senior partner when it came to polls. But the result 2019 general elections made it clear to him that the BJP has now evolved from junior to senior partner. The Sena has had to agree to contest a fewer number of seats. This is a decisive turn in Sena’s politics.
The other departure in Sena’s politics is the decision of Aditya Thackeray to contest. The party’s founder Bal Thackeray believed more in supporting candidates than contesting election himself. The Sena remained in power for four and half years, but Matoshree— the Thackeray’s residence — remained more powerful than chief minister’s secretariat. By launching Aditya in the coming election, Uddhav wants to send across a message to Shiv Sena workers that masters of Matoshree will not remain in the wings but will lead from the front.
The situation is quite opposite in Haryana. There are 90 seats in the state assembly. In the last election the BJP got more than half of seats (47) .The ruling congress won only 15 seats and took the third place while Om Prakash Chautala’s National Lok Dal occupied the second slot with 19 seats. The BJP clearly got the mandate here, but the opposition was not quite finished. The general election, however, completely annihilated the opposition. The ruling party got 58% of votes and won 10 seats. The Congress got only 28.5 percent.
Like in Maharashtra, the opposition here also is a victim of discord and disintegration. It needs a strong political tonic to survive but nothing seems to be in sight. It’s certain if no miracle takes place in Maharashtra and Haryana then the opposition will face another severe jolt. The first impact of that will be in Jharkhand, for political ripple effect of BJP’s victory will quickly extend to the state.
In Bihar, Nitish Kumar had contested the previous assembly elections in alliance with Lalu Yadav. This time Nitish is with the BJP. If BJP wins the elections in all these states with ease, will it then consider Nitish the leader of coalition or will it be tempted to contest on its own? As of now NDA narrative is that Nitish is our captain but we have the example of Shiv Sena where power balance quickly shifted. The Bihar story remains uncertain. There is one other key variable in the upcoming polls – the state of play in Delhi. Will Arvind Kejriwal be able to curb BJP’s winning spree? We do not know yet, but the answer will be of significant implication. (IPA Service)