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TOI EDIT -Upsets Unlikely BJP enters the Maharashtra and Haryana campaigns in pole position, opposition is in disarray

September 23, 2019 06:28 AM

COURTESY TOI SEPT 23 EDIT -Upsets Unlikely
BJP enters the Maharashtra and Haryana campaigns in pole position, opposition is in disarray
In about a month, Maharashtra and Haryana will have new governments on the heels of 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, BJP dominance of the polity here echoes the national situation. Despite a lacklustre economy and visible shortcomings elsewhere, the opposition does not seem to be capable of seizing the initiative.

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 ascendancy within BJP. As chief ministers handpicked by Modi, they go into the forthcoming elections with some positives. Neither one is weighed down by the perception of presiding over large-scale corruption. In addition, both have managed to neutralise 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 weighed down by large-scale economic problems. Rural distress, combined with frequent water scarcity in large parts of Maharashtra, has hurt both states. In addition, both states have a reasonable manufacturing base, particularly in the automobile sector, which is reeling on account of the economic slowdown. But Congress, the main challenger in both states, is in disarray. Even if the party has managed to retrieve some ground in the last couple of weeks by averting a split 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. It has also been undermined by recent desertions in Maharashtra.

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 strengths, which include central schemes closely associated with the prime minister. In Maharashtra the party’s challenges seem to come mainly from within such as its uneasy equation with ally Shiv Sena, which is having a hard time coming to terms with becoming a junior partner. Overall, as the campaigning in both states picks up pace, BJP is in pole position.

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