View: With little sign of opposition power, BJP is set to consolidate its position in Maharashtra and Haryana
BJP concentrated its firepower in the very areas where the Opposition was expected to put up a fight.
With assembly elections in Maharashtra and Haryana today, October 2019 is different from May 2019 in one big way.
Compared to the Lok Sabha elections, the poll campaign in these state elections has seen many more people openly expressing their sense of grievances against the ruling party in both states. And, yet, most voters are probably going to vote BJP anyway. Or not vote at all.
This is because Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not lost his charm. He remains the magnet that draws most people. But for Modi, many voters may not have been voting BJP this time. The suspension of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir and the criminalisation of the instantaneous triple talaq is seen as Modi’s ability to take risks and take tough decisions.
The Mood of Maha-Rashtra
It’s not as if local issues didn’t dominate the poll discourse. In Maharashtra, the floods, potholes on roads that have led to accidents and deaths, long spells of drought, rising prices of food items, joblessness and the crisis in cooperative banks have impinged on voter consciousness. The scenes of wailing depositors outside Punjab & Maharashtra Cooperative (PMB) Bank branches have sent shivers down many spines.
The Opposition was expected to put up a fight in the Jatland areas of Haryana and parts of Marathaland in western Maharashtra, and Nanded and Latur where I visited. These are the very areas where BJP concentrated its firepower.
The headless state of Congress, and the hopelessness palpable in the party, has sent its own message. Congress took its own sweet time deciding on what role Bhupinder Singh Hooda, its best card, should play in Haryana, given the non-Jat consolidation BJP has managed, while pushing for adivision in the Jat vote, which is decisive in 23 out of 90 seats.
In Maharashtra, Congress looked like a conglomerate of individual leaders left to fend for themselves, fighting their own battles in their constituencies with hardly any supportive blitz by senior leaders. (Many candidates had asked for Sachin Pilot and Jyotiraditya Scindia to come and campaign for them.)
The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) has been under attack with cases against Praful Patel and Sharad Pawar. Had Pawar walked into the Enforcement Directorate’s (ED) office, offering himself for interrogation as an accused in the Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank (MSCB) scam as he had threatened to do — it might have evoked a strong reaction from the Maratha community (comprising 35% in the state), and carried the ‘risk’ of this bloc consolidating around Pawar again.
For some time now, BJP has been trying to divide the ranks of Marathaswho had traditionally voted for Congress and NCP (as was the case with Jats in Haryana). It has succeeded in drawing to its side members of prominent Maratha families like the Vikhe Patils and Mohite-Patils.
These comprise a network of influential families, with sugar factories, cooperatives and educational institutions that had underpinned Pawar’s politics over the decades. The second and third generation in these families now want to stay on the right side of power (and the law) to safeguard their economic and political interests.
A Case of Pawar Corrupts?
Realising the implications of Pawar’s ‘interrogate me’ move, the government backed off. It was left to Pawar’s nephew, Ajit, to take the shine off his uncle’s move by ‘going underground’ for a day, and declaring that he was going to quit politics — which many believe could have led to a split in the party.
Pawar traced him and differences were papered over. Clearly, Pawar has to contend with deep dissensions within the Pawar clan. The last word on that story has not been said. And, yet, Pawar, an 80-year-old cancer survivor, had been fighting back, addressing 6-7 rallies a day, climbing daises with difficulty, mounting attacks against the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo, sharper than ever before. This was as much to retain NCP’s relevance and Pawar’s primary position in the party, as to win seats.
As for BJP, it managed to bring the unpredictable Shiv Sena around as the junior partner in an alliance. The Sena had accepted a fewer number of seats to contest, and, for all practical purposes, a BJP chief minister, if the alliance goes on to win on October 24. In all probability, Aditya Thackeray may then be the deputy chief minister, something that incumbent chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has hinted at.
In a multilayered strategy of consolidating its own base — promising to confer Bharat Ratna on Veer Savarkar was one more move to reach out to the Marathi middle classes — while dividing the Opposition’s ranks, inducting Congress and NCP leaders into its fold in areas where BJP was weak, the party left nothing to chance. It also had the advantage of huge resources at its command. As a result, Fadnavis in Maharashtra and Manohar Lal Khattar in Haryana seem to be more firmly in the saddle than they were five years ago.