C O M M E N T
By Amulya Ganguli*
The forthcoming assembly polls in Maharashtra and Haryana have a special significance for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in view of the setbacks it suffered in the recent by-elections.
Since these ranged from Uttarakhand to Bihar to Uttar Pradesh to Rajasthan and even Gujarat, the belief has grown that the high tide of the Modi wave has passed. There is an urgent need for the BJP, therefore, to prove this assessment wrong if it wants to retain its current primacy of political position.
Hence, the unusual spectacle of the prime minister energetically campaigning in the two states as if there was a parliamentary battle. Apart from the high stakes for the BJP, Prime Minister Narendra Modi also has to prove that there hasn’t been any waning of his popularity.
The task for him would have been easier if the old alliance between the BJP and the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra had remained intact. In that case, it would have been a cakewalk for them since the political appeal of the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) has never been lower.
However, the easiness of the task appears to have queered the pitch for the highly successful BJP-Sena alliance – it won 41 of the 48 Lok Sabha seats in May – for it evidently aroused the chief ministerial ambitions of the Shiv Sena chief, Uddhav Thackeray.
Since the Shiv Sena has always considered itself as the first party in the alliance and had its own nominee as the chief minister when it was in power in the state with the BJP between 1995 and 1999, Uddhav must have been convinced about the rightness of his claim.
Having come out of the shadow of his domineering father, Bal Thackeray, and keen on further marginalizing his cousin Raj, who had always regarded himself as the rightful claimant to Balasaheb’s mantle, Uddhav was obviously keen to grab the top position.
Unfortunately for him, much has changed between the time when the BJP was content to play second fiddle and the present when it regards itself as the first party not only in Maharashtra but also in the country.
Besides, by winning 23 seats out of 48 in May against the Shiv Sena’s 18, the BJP had shown that it had surged ahead of its ally and was unwilling to give up its own claim to the chief minister’s position. Hence the break-up of the 25-year-old ties.
Following the rupture, the NCP also decided that it was no longer worthwhile aligning with the Congress, which had suffered its worst ever drubbing in the parliamentary polls and also in Maharashtra.
However, the termination of the alliances between the saffron and the “secular” combines has turned Maharashtra into a psephologist’s nightmare since it will be extremely difficult to forecast an outcome when there has been a four-way split among the major parties along with the imponderables thrown in by smaller, though not insignificant, players like Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) and the Raju Shetti’s Swabhiman Paksha, which surprised everyone by winning one seat in May when the Congress won two and the NCP four.
Considering, however, that the Shiv Sena hasn’t withdrawn its minister, Anant Geete, from Modi’s cabinet, the possibility of a post-poll pact between the two former allies remains open. There are other possibilities, too, such as a marriage of convenience between the BJP and the NCP or between the Shiv Sena and the MNS.
But two things are clear. One is that the BJP is likely to emerge as the largest single party. The other is that the Congress will bring up the rear, thereby confirming that it has a long uphill struggle before it can gain political relevance.
While there is nothing surprising about the BJP’s rise to the top in Maharashtra where it has always been a prominent player, what will be of interest is whether it can repeat the remarkable performance it put up in Haryana when it won seven of the 10 parliamentary seats compared to none in 2009.
The BJP’s lowly position in the Jat-dominated state was also evident from the two and four seats out of 90 that it won in the 2005 and 2009 assembly elections.
In May, however, it came out of the blue to storm ahead of its competitors with a 34 percent vote share compared to 12.1 percent five years ago.
The BJP’s difficulty is that having always been in the shadows in Haryana, it doesn’t have a widely recognized chief ministerial candidate unlike the Congress, which has Bhupinder Singh Hooda, and the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), which has Om Prakash Chautala although the latter has been in and out of jail in recent months.
However, since Hooda’s reputation is under a cloud because of the controversial land deals of Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law, Robert Vadra, the BJP is likely to have an edge over him. Similarly, Chautala’s embroilment in the teacher recruitment scam puts him at a disadvantage.
The BJP, therefore, is likely to be the No. 1 party in both Maharashtra and Haryana.
*Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at [email protected] IANS
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