will vote for assembly elections on Monday, reviving the face-off between arch-rivals BJP and Congress just five months after
returned as PM with a huge mandate. It will be a test of the ruling party’s continuing popularity and the mauled opposition’s resilience. Results will be announced on Thursday. By-elections in 51 assembly and two
constituencies are also being held across 18 states.
In 288-seat Maharashtra, the contest is between the BJP-Shiv Sena coalition against the bloc formed by Congress and NCP while Haryana is a clash between BJP and Congress with the fledgling JJP, an offshoot of INLD of Om Prakash Chautala, thrown in the mix.
BJP is confident of performing well in the two states, with PM Modi and party chief
having campaigned extensively over the last month. Interestingly, the BJP brass focused exclusively on emotive national issues like Article 370, NRC and even Bharat Ratna for V D Savarkar in what appeared a bid to polarise the majority community.
The opposition stuck to bread-and-butter “economic slowdown” and “unemployment” as its campaign planks. An interesting aspect of the exercise was the return of Rahul Gandhi as campaigner, having stepped down as Congress president after the 2014 Lok Sabha defeat.
While Congress and NCP in Maharashtra did not indulge in any posturing ahead of voting, Haryana Congress chief Kumari Selja told a press conference BJP’s efforts to make Article 370 an issue had failed and the saffron party would be ousted from office in the 90-seat state.
The claims and counter-claims apart, the campaign in the poll-bound states has been a stark contrast between the rivals. BJP has been helped by the momentum flowing from its Lok Sabha triumph, with its campaign led by the Modi-Shah duo.
Polls crucial for opposition satraps tooBesides, the pitchforking of ‘Hindutva/national issues’ in the state appeared to have hobbled the opposition. What has not helped the opposition, coming out of the Lok Sabha mauling, is the largescale defection of its popular assembly-level leaders to the ruling camp.
The elections are crucial for Maharashtra CM
and Haryana CM
, novices who were plucked out of nowhere ahead of established leaders to helm BJP in states after the assembly polls in 2014. A victory for BJP will mark a major change in fortunes for them and establish the first-timers as new saffron satraps.
At the same time, it is a test for opposition satraps too. Besides a clutch of former Congress CMs and ministers in Maharashtra, stakes are the highest for Maratha strongman and NCP chief Sharad Pawar, who has single-handedly carried the alliance campaign. He is fighting to defend the turf identified with him.
Former CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda is being watched in Haryana. While he was given the leadership position just a month before polls, he has campaigned extensively. A good result for Congress will revive his fortunes in the party and state. The bypolls are being held in Satara Lok Sabha in Maharashtra where MP Udayanraje Bhosale quit NCP and is now contesting on a BJP ticket, and in Bihar’s Samastipur, where MP Ram Chandra Paswan of LJP passed away.
Assembly bypolls will be held in 11 seats in UP, six in Gujarat, five in Bihar, four in Assam and two each in Himachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. The other states where bypolls are being held are Punjab (four seats), Kerala (five), Sikkim (three), Rajasthan (two seats) among others.
Of interest is UP where the polls are a test of the popularity of the Yogi government. A splintered opposition with a four-way contest favours BJP but any fumble will mark a dent for the saffron mascot in the state. In Tamil Nadu, where the ruling AIADMK and DMK are locked in a keen tussle, a victory for DMK will be seen as the continuing slide in fortunes of the party. However, a win for AIADMK will give it a talking point after the Lok Sabha disaster.