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BRACING FOR THE NEXT REFERENDUM

By Kalyani Shankar

 

Will the ensuing Assembly polls to Haryana and Maharashtra be seen as a referendum on the new Modi government?  No doubt stakes are high for both Prime Minister Narendra Modi who feels on the top of the world after his landslide victory and congress President Sonia Gandhi, who is suffering from the most humiliating defeat in the recent Lok Sabha polls. It is virtually a Sonia Gandhi versus Modi fight as Rahul Gandhi has taken a back seat this time. The success or failure in these polls will set the stage for the next Assembly polls in Jammu and Kashmir, Delhi and Jharkhand. On the face of it the BJP is in an upbeat mood while the Congress is facing the anti incumbency, infighting and a demoralized cadre.

 

These elections will be the first test for the BJP after its unprecedented success in May 2014 polls. Even if it emerges as the single largest party in these states it will be seen as the continuation of what the BJP calls the Modi magic. If it does not, it will be seen as the disenchantment of the Modi government. The Congress sees a ray of hope after winning a few seats in the recent by polls while the BJP lost seats in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Bihar and U.P where it had a spectacular performance in the Lok Sabha polls.

 

Moreover, the BJP is fighting alone. Modi has to carry the party entirely on his shoulders. The strategy is to build up the party and not remain as a junior partner. In Maharashtra the BJP has even severed connection with its 25-year-old ally Shiv Sena while the Congress broke ties with NCP

 

The Congress is facing a severe anti incumbency in both the states, bidding for power for the fourth time in Maharashtra and third time in Haryana. All the parties have promised moon to the voters from unemployment doles to free electricity to one-rupee-kg rice.

 

Take the case of Maharashtra for instance. It is a crucial big state for both the national parties. So far they had depended on an alliance with the regional parties like Shiv Sena (BJP) and NCP (Congress). This time there will be a multi cornered fight in the state, which will splinter the votes. The Congress has an uphill task as it has no strong leader. Feeling diffident, Sonia and Rahul will be addressing just 8 to ten rallies while Modi is speaking in 42 rallies. Moreover, coming back for the fourth time will be a miracle.

 

The NCP and Shiv Sena have strong leaders in Sharad Pawar and Uddhav Thackeray. If Uddhav makes up with his cousin Raj Thackeray‘s MNS, their performance could improve. However if the Sena or NCP fails this time, it will be almost the end of their clout in the state.

 

As for Haryana, this is a state where powerful political families are trying to prove their individual strength. This includes the chief minister Hooda, Bhajan Lal’s son Bishnoi, of the HJC and INLD chief Om Prakash Chautala.

 

The ruling Congress besides facing anti incumbency and infighting is also affected by the corruption scandals allegedly involving Robert Vadhra in land deals.  The Congress got only one out of ten Lok Sabha seats in Haryana in Lok Sabha polls.

 

The Congress has fielded 33 of its sitting MLAs which is seen as a gamble. The state congress president Ashok Tanwar and Hooda are fighting with each other and others like Kumari Sailja and Kiran Choudhury oppose Hooda. Moreover, some senior leaders like Rao Inderjit Singh, Birender Singh, Badhana and Vinod Sharma have left the party protesting against Hooda’s dominance.

 

The real battle is between ruling Congress, INLD and BJP. Statistics show that the BJP in the Lok Sabha election was leading in 52 of 90 Assembly constituencies while the Om Prakash Chautala’s Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), which won 2 Lok Sabha seats was leading in 16, ruling Congress, which won only one seat of Rohtak had lead in 15 Assembly constituencies. HJC, in alliance with the BJP, failed even to open its account but had lead in 7 Assembly seats. The BJP, INLD, Congress, HJC got 34.8 per cent, 24.4 per cent, 23 per cent, 6.1 per cent and 11.7 per cent respectively.

 

Chautala who is out on bail was sentenced to 10-year jail in the teachers’ recruitment scam. He is threatening to rule from jail if his party wins and expects to polarize the Jat votes.

 

While the BJP is depending on the Modi factor, recent bye polls in several states shook BJP’s belief. The saffron party is hit by internal strife after it chose Congress and INLD rebels over party workers for tickets in several constituencies. It is important to note that until recently the party had electoral ties with Kuldeep Bishnoi-led Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC). The BJP faces another challenge, as the Shiromani Akali Dal  ̶ with whom the saffron party has an alliance in neighboring Punjab ̶ supports the INLD.

 

On the whole, there could be a hung Assembly in both the states with all the players keeping an option for coming together for the sake of power.  After all it was Haryana, which started the “Aya Ram Gaya ram” concept with candidates changing parties for their own benefit. All is fair in the post poll scenario as there could be no political morality. (IPA Service)

 

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