Assembly election in Maharashtra, Haryana to be held on October 21

Published : September 21, 2019 19:57 IST

Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora flanked by Election Commissioners Ashok Lavasa (left) and Sunil Chandra at a press conference to announce the date of the Assembly elections in Maharashtra and Haryana, in New Delhi on September 21. Photo: Shahbaz Khan/PTI

The Election Commission of India today announced the conduct of elections to the Maharashtra and Haryana Assemblies, besides byelections to 63 Assembly seats in 17 States and the Union Territory of Puducherry and a lone Lok Sabha seat in Bihar, on October 21. The counting will be held on October 24.

With the announcement the model code of conduct has come into effect. On September 27, the elections will be formally notified. The last date of filing nominations is October 4 and withdrawals have to take place by October 7. The term of the Maharashtra Assembly ends on November 9 and that of the Haryana Assembly on November 2.

Tough for Congress-NCP

In Maharashtra, the main opposition parties, the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), are largely rudderless and directionless. The NCP, especially, has been bleeding members, a process that started during the Lok Sabha election earlier this year. Senior leaders and members at all levels have been leaving the NCP at a rapid rate following the party’s poor showing in the Lok Sabha election. For NCP founder-leader Sharad Pawar this election will be toughest test yet of his leadership.

The Congress-NCP combine has announced a seat-sharing of 125 seats each, leaving 38 seats for smaller partners. In 2014, the two parties initially decided to fight together but went their own ways before the election. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) went on to 122 of the 288 seats, while the Sena got 63, Congress 42 and the NCP 41.

The BJP and the Shiv Sena are yet to arrive at a consensus on seat-sharing. In 2014, the two parties fought the election separately but emerged as the largest winners and joined forces to form the government.

On September 19, just two days before the election date was announced, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the last rally of Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’ Mahajanadesh Yatra in Nasik. Modi used the opportunity to praise Fadnavis’ government, calling it stable. Besides, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s “second Budget”, as it is being called, saw the stock markets soaring after several months. While it was touted as a Diwali gift, it is equally likely to be an election gift to the Maharashtra BJP.

The State also has a new Governor in Bhagat Singh Koshyari, a staunch Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh member who was a former vice president of the BJP and the party’s first State president for Uttarakhand. He replaced Chi. Vidyasagar Rao. All in all, the ruling combine’s, especially the BJP’s, emotional confidence must be high.

The Congress and the NCP have won all but three of the Assembly elections in the State since its formation in 1960. It was only in 1995 that the Sena-BJP came to power for the first time. The saffron parties won again in 1999 but the government lasted only nine months. They returned to power in 2014.

Early start for BJP in Haryana

In Haryana, the contest is primarily of a bipolar nature with the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party government trying to protect its turf against a somewhat rejuvenated but faction-ridden Congress. The Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) represented by the descendants of Chaudhary Devi Lal is in disarray following a vertical split in the party in December last year. The INLD supremo’s grandson, Dushyant Chautala, formed his own party, the Jannayak Janata Party (JJP), and put up candidates in the Lok Sabha election of April-May. The BJP won all 10 Lok Sabha seats in the State.

In the 2014 Assembly election, the BJP won 47 seats, the INLD 19 and the Congress 15. The remaining seats went to independents. Following resignations and desertions from the INLD, the Congress recently took over the position of Leader of Opposition in the outgoing Assembly.

At present, the BJP seems to have had an early start to the election following a 22-day-long Jan Samwad yatra led by Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, who is also the face of the party’s campaign. In fact, taking an early lead over the Congress, the BJP launched its campaign formally at an election rally in Rohtak, addressed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on September 8.

The Congress has also got into the act, albeit a little belatedly, plagued as it is by bitter factionalism over leadership issues. With the appointment of former Union Minister Kumari Selja as the Pradesh Congress president and two-time Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda as Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader and election campaign in charge, the party seems to be gearing up to challenge the BJP. The edging out of the regional parties will be a new feature in this election.

For the BJP, the election will be used to project the achievements of the State government and of the Centre, though the party is expected to flag issues like nationalism, national identity, citizenship and internal security rather than deal with specifics such as a deflated economy.

The other parties likely to be in the fray are the Aam Aadmi Party, the Swaraj Party, the Akali Dal and the Bahujan Samaj Party. A divided opposition could well end up benefiting the BJP.

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