NEW DELHI: In the first electoral battle after the Lok Sabha elections that will be contested under the shadow of an economic slowdown and consequent job losses, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress will square off for the Assembly polls in Haryana and Maharashtra on October 21. The results will be declared on October 24.
While the BJP is set to lean on its strong central leadership, nationalism and social welfarism in order to retain both the states, the principal Opposition party, the Congress, has its task cut out as it has only recently put its house in order after the resignation of former party chief Rahul Gandhi.
The uncertainty over his resignation took its toll, with many leaders leaving for the saffron camp even as infighting intensified not only in the poll-bound states but also in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
Despite the gloomy economic picture painted by the GDP figures, the BJP is hoping to keep the Lok Sabha momentum going in both the states. BJP strategists are trying to script a social engineering that will deliver results.
The BJP’s maiden victory in Haryana in 2014 was achieved by consolidating the non-Jat vote base while the 28 per cent Jat votes got split between the Congress and the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD).
The BJP later set out to write an alternative political script, handing over the chief ministership to Devendra Fadanvis, a Brahmin in Maratha-dominated Maharashtra, and Manohar Lal Khattar, a Khatri in Jat-dominated Haryana.
But the worry is both Haryana and Maharashtra are industrial states reeling under the downturn, particularly in the automobile sector.
While Haryana is home to three auto majors, Maruti Suzuki, Hero MotoCorp and Honda Motorcycle & Scooter India, Maharashtra has dozens of auto manufacturing units, from Volkswagen and Daimler to Mahindra & Mahindra, Bajaj Auto and Hyundai.
Reports suggest around 30 per cent job cuts among temporary and casual workers in the automobile ancillary units in Maharashtra alone. Similar trends have been reported from Gurugram, the auto-hub of Haryana.
Advantage BJP in polls despite slow growth
But the BJP is confident that the slowdown will not stop it from racing to the finish line. In Maharashtra, it is engaged in brinkmanship with the Shiv Sena over the number of seats it wants to contest.
Buoyed by the resounding Lok Sabha verdict, the BJP is seeking to contest from not less than 165 seats in a House of 288.
This is a departure from the formula worked out for the parliamentary elections, when the blow hot-blow cold allies divided the spoils equally, contesting 24 seats each out of the 48 at stake.
In Haryana, a three-cornered fight seems to have been avoided with the INLD fragmenting. This has been received well by the Congress, which is again banking on the Jat-Dalit combination, which adds up to about 48 per cent of the population.
But multiple factions in the party threaten to offer the state to the BJP on a platter. It is for this reason that Congress chief Sonia Gandhi has asked party leaders to focus on the economy, job losses and agrarian distress.
“Infighting in both the state units is likely to hurt the party’s electoral fortunes. So the focus of our campaign is expected to be around the economy and failure of the state governments,” a senior Congress functionary said.
The BJP is hoping to ride on the near 50 per cent expansion in the membership base to bag both the states.
“The Khattar dispensation has given an honest and transparent administration. Also, the government has catered to all sections of the society, which has helped the party further build on the support base,” said Haryana BJP chief Subhash Barala.
Poll math on top of minds for two allies
The saffron outfits had fought the last Assembly elections in 2014 separately in Maharashtra, but this time the BJP and the Shiv Sena are seemingly aware that the state may throw up a fractured mandate if they part ways.
Leaders of the Shiv Sena and the BJP on Saturday exuded the confidence of winning a second consecutive term in Maharashtra, hours after the Election Commission of India (ECI) announced the poll schedule for the western state.