AMID AN economic slowdown, and months after its decision to scrap Jammu and Kashmir’s special status under Article 370, the NDA-II government will face its first test next month when two key BJP-ruled states — Maharashtra and Haryana — go to polls on October 21.
Announcing the single-phase polls on Saturday, the Election Commission of India said counting of votes will take place on October 24. Bypolls to 64 Assembly seats, spread across 18 states, and Samastipur Lok Sabha constituency in Bihar will also follow the same schedule.
Addressing a press conference, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sunil Arora said: “In Maharashtra and Haryana, the notification will be issued on September 27. The last date of filing nominations is October 4. Polling will be held on October 21, while counting will take place on October 24”. Follow highlights on EC presser
With the announcement, the Model Code of Conduct has come into effect in the two states. The term of the 288-member Maharashtra Assembly ends on November 9, while the term of the 90-member Haryana Assembly ends on November 2.
The elections come in the backdrop of a series of policy decisions taken by the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the first 100 days of its second term. Besides its decision on J&K, the government also managed to get the triple talaq Bill passed by Parliament.
On the other hand, the BJP will have to explain the deepening economic crisis including the slowdown in the automobile sector, joblessness and its measures to handle the agrarian crisis.
In Maharashtra, the Congress and NCP have already finalised their alliance and declared that they will contest 125 seats each. They have left 38 seats for other parties, including the SP, Swabhimani Shetkari Saghtana and CPI. In the 2014 Assembly polls, the Congress won 42 seats, while the NCP won 41.
The BJP and Shiv Sena are still working on their seat-sharing deal. In 2014, the two allies fought the polls separately — the BJP won 122 seats, while the Shiv Sena got 63. This time, the Sena wants to contest at least 150 seats, but the BJP is unwilling to concede. BJP leaders have also made it clear that the party will hold the chief minister’s post.
In the Lok Sabha polls earlier this year, the BJP’s vote share was 27.81%, Shiv Sena 19.3%, Congress 17.95% and NCP 17.24% in the state.
“We are in a comfortable position. The popularity of both Prime Minister Modi and Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis will be our USP,” Saroj Pande, BJP general secretary in charge of Maharashtra told The Sunday Express. “Besides, the organisation is in a very strong position now. We have already completed our preparations at the booth and mandal levels. The two representatives appointed by the party in each constituency have submitted their reports,” she added.
Second innings, first test
Riding on the momentum of the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP is seeking a re-election in Maharashtra and Haryana, which could then be projected as an approval of its decision on J&K. For the Opposition, the economic slowdown provides a window to corner the BJP.
Dismissing reports about strains in BJP-Sena ties, Pande said: “We are in alliance and we are fighting the elections together. Things are positive at that level too.”
In Haryana, the disarray in the Opposition has given the ruling BJP, which had faced a dip in popularity, a fresh fillip. In 2014, the BJP won 47 seats, Congress 15, and INLD 19. Earlier this year, the BJP won all 10 Lok Sabha seats from the state.
The Congress leadership has initiated attempts to revamp the leadership and re-energise the cadre after its rout in the Lok Sabha polls. While Kumari Selja was appointed PCC chief, Bhupinder Singh Hooda was made CLP leader and chairman of the party election committee.
The INLD, founded by former Deputy Prime Minister Devi Lal, has split, following a feud in the Chautala family. Former Hisar MP Dushyant Chautala, grandson of former Chief Minister Om Prakash Chautala and son of Ajay Chautala, has launched the Jannayak Janata Party (JJP) which has formed an alliance with the BSP for the Assembly polls.
Meanwhile, asserting that there is a Rs 28 lakh-cap on poll expenditure for each candidate, the CEC said: “We appeal to the candidates to use environment friendly material. We reassure all the stakeholders about the quality of electronic voting machines. Special security arrangements will be made for Left-Wing Extremist affected areas in Gadchiroli and Gondia in Maharashtra.”