The BJP campaign in Maharashtra and Haryana, the two states that vote today, was led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister and BJP chief Amit Shah. PM Modi addressed nine rallies in Maharashtra and seven in Haryana whereas Shah spoke at 18 meetings in Maharashtra and seven in Haryana. This wasn’t unexpected since the two leaders had won a second term for the party with an enhanced majority in the Lok Sabha just a few months ago. But what stood out in the assembly election campaign was the big endorsement the BJP national leadership given to the outgoing chief ministers in the two states: Modi and Shah, in fact, were seeking the mandate for Devendra Fadnavis in Maharashtra and Manohar Lal Khattar in Haryana.
At his rallies in Maharashtra, PM gave the slogan, “Dilli mein Narendra, Mumbai mein Devendra” (Narendra in Delhi, Devendra in Mumbai). He said the Narendra-Devendra formula has been a super-hit for the last five years and “when Narendra and Devendra stand together, 1+1 is not 2 but becomes 11”. Similar was his appreciation for Khattar, who was handpicked by Modi and Shah in 2014 to head the government in Haryana though he had no previous experience as a legislator or in government. The BJP campaign in Maharashtra and Haryana, of course, bet high on the issue of nationalism, especially the Centre’s actions in Jammu and Kashmir. But the party also championed the record of the chief ministers in office, which it claimed was superior to their predecessors. The party also leveraged the fact that Fadnavis and Khattar were from non-dominant castes and projected them as leaders who stood above sectarian interests. This has been an interesting strategy since dominant castes such as Marathas and Jats have had a disproportionate influence on electoral politics in Maharashtra and Haryana respectively for a long time. Of course, the BJP’s claims went uncontested also because of the lacklustre campaign run by the opposition parties, which seem to have failed to regroup after the general election drubbing.
The rise of Fadnavis and Khattar is in some ways a throwback to the 2000s, when the BJP under Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L K Advani encouraged relatively young parliamentarians such as Shivraj Singh Chauhan, Raman Singh and Vasundhara Raje, to establish themselves as state leaders. The rise of these leaders and the free hand the party allowed them in running governments helped the BJP to expand its vote base and become the dominant electoral force it has now.