An election campaign dominated by the BJP’s aggressive narrative on the nullification of Article 370 and marked by the Opposition’s lacklustre canvassing, drew to a close on Saturday in Maharashtra and Haryana.
Elections to 288 Assembly seats in Maharashtra and 90 seats in Haryana will be held on October 21, and the results will be announced on October 24.
While the BJP dismissed any suggestions of anti-incumbency against its chief ministers Devendra Fadnavis and Manohar Lal Khattar, top party leaders did not hesitate to campaign extensively in both the states.
While the Prime Minister addressed nine rallies in Maharashtra, he devoted four days to address seven public meetings in the relatively smaller Haryana. BJP chief and Union Home Minister Amit Shah addressed 18 rallies in Maharashtra while addressing seven in Haryana. Former party chief and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh addressed nine rallies in Haryana and three in Maharashtra. Party sources counted 177 public rallies by national leaders from outside the state in Maharashtra while the state leaders together addressed 312 election meetings.
370 vs slowdown
While the momentum is with the BJP, the incumbent in Haryana and Maharashtra, these polls are an opportunity for the Opposition, particularly the Congress, to recover the ground lost in LS elections. The BJP has used abrogation of Article 370 as a campaign tool, while the Opposition has tried to leverage the economic slowdown.
Apart from the general secretaries in charge of these states, Saroj Pandey (Maharashtra) and Anil Jain (Harayana), BJP chief Amit Shah deployed Bhupender Yadav (Maharashtra) and Narendra Singh Tomar (Haryana) as in-charges specifically for the elections.
Throughout its campaign, the BJP leadership peppered the developmental claims of its state units with a dose of nationalism, with repeated references to Article 370 and the pitch for a nationwide NRC. The state unit of the BJP also sought to raise the Hindutva pitch, demanding the Bharat Ratna for Hindutva icon Vinayak Damodar Savarkar.
As for the Congress, interim party chief Sonia Gandhi did not address any rally. The rally in Mahendragarh (Haryana) that she was slated to address on Friday was cancelled. Former party chief Rahul Gandhi addressed seven rallies across the two states – five in Maharashtra and two in Haryana (including the one Sonia was supposed to address).
The BJP’s pitch on Savarkar and Article 370 forced the Congress to nuance its position on both the issues, with former prime minister Manmohan Singh clarifying that the Congress was not against the scrapping of special status to Jammu and Kashmir and saying that the party is not against Savarkar, but his Hindutva ideology.
Shadows of factionalism and internal feud were also visible during the Congress campaign in both these states. Former Haryana chief minister and legislature party leader Bhupinder Singh Hooda did not share the stage with Rahul Gandhi in both his Nuh and Mahendragarh rallies, triggering speculation that all was not well within the party. Incidentally, Rahul did not campaign in regions considered to be Hooda’s home turf in the state. Additionally, the Congress suffered a setback in Haryana when former state unit chief Ashok Tanwar quit the party and shared the stage with JJP leader Dushyant Chautala.
In Maharashtra too, where the party witnessed many of its leaders switching to the ruling alliance in the run-up to the elections, there were some discordant notes during the campaign. Former Mumbai unit chief Sanjay Nirupam’s outbursts during the candidate selection exposed the strain within the state unit. Additionally, the fact that both Nirupam and Milind Deora, former presidents of the Mumbai Regional Congress Committee, stayed away from Rahul Gandhi’s two rallies in Mumbai also cast a shadow on the party’s campaigning in the metropolis.
The Opposition campaign in Maharashtra was mainly spearheaded by NCP patriarch Sharad Pawar, who took on PM Modi and the BJP. However, the Congress and the NCP failed to hold a single joint rally in contrast to the joint rally held by PM Modi and Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray in Mumbai on October 18.
While trying to pin down the incumbent BJP on the issue of economic slowdown, the Congress leadership stuck to many of the issues drawn from its Lok Sabha campaign earlier this year – GST, demonetisation, unemployment and the alleged Rafale scam, among others.