Congress faces fresh challenge
The coming assembly elections in Maharashtra, Haryana and Jammu and Kashmir will be first test for Prime Minister Narendra Modi after his stunning victory in May’s Lok Sabha elections. Will the Modi wave, that helped the BJP get single-party majority in the Lok Sabha, remain intact till October/November when the elections in the three states are scheduled to be held? If so, the BJP is sure to sweep in Maharashtra and Haryana howsoever popular measures the Congress may take. The scenario in J&K is altogether different. A slight pause, however, in the Modi wave is bound to help the Congress-NCP combine in Maharashtra where BJP-Shiv Sena alliance is not comfortably placed. The populist measure—five per cent reservations for Muslims and 16 percent to Marathas—taken by the Prithiviraj Government is likely to yield results provided there is thaw in Modi wave.
The Maratha community is the single largest vote bank in Maharashtra, accounting for 30 per cent of the state’s population. Of 288 assembly seats, Marathas can potentially swing the outcome in nearly 200 seats. The BJP, which has been wooing the Maratha community, supported the reservation for them but criticized the decision to provide quota to Muslims as ‘vote-ban politics’ and unconstitutional.
Another issue that might influence voters in Maharashtra is hike in Mumbai suburban train fare. One heard Mumbai commuters—whose suburban passes had shot up by 200 per cent—remark sarcastically Rail ka Bhada barh gaya hai, achche din aane wale hain. The government had finally to take the embarrassing steps of partially rolling back its decision. The most lethal decision of the Modi Government was the 14.2 per cent hike in rail fare, which even the BJP ally, Shiv Sena had to oppose. It may have impact in Maharashtra too as in the rest of the country.
Delhi is yet another state where political uncertainty looms large; it is not clear whether a government will be formed or the state will go for poll to elect the new assembly? At the moment BJP, falling short of majority, is trying hard to woo MLAs from the Congress and Aam Aadmi Party to form the government. Even though Arvind Kejriwal has apologized repeatedly for resigning as Chief Minister, initial euphoria for his party has evaporated. The wise thing for the Congress and the AAP would be to join hands and form the government but the Congress, for whatsoever reason, is dilly-dallying. If elections are held now the BJP is certain to sweep the poll, unpopular decision like the 14.2 per cent hike in rail fare notwithstanding.
Reports coming from Srinagar speak of an imminent rift in Congress-National Conference alliance. The Congress has starting flexing muscles, saying it may go to poll alone but everyone knows the party does not have much following in the state. Chances are that the Congress may forge an alliance with PDP, led by Mehbooba Mufti. With Omar Abdullah government fighting heavy anti-incumbency, the chances of National Conference getting back appear remote. In the event of the Congress—PDP joining hands, Mehbooba may claim the Chief Minister’s post.
Another state going to poll is Haryana where, despite good work done by two-term Chief Minister, Bhupender Singh Hooda, the Congress is not comfortably placed. Besides, anti-incumbency factor, there is dissidence in the state unit of the Congress and there are chances of sabotage in the election. The Modi wave remains almost as strong as it was in Lok Sabha election, wiping out the Congress lock-stock-and –barrel in Haryana. In that scenario, it may be difficult for the Congress to retain power. The Congress party’s central leadership has, however, acted wisely by refusing to replace Hooda as demanded by dissidents, led by Birendra Singh, MP, and Hooda’s cousin.
Even though elections are due in Bihar in 2015, interesting developments are taking place in the state. With the BJP’s star rising, Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) and Lalu Prasad Yadav’s RJD have joined hands to ward off the looming threat from Narendra Modi’s party. The alliance between Nitish and Lalu managed to get two JD(U) nominees elected to the Rajya Sabha and appears to have been struck with an eye on the Bihar assembly election due next year.
While the BJP’s vote share in Lok Sabha election was 29.4 per cent, the RJD managed to capture 20.1 per cent and JD(U) 16 per cent of total votes. This makes the JD(U)-RJD alliance formidable ahead of the assembly election, especially that RJD has also an understanding with the Congress which pulled in another 8.4 per cent.