A BJP meeting addressed by the Prime Minister

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Two state elections in India, lessons learnt

Yatindra Bhatnagar

The recent state assembly elections in India’s two states, Maharashtra and Haryana, were a contrast to the Lok Sabha (Parliament’s Lower House) elections just six months back. Unlike the Lok Sabha elections where the BJP led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi brushed aside the ‘somewhat united’ and ‘perceived formidable’ opposition by a landslide getting 303 (with allies 353) seats out of 543, in this October elections for the two states, it got 105 (out of 288) in Maharashtra and in Haryana only 40 (out of 90.) 

In both the states the BJP had to cobble up a majority to form the government. In Maharashtra the pre-poll alliance with Shiv Sena meant a very uneasy situation where SS wanted a bigger than normal share and remote control in their hand. In Haryana it was an unholy alliance.  

In Maharashtra, Shiv Sena, always an unreliable and demanding ally went on again putting impossible demands: sharing Chief Minister’s seat (first half term for itself) and 50-50 share in the cabinet with some plum ministries.

Out of 288 seats in Maharashtra Assembly, the BJP got only 105 and Shiv Sena 56, while Sharad Pawar’s NCP got 54 and Congress only 44 seats. Independents bagged 13 and the rest various smaller parties.

Haryana’s situation was not much assuring with BJP getting 40, Congress 31, Jannayak Janta Party led by Dushyant Chautala (splinter group) 10 and his grandfather’s/father’s party INLD 7. But lo and behold, the bitter JJP and Dushyant joined the BJP coalition getting the plum job of Deputy Chief Minister and getting his father Ajay Chautala a two week furlough from jail (where his grandfather Om Prakash Chautala is still in prison.)

This coalition took the oath of office with BJP’s Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar regaining his position. However, several ministers in the previous Khattar government losing their seats is a grave matter and the party has to make a serious note of the disaster. 

[Interestingly the father-son duo has been in and out of jail on parole since 2013 on various scandals of teachers’ recruitment.]

It was a very disturbing and unholy alliance with both the adversaries at each other’s throat before the election but now are partners. No wonder, the former Congress Chief Minister Hooda and others have blasted this alliance and said that Dushyant has betrayed those who voted for him and his party against the BJP.

The two state results are startling but could be the result of several factors. Among them could be that the BJP banked on national issues rather than local issues like the farmers’ plight, and local economy and local leadership and not Article 370 and Jammu & Kashmir.

Secondly, the regional and caste factors were dominant as Maharashtra with Shiv Sena fighting for Kshatriya Marathas versus Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, who is a Brahmin. SS has no national vision and has no national presence either. Its Maratha and regional approach and ‘anti-others’ stand (like dislike for a Gujarati Prime Minister Modi and another Gujarati, BJP president Amit Shah leading the BJP) do not help SS to rise above these narrow approach.

Shiv Sena is pushing for its leader Uddhav Thackeray’s 29 year-old son, Aaditya to take over as the Chief Minister, or at least the Deputy Chief Minister in true dynastic tradition. Uddhav is the current SS boss, his late father, Bal Thackeray, was the founder of Shiv Sena and always wanted the ‘remote control’ in his hands.

Aaditya is a youth SS leader with not much of a political or career experience showed financial assets of over RS 16 crore – a big figure.

Sharad Pawar, an old political stalwart and his NCP was able to hold its sway over some select areas and its friendship with Congress has made the party somewhat strong. However, he is also a votary of the Dynastic Rule as his daughter and his grandson, Rohit (who was also elected) are in politics for quite some time. 

Now the BJP with its tally reduced by 19 seats from 2014 has to heavily depend on the whims, fancies and the regional/caste stand of Shiv Sena.

SS has always been in a love-hate relationship with the Bharatiya Janata Party. Modi and Shah would have to re-think and re-assess the profit-loss of alliance with Shiv Sena. Of course, it was unlikely that Shiv Sena would leave the BJP and align with either the NCP or Congress but some of its leaders were throwing hints that they would consider all the options. One of the Congress leaders has given the hint that it’s up to Shiv Sena to accept the Chief Ministership for five years or bargain with BJP for 2-1/2 years turn-by-turn CM’s seat to run the state government.

The BJP will have to assess the future state elections with circumspection and also take into account local issues and nurture local leadership instead of focusing on national issues in state elections. On national level it’s almost impossible to challenge and defeat Narendra Modi-led BJP as that party and its leader has a wider vision to unite India as a great economic powerhouse and develop the whole country with its 1.3 billion people. This is a laudable goal, nationally and internationally.

However, states are different and there are various satraps wielding power. There are smaller groups also and they too have influence in their regions. They espouse local issues that affect the lives of the common man. Earlier Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh and now Maharashtra and Haryana have shown the difference between national and regional/local issues and local leadership.

Obviously the enlightened voters of India know the difference between national and local issues – a strong point in Delhi too where in 2014 the BJP got all the Lok Sabha seats but lost the Delhi Assembly to a new political outfit like the Aam Aadmi Party of Arvind Kejariwal.

One of the disturbing factors is the presence and victory of about 50 rebels in Maharashtra and 5 in Haryana. May be in many areas the BJP was over confident. In Haryana also the Jat problem is serious as in this election many Jats seemed to have gone against BJP. The selection of candidates could also be one of the factors against the reduced majority of BJP. 

These are some of the lessons to be learnt by the BJP and its leadership. Modi himself has said that don’t be totally dependent on me in 2024. Not only for 2024, in all the coming elections before that, the BJP should have its second line of leadership, and state leaders who should play important roles in organization. They should highlight local and regional issues and be more pro-active at all times. Elections are not easy now since the voters have become conscious, active, more educated and ready to play their role in all-round development of their state and the nation.