And trends indicate a disjointed and dispirited opposition is set to give a walkover to the BJP, writes the author.
New Delhi: The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) could not have asked for a better gift as it gears up for electoral battles in Haryana, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Delhi in the coming months. Though the Delhi Assembly elections are due only early next year, in the other three states polling takes place in October-November.
And trends indicate a disjointed and dispirited opposition is set to give a walkover to the BJP.
The principal opposition, the Congress party, is still reeling from its decision to vote against the government on the issue of abrogation of Article 370 that gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir. The move gave regional leaders in the party, chafing under high command domination, room to take contrary positions.
Powerful regional satraps have often defied the Congress high command, shorthand for the Gandhi-Nehru family and its courtiers, to strike an independent path in their states. Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and his Madhya Pradesh counterpart Kamal Nath in recent months are known to have taken major policy and political decisions independent of the Nehru-Gandhi family (read 10, Janpath). Their role in the unending intrigue in Delhi, following Rahul Gandhi’s resignation as party president, was limited. They preferred to stick to the basics in their states.
Haryana is witnessing an assertive Bhupinder Singh Hooda taking on the state Congress president Ashok Tanwar, perceived to be Rahul Gandhi’s nominee. By publicly taking a dig at the party leadership for its stand on Article 370, Hooda, a former Haryana chief minister, is pressurising the leadership to name him as the chief ministerial candidate once again. Both the Congress high command and Hooda need each other and cannot hope to win by going solo.
This is not the first time Hooda has acted tough. In 2016, the Congress veteran engineered the defeat of party nominee R.K. Anand in a Rajya Sabha election. Media baron Subhash Chandra was elected as an independent candidate as many Congress MLAs, loyal to Hooda, voted contrary to party’s instructions.
Haryana politics has dramatically shifted from Jat domination. In the past five years, Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar has consciously sought to reach out to other groups and communities. With the Congress confused and with the rift in the once-powerful Chautala family – with various descendants of late chief minister and family patriarch Devi Lal striking out on their own – the BJP and Khattar could not have asked for more.
In Maharashtra, the BJP and the Shiv Sena have reached a working relationship, though the chief ministerial ambitions of both allies remain a sore point. But the challenge is not insurmountable. The two parties are the oldest partners in the National Democratic Alliance and ideology and pragmatism will keep them together.
On the other hand, the Nationalist Congress Party of Sharad Pawar and the Congress have been driven with defections in Maharashtra. Local leaders have sought greener pastures offered by BJP and the Shiv Sena. Rahul Gandhi’s decision to quit as party president immediately after the results of 17th Lok Sabha election added to the confusion among state-level Congress leaders. They feared complete marginalisation and irrelevance.
Adding to the Congress’ woes is the alliance between the Prakash Ambedkar-led Vanchit Bahujan Agadhi, a grouping of Dalits, and Asaduddin Owaisi’s Muslim-backed AIMIM. This combination will largely cut into Congress-NCP votes and make things easier for the BJP-Shiv Sena.
The stunning defeat of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha supremo and tribal legend Shibu Soren has led to disarray in opposition ranks in Jharkhand. This is despite the resentment against Chief Minister Raghubar Das, even among BJP supporters. Jharkhand Congress unit president Ajoy Kumar had to step down due to infighting. With the Rashtriya Janata Dal losing badly in Bihar and its all-powerful leader Laloo Prasad Yadav behind bars, the Jharkhand unit of the party too has split. Babulal Marandi, once a BJP chief minister but now leader of his own regional party, is a pale shadow of his past. All this is giving Raghubar Das enough reasons to smile.
Delhi has been a traditional stronghold of the BJP since the 1960s, in spite of late Congress stalwart Shiela Dikshit being chief minister for three successive terms (1998-2013). With the Congress and the incumbent Aam Admi Party of Arvind Kejriwal expected to contest on their respective strength, eschewing any alliance, the BJP is hopeful of returning to office in the capital after a period of two decades.
In sum, the party is closer to its goal of Congress-Mukt Bharat.