Two states ruled by the BJP — Maharashtra and Haryana — are going to the polls in less than a month. But the heightened campaign activities as well as the pre-poll analysis with screaming headlines on news channels, which usually follow the Election Commission’s announcement of the poll schedule, are missing this time.
If the campaign for the 21 October elections hasn’t really kicked off, then it has a lot to do with where the two national parties, the BJP and the Congress, stand at the moment.
A confident BJP
A few surveys conducted by some media houses already predict a majority win for the BJP in both Maharashtra and Haryana, with opposition parties nowhere in the race. Ironically, both these states were once the Congress strongholds.
But not everything is hunky-dory in these two states. There are serious issues of governance, law and order, fringe elements asserting their power, and the economy not showing signs of revival. Yet, both first-time chief ministers, Maharashtra’s Devendra Fadnavis and Haryana’s Manohar Lal Khattar, who were handpicked by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have been able to tide over all hurdles and complete their respective terms.
The BJP seems confident of its victory in both the states, not least because of the party’s social media reach.
With the number of internet users in India expected to touch 627 million (62.7 crore) by the end of 2019, the BJP has been at the forefront of realising the power of social media. The party’s hold over social media and its ability to use it to its best advantage are far superior to possibly any advanced commercial enterprise, let alone a political party.
Already, social media is abuzz with Modi’s resounding victory over Imran Khan’s anti-India campaign in the US. The ‘Howdy, Modi!’ event in Houston, Texas, was probably one of the most-viewed events across the world.
The euphoria over the event and the current state of the opposition in India make the BJP confident of a win in the forthcoming elections.
Congress, others in disarray
Rise in prices of onion and fuel, joblessness, loss of farm produce due to floods, and the general feeling of a slowing economy are issues that the opposition can highlight in the run-up to elections. But the lack of a campaign strategy, mass exits and the image of aligning with corrupt elements have hurt the Congress’ prospects.
In Maharashtra, for instance, the biggest challenge for the Congress-NCP combine is to check the exodus of state-level leaders and a number of foot soldiers at the district level.
The Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) had been contesting the elections in the state together since 1999 until Sharad Pawar’s NCP decided to go it solo in 2014. While both parties have announced a seat-sharing pact in the state, differences have emerged over some key seats.
At the national level, the Congress has led an abysmally poor campaign against the PM so far. The party is risking its credibility by criticising the Modi government on issues of foreign policy and national security. Belatedly though, the party has raised economic issues. “The BJP government is now recognised by slowdown and lockdown. The current government is a capitalist government that has been made by capitalists and run by capitalists,” Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said last week.
But by and large, the Congress has played second fiddle. In Haryana too, the Congress has lost ground mainly due to alleged acts of commission and omission. Congress spokesperson Ashok Tanwar seems to be locking horns with his party veteran and former CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda. The party has since replaced him as its state unit chief.
Even the Congress’s social media team is headless and the party has decided not to appoint anyone until elections, thus giving the BJP a walkover.
All this has turned into ‘advantage BJP’. The party is preparing for a campaign blitzkrieg using ‘Howdy, Modi!’ and US President Donald Trump’s praise of the PM. Domestic popularity surveys are not in vogue in India unlike in the US. If any such survey is done here, one can be sure of a surge in Modi’s already-high popularity ratings.
The BJP appears to be getting ready for a repeat performance in Maharashtra and Haryana, winning a comfortable majority, thanks in large part to the Congress’ inertia.
The author is a member of the National Executive Committee of the BJP and former editor of Organiser. Views are personal.