As Maharashtra and Haryana go to the polls Monday, the BJP has been campaigning against an almost-absent opposition. In both the states, infighting and factionalism have put the Congress on the backfoot. In Maharashtra, a weakened Sharad Pawar, whose NCP is contesting the polls in alliance with the Congress, is leading the opposition charge against the BJP.
ThePrint asks: Has lack of strong opposition in Maharashtra and Haryana made the elections a no-contest?
BJP has never displayed lethargy or overconfidence, and is going for the kill
The answer to the question asked is both a yes and a no. Yes, because the opposition is fragmented. In Haryana, the Congress is struggling with factionalism and infighting among its leaders. Ashok Tanwar’s exit from the party is proof of that. Now, it is only up to Bhupinder Singh Hooda to hold the fort. For the Chautalas, it’s not a question about who will win but who will carry forward the legacy. Such splits in the opposition ranks only make the contest easy.
The Congress isn’t putting up any fight in Maharashtra either. Although NCP chief Sharad Pawar is really fighting it out, the task has been cut really easy for the BJP. With a fragmented opposition, victory for the BJP is a foregone conclusion.
However, that doesn’t mean we take the credit away from the BJP. The party has never displayed any lethargy or overconfidence, and is going for the kill.
Yes, the opposition is in bad shape but the BJP isn’t winning purely because of that. The BJP’s aggressive approach to winning elections is reflective of its will.
‘No-contest’ Haryana & Maharashtra elections won’t decide results of future state elections for BJP
Senior visiting fellow, CPR
The BJP and its allies in Maharashtra and Haryana have hardly had any strong opposition in the assembly elections. This is not surprising given the overall dominance of the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
The BJP’s victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections also had a hangover effect in state election results for about a year.
What is interesting for an assembly election is that a significant part of the narrative is about the relative strengths of the political parties at the national level. There is no obvious reason why national politics should have such an important role in state elections. This shows that the larger narrative of BJP-Congress electoral contests also affects state-level politics. We don’t necessarily have the same expectation when the BJP is competing head-to-head against a regional party like the TMC in West Bengal or the BJD in Odisha.
While this is a bad sign for the Congress, the 2018 assembly elections in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan show that Congress’ state units can win elections independently of the party’s fortunes at the national level. So, the Haryana and Maharashtra assembly elections might be a no-contest battle for the BJP, we should not necessarily extrapolate this electoral environment to future state elections.
Unlike BJP, top leaders of opposition didn’t hold rallies, mobilise voters, enthuse workers on the ground
Fellow at Centre for Policy Research
The weakening of the opposition nationally, as well as in the states that went to polls today, is making the election results in Haryana and Maharashtra seem very predictable. However, the crucial question is about how the opposition has become weaker in recent years.
There are some reasons for the current weakening of the opposition parties. First, the situation is a making of opposition parties’ own actions. The opposition has not done enough to raise issues, mobilise voters, and enthuse workers on the ground.
The second factor relates to the obvious fragmentation and splits in the opposition. The projection of the BJP’s national dominance is making the opposition look further disarrayed.
Third, voters don’t like to waste their votes, and they think that the opposition isn’t credible enough.
The fragmentation of the opposition has brought down the value of the tickets of these parties. Many opposition candidates, who could otherwise prove to be a tough competition for the BJP locally, didn’t want to contest because of the negative image associated with their parties.
Finally, the BJP has an added advantage of its national leadership. While the party does have state-level leaders in both Haryana and Maharashtra, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah were still seen campaigning on the ground, as compared to Congress’ high-ranking leaders who were completely missing from the campaign rallies.
Weak opposition means if BJP wins, its weak governance record will look excellent
Director, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies
I can’t agree more with the fact that the lack of a strong opposition has reduced the 2019 Haryana and Maharashtra assembly elections to merely a ritual.
The results of these assembly elections are a foregone conclusion— the ruling BJP is set to win these elections with a decisive margin. My only interest in these elections is to see how many assembly seats the BJP wins in both these states along with its allies.
I have no hesitation in saying that the BJP would have won these elections even if there was a strong opposition. Although it goes without saying that the presence of a strong opposition could have posed some challenges for the BJP. A weak opposition has virtually given a walkover to the BJP without any contest.
The performance of the state governments in Haryana and Maharashtra has been just slightly above average, and people’s satisfaction levels have been average, at most.
In the absence of a strong opposition, the victory of the BJP in both these states would make the average performance of the governments look like an excellent achievement and be a complete endorsement of the work done by these BJP governments.
Both Maharashtra & Haryana govts have worked hard to stand out, without relying just on Modi and Shah
The BJP has an advantage in Maharashtra with the chief ministerial candidate, Devendra Fadnavis, enjoying more than 50 per cent popularity. In Haryana, Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar has consolidated the non-jat vote. So, not just a weak opposition, the BJP’s own achievements in these two states will help it win. Both governments have worked hard to stand out, without just relying on the popularity of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah.
M.L. Khattar government’s work has had a positive impact. The move to invite applicants to fill up thousands of vacancies in Group D services in the government and his new transfer policy is yeilding dividends. In Haryana, the BJP is the new party composed of less dominant castes.
Devendra Fadnavis has been credited with waiving farm loans and dealing with the difficult Maratha reservation issue. He has sustained a clean image of himself as chief minister, one untainted with charges of corruption. He has also created and maintained a stable government for the last five years. In Maharashtra, the BJP is the new Maratha party, which has destabilised the Nationalist Congress Party’s voter base.
Also, there has been no widespread anti-incumbency sentiment in either Haryana and Maharashtra.
In both states, opposition stands divided. This is why it’s a one-sided battle
In Haryana, the Congress is the main opposition party, but it is in shambles. On one hand, former Haryana Congress president Ashok Tanwar rebelled against the party, and on the other hand, Bhupinder Singh Hooda was making confusing statements. Although Dushyant Chautala’s Jannayak Janta Party is gaining popularity in certain regions, both the Congress and the JJP are no match for the BJP.
The BJP is focusing its campaign on national issues like Article 370, the National Register of Citizens, and Pakistan. A new addition to this is the Indian Army’s attack on four PoK terror launchpads, an incident that the Khattar government will use to its advantage in this election. In the last five years, there has been no major agitation by opposition parties against the Khattar government.
In Maharashtra, it seems like a cakewalk for the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance. The Congress has become demoralised and many of its leaders, along with some from the Nationalist Congress Party, have defected to the BJP and Shiv Sena in recent months. Raj Thackeray’s MNS, Prakash Ambedkar’s Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi and Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM are contesting separately, which has resulted in a divided opposition.
Rahul Gandhi addressed only a few meetings while Sonia and Priyanka Gandhi were missing from the Congress’s campaigns in Maharashtra altogether. Although NCP chief Sharad Pawar campaigned aggressively, BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis’ popularity has not diminished.
The BJP-Shiv Sena alliance has more resources and workers which is why it is a one-sided electoral contest in Maharashtra.
In both Haryana and Maharashtra, the opposition stands divided and weakened.
By Taran Deol, journalist at ThePrint