By SM.21 Sep, 2019
NEW DELHI: The Election Commission today announced dates for assembly polls in Maharashtra and Haryana, with both BJP-ruled states voting on October 21 in a single-phase exercise and results to be declared on October 24. The polls are the first since Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to success in Lok Sabha polls in April-May. They will also be the first since Prime Minister Modi"s government, backed by that majority, pushed through several key pieces of legislation in parliament"s monsoon session, much to the consternation of the opposition.
The BJP will likely rely on the "Modi magic" that powered it to victory in both the 2014 and the 2019 national elections. A hallmark of those wins was aggressive campaigning by PM Modi and signs are the party will rely on him again; he has already spoken at Rohtak in Haryana and Nashik in Maharashtra.
The opposition - primarily the Congress - in both states will hope "Modi magic" has worn off, but they are likely to be disappointed. In fact, it seems to be getting stronger.
While campaigning for the 2014 polls the Prime Minister addressed more than 400 rallies and the BJP won 282 seats. Five years later, he addressed only 144 rallies but the BJP claimed 303 seats.
The elections in Maharashtra and Haryana are also the first since key (and controversial) policy decisions such as the withdrawal of Article 370 and the passing of the "Triple Talaq" bill.
The BJP, which made Article 370 a poll issue during national elections, appears likely to bank on that decision to collect votes in both states. PM Modi has already set the tone in that regard, raising the issue in Nashik and Rohtak.
The "Triple Talaq" bill is another key piece of legislation that could prove influential, with Haryana one of several states to make prompt use of the law and the BJP and PM Modi keen to remind voters of that.
Another issue likely to be key is the NRC exercise that was recently completed in Assam. Political leaders in both Haryana and Maharashtra have called for citizenship verification drives, with Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar among those calling for it.
On Wednesday, Home Minister Amit Shah insisted NRC would be applied across the country and, as such, the topic is likely to feature in the BJP"s campaign.
Finally, this will also be the first election since Rahul Gandhi stepped down as Congress president. The main opposition party, now under the interim leadership of former president Sonia Gandhi, has struggled to impose itself after two successive disastrous performances in national polls. Coupled with a raft of defections of leaders from both Haryana and Maharashtra, the Congress needs inspiration and an identity if it is to compete with the BJP juggernaut.
With that in mind, the fact that Sonia Gandhi has returned to the leadership position is likely to be highlighted by the BJP, for whom PM Modi regularly criticised the Congress for failing to look beyond the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.
The condition of the economy could also be a rallying point, albeit more for the opposition than the ruling party in either state. Unemployment may be a major issue, particularly since the auto industry, which has fired more than three lakh workers, present in both states.
The Congress, which has targeted Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on the issue in recent weeks, will be keen to make this the focus of election debates in both states.