Issue :   
Happy Dussehra and Diwali to all Readers.          November 2019 Edition of Power Politics is updated.
Issue:June' 2019


A setback to Modi-Shah’s
politics of belligerence

N D Sharma

New turn to Haryana politics

In Haryana the post-election politics has taken an interesting turn. Founder-president of the Jannayak Janta Party (JJP) Dushyant Chautala has agreed to help the BJP form the government in lieu of the post of Deputy Chief Minister for himself and a few berths for his MLAs in the Council of Ministers. The BJP had to accept this humiliating condition because it has only 40 MLAs in a House of 90. First it tried to strike a deal with the seven independent MLAs (at least five of them being rebel BJP men) and the lone Haryana Lokhit Party MLA Gopal Goyal Kanda. However, Kanda’s very name soon put the BJP on the back-foot as some of its own leaders strongly protested any connection with Kanda because of his criminal background. The party then turned to the JJP which has 10 MLAs.

BJP’s Manohar Lal Khattar with JJP’s Dushyant Chautala in New Delhi After being elected Leader of the JJP Legislature Party, Dushyant Chautala went to Tihar jail (in Delhi) to meet his father Ajay Chautala who is undergoing a sentence of 10-years’ imprisonment for his role in the teachers’ recruitment scam. Soon thereafter, he decided to go with the BJP, whose election manifesto he had ridiculed and called it “Jumla Patra”. He said then: “as many as 75 promises the BJP had made earlier remain unfulfilled and many of these have now been included by the party in its election manifesto which is just a Jumla Patra”. As part of the BJP government, he will have to implement this Jumla Patra now.

Besides, it will be interesting to see how much of his own election promises he can get implemented. The JJP’s main promises included 75 per cent of the jobs to be reserved for the local youth, monthly assistance of Rs 11,000 to the unemployed youth, extra ten marks to students from the rural areas when they appear in competitive examinations in the State, a bonus of 10 per cent or Rs 100 over minimum support price (MSP) to farmers, closure of liquor vends within village limits and changes in the Motor Vehicle Act to substantially reduce the fine amounts. Another important promise made by Chautala is appointment of only Haryana domiciled people as chairpersons of boards, corporations, OSDs as well as Vice-Chancellors and Registrars of the universities in the State.

The BJP may also face intra-party problems as Chautala’s party has been responsible for their defeat at the hustings. Chautala himself has a long-standing feud with the family of the BJP’s Rajya Sabha member Birender Singh.

The Maharashtra and Haryana Assembly election results provide a hope of Opposition’s revival by giving a setback to the politics of belligerence being consistently pursued by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah.

The results also show that the voters have registered their partial disapproval of the Centre’s Kashmir policy. Both the Prime Minister and the Home Minister (who is also the president of the BJP) had appealed to the voters to renew their mandate for the BJP governments in the two States because the party at the Centre had done away with the Article 370 (granting special status to Jammu and Kashmir), implemented National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, promised NRC all over the country and was engaged in teaching a lesson to Pakistan.

The immediate problems of the people like unemployment, growing joblessness following shutdown of industrial units, farmers’ suicides and crisis in agricultural sector were conveniently ignored. Both Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Shah had vigorously campaigned in the two States. Also were engaged in masked campaigning for the ruling party the CBI, the ED and the Army top brass.

After the strike on terrorist camps inside PoK on the eve of polling, it was the Chief of Army Staff General Bipin Rawat who had briefed the press, as he had done in late September by telling media persons that Balakot had been reactivated by Pakistan.
The BJP leaders and spokespersons maintained strategic silence. General Rawat has a penchant for making politically loaded statements. He has given perhaps more public statements than all the combined public statements made by all the previous Army Chiefs.
Shah had practically turned the Assembly elections into a referendum on abrogation of Article 370.
He was quoted as having told a rally in Mumbai: “I will tell the people of Maharashtra, you have an opportunity to make it clear if you are in favour of those who abrogated Article 370, or those who opposed it. This is the first election after the scrapping of Article 370.”

The people in Maharashtra, and also elsewhere, have replied through the ballot that they are not all in favour of those who abrogated Article 370. The BJP tally in Maharashtra has come down to 105 from 122 in the outgoing Assembly which has a strength of 288. Its ally Shiv Sena also will have only 56 members in the new Assembly whereas it had 63 in the outgoing House. It is to be noted that both BJP and Shiv Sena had contested the Assembly elections in 2014 separately. In 2014, Shiv Sena contested on 282 seats and BJP on 260. This time they did it jointly after entering into a pre-election alliance. The Shiv Sena accepted the BJP’s offer of 126 seats, the BJP contested on 144 seats. The remaining 18 seats were left for other alliance partners. For the first time the Maharashtra Assembly will have a member of the Thackeray dynasty with Shiv Sena founder Bala Saheb Thackeray’s grandson Aditya Thackeray having won from Worli constituency.

If the voters decided to puncture the kingsized ego of Narendra Modi, it was in spite of a fractured Opposition. The Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) had emerged as the second largest party in 2014 with 19 MLAs. Formed by former Deputy Prime Minister Devi Lal, INLD succumbed to family feuds, with Devi Lal’s grandson Dushyant Chautala splitting the INLD and forming his Jannayak Janta Party (JJP). Most of MLAs and prominent leaders of the INLD joined the BJP. It could win only one seat this time.

Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray with son Aaditya Maharastra CM Devendra Fadnavis at BJP head office after elctions result

To woo the large number of migrants from Hindi speaking regions residing mostly in and around Mumbai, the BJP had specially invited well-known party leaders from the Hindi belt, including Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, to address poll rallies. Others included Manoj Tiwari, Ravi Kishan, Jagdambika Pal, and popular Bhojpuri actor Nirahua, UP Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya, who was appointed Joint Incharge of Maharashtra elections, camped in Mumbai for over two months to coordinate rallies where north Indians were main speakers.

The ruling BJP received a greater drubbing in Haryana where Prime Minister Modi, Home Minister Shah and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had spent relatively more time in campaigning. There, too, they harped mainly on issues unrelated to the immediate problems of the people of the State.

So confident was Amit Shah of getting the Haryana people’s support for the Centre’s policy on Kashmir and engagement in skirmishes with Pakistan that he had aimed his target at 75 plus seats in a House of 90. Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar promised implementation of NRC in Haryana. The voters were apparently not amused by their hate-mongering antics and they refused to give the BJP even a simple majority. The BJP had won 47 seats in 2014, one more than the absolute majority. This time its number has been reduced to 40.

The poll outcome has put Dushyant Chautala in the driver's seat of Haryana politics. If the voters decided to puncture the king-sized ego of Narendra Modi, it was in spite of a fractured opposition. The Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) had emerged as the second largest party in 2014 with 19 MLAs. Formed by former Deputy Prime Minister Devi Lal, INLD succumbed to family feuds, with Devi Lal’s grandson Dushyant Chautala splitting the INLD and forming his Jannayak Janta Party (JJP). Most of MLAs and prominent leaders of the INLD joined the BJP. It could win only one seat this time. JJP, the breakaway group of Dushyant Chautala, however, was able to get its ten candidates elected which put him in a position to play a crucial role in forming the government in the State having a hung Assembly.
The Congress was in no better position. On the eve of the Assembly elections, factionalism in the party was at its peak. Ashok Tanwar, who was president of Haryana Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) for over five years, was at constant loggerheads with former Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda who had declared at a Jind rally that he would be the candidate for Chief Minister’s post in the ensuing Assembly elections whether Congress wanted it or not. After Sonia Gandhi was made interim president of Congress, she appointed former Union Minister and an SC leader Selja as the Haryana PCC president and Hooda as Leader of the Congress Legislature Party.

Another disgruntled leader Kiran Chaudhary was made head of the Election Manifesto Committee. Consequently, Ashok Tanwar left the Congress and announced that he would work for defeating Bhupinder Singh Hooda. Not only was Congress in Haryana struggling with internal dissidence, it was also virtually abandoned by the party’s central leadership.

It was announced that Sonia Gandhi would address a poll rally in Haryana but her programme was cancelled at the eleventh hour. Only Rahul Gandhi, who holds no position in the party, addressed two rallies in the State. No other Congress leader went there; not even Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh even though there is a sizeable population of Sikhs in Haryana.

Still, the Congress has emerged as the second largest party with 31 MLAs. In 2014, the Congress had won on 15 seats only and was third after INLD’s 19 MLAs.

While in Haryana the main contest was between BJP and the Congress, in Maharashtra, the BJP-Shiv Sena combine had the Congress-NCP alliance as its main adversary. In Haryana the other parties in the fray included fractured Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), Jannayak Janta Party or JJP (which was formed after a vertical split in INLD), BSP, AAP, and Swaraj India Party. Only INLD or what had remained of INLD after the split could win on one seat. In Maharashtra there were several other parties also in the fray which would barely make their presence felt in the Assembly.

Narendra Modi and Sonia Gandhi The Central leadership of the Congress had left Maharashtra also to the local leaders who, too, were not exactly working in harmony. The Congress in Maharashtra apparently benefited by aligning with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). NCP chief Sharad Pawar worked real hard in spite of his advanced age (he is nearly 80) and not so good health. The case registered by ED against Pawar seemed to have galvanised the Maratha leader who impressed both his supporters and critics alike by holding election rallies even in pouring rain. While the Congress increased its tally from 42 in 2014 to 44 this time, NCP reached 54 from 41 in the outgoing House.

By-elections were held for 51 Assembly seats across 17 States. The BJP did not fare according to its expectations. Out of the 51, the BJP could win only in 17 constituencies. The Congress was victorious in 12, though it could not win a seat in UP in spite of efforts of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to rejuvenate the party in the State.

A notable feature of the Assembly elections was a perceptible decline in the vote share of the BJP from what it had received in the Lok Sabha elections held only a few months ago. In Maharashtra, it came down from 27.8 per cent to 25.7 per cent, in Haryana the decline was more steep --- from 59.7 per cent to 36.5 per cent. In Maharashtra, Shiv Sena, too, lost its vote share considerably.

The Opposition parties this time did not fall in the Modi-Shah trap by joining with them on the issues like Article 370, Balakot, PoK terrorist camps and NRC but confined their campaign to the issues directly affecting the people of the two States. Corruption was an important issue in the speeches of the opposition leaders in both the States. In Haryana, while Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar won comfortably, eight members of his cabinet lost the election. Even the State BJP chief Subhash Barala was unable to win.

In Maharashtra also, more than half a dozen ministers were unable to return. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, however, won. Important opposition leaders elected in Maharashtra include PCC president Balasaheb Thorat, former Chief Minister Ashok Chavan and Prithviraj Chavan of the Congress and Ajit Pawar of NCP. In Haryana former Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda was elected but AICC spokesperson Randeep Surjewala lost by a small margin.

In the two Lok Sabha constituencies where by-elections were held, the Samastipur seat was won by NDA’s ally Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) while Satara in Maharashtra returned the NCP candidate.

Interestingly, Satara seat was held by Shivaji’s descendant Udayanraje Bhosale who had won on NCP ticket in the general elections for the Lok Sabha. On the eve of Assembly elections he resigned from NCP and Lok Sabha and joined BJP. During the campaign for Assembly elections in Maharashtra, Prime Minister Modi had exploited to the fill ‘Shivaji’s descendant’s having joined the BJP’. Apparently it did not help. In the byelection, the BJP fielded him from Satara itself but he lost.

By-elections were also held for 51 Assembly seats across 17 States. There also the BJP did not fare according to its expectations. Out of the 51, the BJP could win only in 17 constituencies. The Congress was victorious in 12, though it could not win a seat in UP in spite of efforts of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to rejuvenate the party in the State. Notable among the Congress gains is the victory of Kantilal Bhuria from Jhabua seat in Madhya Pradesh. Jhabua seat was held by G S Damor of BJP. He resigned after his election to Lok Sabha.

The BJP had fielded young party leader Bhanu Bhuria in the byelection. BJP leaders, notably Leader of Opposition in the Assembly Gopal Bhargava and loud-mouthed BJP General Secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya, had told the Jhabua electorate during the campaign that the victory of the BJP candidate would result in the return of the BJP government in the State. Bhargava had gone to the extent of declaring that the BJP government headed by Shivraj Singh Chouhan would replace the present Congress government of Kamal Nath if the BJP candidate won. Bad luck of Gopal Bhargava. The BJP candidate lost by around 28,000 votes.