NEW DELHI: The Election Commission of India on Saturday announced the dates for polls for two crucial provinces - the western states of Maharashtra and northern region of Haryana.
Both the states, currently under the command of the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), go to the hustings on October 21 with the results to be announced on Oct 24th.
The elections in these states comes at a time when the Indian economy is going through a very rough patch with the GDP touching an all-time low at 5% in the last financial year.
The slowdown in the market has affected the job scenario in the country with many sectors registering a low growth not witnessed in the past two decades.
Maharashtra is a financial hub of the country with Mumbai being its capital, the election is a test for the BJP government whether it can retain the momentum of the last parliamentary elections where the party, along with its allies, won a whopping 41 seats out of 48.
With a slowing economy and farmers' distress at its height – with more than 12,000 farmers committing suicide in the state in the last four years – the first BJP government in Maharashtra has a tough task to defend the crucial state.
The party hopes to ride on the back of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity, and expects people to give the government an overwhelming support on the issue of abrogation of Article 370 of the constitution that gave the state of Jammu and Kashmir a special status under the Indian union.
The Modi government calls the decision to repeal the special status of Kashmir as one of its major achievements in the last 100 days of its governance.
On Thursday, in an election rally in Maharshtra’s Nasik city, Modi set the tone for the upcoming electoral battle where he raised the Kashmir issue and said that “the decision to revoke provisions under Article 370 was a decision for the unity of India”.
In the last elections in 2014, the BJP won 122 seats in the assembly of 288 and its ally Shiv Sena got 63. Both the parties are also fighting together this time and hope to sweep the poll because of the chaos in the opposition ranks and file. Congress party is facing a leadership crisis in the state and its regional alliance partner Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in disarray because of the large scale desertion.
In Haryana, the situation is almost the same with the BJP banking on the national issue and the national leadership to sail it through. The ruling party has an upper hand there also because of the leadership tussle in the opposition Congress. In the 90 member provincial assembly the BJP has 47 seats and it is aiming to get 75.
The opposition Congress party on Saturday said that the party will fight the elections in both the state “with its full might”.
It said that by raising the Kashmir issue, the BJP is diverting attention from the core issues that affects the lives of the people.
“We will not allow the BJP to divert the attention of the people. The Congress party will raise those issues which the government has been trying to evade”, says Pawan Khera, spokesperson for the Congress.
“We will raise the issue of farmers, unemployment, economic slowdown and closer of many industries and the party will fight the elections with all its might”, Khera added.
The BJP says it will sweep both the states on the basis of its performance and the strong leadership of Modi.
“Though our performance in both the states we have been able to create a trust among the people”, saysSudesh Verma, BJP spokesperson.
He tells Arab News that “a strong and powerful country under Mr Modi is also an issue that is likely to sway voters. Here is a leader who is decisive and can take tough decisions for the betterment of the nation.
Dr Shailendra Kharat of Pune University says that “the BJP is a front runner in the state election despite the fact that the government has not performed well. There is a crisis in agriculture, unemployment is high, economy is down- despite all these the image of Prime Minister Modi and through the media management of the BJP the ruling party is clearly ahead in the race.
He tells Arab News that “the strategy of the BJP is to fight the state elections as a national election. Ideally this being a provincial election the local issues should dominate but the BJP is keen to raise the issue of the abrogation of Article 370, the national security issues and the image of the Modi to sway the voters”.
“The opposition Congress party is not coming to the terms with the changing political scenario. The party is confused how to counter the issue of nationalism, image of Prime Minister”, adds Kharat.
“Maharashtra used to be the bastion of the Congress party but there is a large-scale desertion in the opposition camp as a result the local political strength of the Congress -NCP alliance has depleted”, says the political scientist.