Edit & Opinion

Two state polls: Similar lessons

Haryana and Maharashtra Assembly elections followed barely five months after the amazing victory of the BJP in the Lok Sabha election, but both in campaigning and results, these were different. Though BJP headed alliances are in a position to form governments, it is not a cakewalk for the party that has remarkably grown in its national popularity and global stature.

Successful functioning of any coalition in these two States, given the poll results, will depend on several constraints inherent in alliance politics. The BJP will now have to take the allies more seriously and cannot afford to assume a big brother attitude. The States have convincingly proved that Lok Sabha election and State elections are not the same in all places. Federalism has its impact.

BJP’s individual gains declined in Maharashtra from 122 in 2014 to 105 this time – heavy loss of 17 seats. Shiv Sena’s strength declined from 63 to 56. The ambitious target of 220 seats set by BJP-Shiv Sena pre-poll alliance became a day dream as it won only 161 – a comfortable majority in a House of 288 but not a dominant position for the senior partner of the alliance.

A notable feature is that in 2014 Assembly election, BJP and Shiv Sena had no pre-poll alliance and in 2019 they had. But, they issued their separate election manifestoes which had both common and different promises. Though not antagonistic with one another, their priorities varied.

BJP contested 150 seats and won 105 with 25.8 per cent vote share; Shiv Sena contested 124 and won 56 with vote share of 16.4 %. The BJP is undoubtedly so much stronger than its ally that observers even comment that it could have won more seats had it contested alone.

In 2014, the combined vote share of the two parties was more than 47 per cent whereas it declined substantially when they contested as allies in 2019 to 42.2 per cent. Both BJP and Shiv Sena have lost their vote share as the number of seats they contested was less than in 2014. It shows that alliances are not simple arithmetical matter of combining votes. Sometimes electoral alliance is not popular with the people. BJP-Shiv Sena alliance is continuing with constant unfriendly comments between them confusing the voters. That alliance is pure politics of survival and power sharing and not a strategy to strengthen policies and performance is established beyond any doubt.

Region-wise, the allies faced setbacks in Marathwada and Western Maharashtra where NCP registered its presence remarkably.

In the UPA, the story is different with the NCP exhibiting better performance winning 54 seats with 16.7 per cent of votes against the Congress securing 44 seats with 15.8 per cent of votes.  NCP has become the major partner of the UPA in Maharashtra, a change very relevant to the future of UPA and to Congress as well as to the Third Front that is playing on and off tricks.

In Haryana, the BJP scored only 40 losing 7 seats and falling short by 6 seats to gain majority.   However, it is the single largest party winning 36.5 per cent of votes polled. The Congress won 31 seats with 28.1 per cent of votes. This result allows comfortable bargaining power to other winners representing about 35 per cent of vote share. Among others, the solid group of  Jannayak  Janta Party (JJP) emerged as the crucial supporting actor which the BJP got hold of to form the government. It won 10 seats with vote share of about 15 per cent. There are also 9 Independents most of them willing to go with the front runner.

There is a common comment that BJP’s stress on nationalism, which paid huge dividends in Lok Sabha election has not worked this time as expected. The status of Kashmir and reference to abrogation of Article 370, the National Register of Citizens, Uniform Civil Code are no doubt great achievements of the BJP, but as some political analysts think, they are not so relevant to catch votes in State elections. Some party men were also of the opinion that micro-level local issues could shift votes even in national elections and definitely influence State and local elections more than macro national issues.

On many elections, voters have proved that they have considerable knowledge of the powers of the Union and State governments and cannot be sidetracked with irrelevant issues. Day-to-day economic matters bother them more than what happens in the borders. Employment, price rise, debt relief, farmers’ woes, water shortage, women’s safety, pensions are matters that they want the government to deal with effectively and urgently keeping  people’s welfare in normal day-to-day life as the goal of State governments. Hence, they expect leaders to speak on such matters and promise them to improve living conditions rather than abstract issues of uniform law and national spirit. Even important issues like gender equality and freedom of religion take a secondary place when confronted with livelihood issues.

Another feature of election outcome is the hard truth that purely local politics and personality clashes often become crucial deciding factor in elections. It is undeniable particularly in places where strong regional parties are in the field which are capable of magnifying local problems and boosting the image of local leaders. It works even in Lok Sabha election.

Eight ministers in Maharashtra and seven in Haryana were defeated. Nineteen prominent leaders, who switched sides to join the BJP on the eve of election, were also defeated. Defections may be a simple matter for professional politicians, but may not always help in career building.

All these lessons sound logical and election results appear to support them. Still, the fact that electioneering in Maharashtra and Haryana was not as vigorous as in Lok Sabha election was also a factor that must be given due weight. BJP leaders had less time to visit the election field and Congress leadership had pressing organizational problems which must have impacted campaigning. As a contrast, Sharad Pawar’s brisk electioneering brought gains to the NCP.

It is also proved that while issues like Bharat Ratna for Veer Savarkar and value-based education may not decide voting pattern, promises of populist schemes are also not enough. The Congress-NCP alliance issued a joint election manifesto, which made lavish promises like 22 days of work under MGNREGA, monthly allowance of Rs 5,000 for unemployed youth, minimum salary of Rs 21,000 per month for workers, waiving of property tax for residences below 500 sq.ft. area, reducing fines under Motor Vehicles Act, interest-free education loan, etc. Loan waiver and reduction of penalties introduced in the Motor Vehicles Act were prime promises of the two parties.

In Haryana, the BJP did not promise farm loan waiver, but it was the main focus of the Congress.  Job reservation for women up to 33 per cent was also an attraction in the Congress manifesto – an unrealistic promise, but seems to have increased Congress tally from 17 to 31.

The two State elections have yielded similar lessons for both winners and losers. Both have reasons to hope and worry.

…INFA

 

The writer is Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi.

 

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