No surprise in store: On Maharashtra, Haryana Assembly elections

The modest turnouts in Maharashtra and Haryana on Monday could have been expected, considering the lethargy that had loomed over the Assembly election campaigns in both States. As the first test of public opinion after the Lok Sabha election and given the fact that both these States have been under Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rule for the last five years, this could have been an occasion to test the party’s overall performance in government. However, that was not how the campaign turned out as the BJP sought to focus the public attention on selective components of its track record related to national security and the Opposition collapsed in both States. Central investigative agencies such as the Enforcement Directorate appeared to be trying to tilt the scale in the ruling party’s favour as they enthusiastically pursued old cases against Opposition leaders, in the midst of the campaign. The BJP has brazenly cited military operations to score brownie points in domestic politics always, and the claim of a muscular and militarist foreign policy was the mainstay of its campaign this time too. Given that context, the Indian Army’s announcement on the eve of the election that it had conducted another raid on terrorist targets in Pakistan-controlled territory could have helped the BJP. The BJP made fresh promises to the electorate, while it successfully avoided any discussion on some of the previous promises that remain undelivered.

Far from showing any sign of recovery since their crushing defeat in the Lok Sabha election, Opposition parties have sunk further, as they continue to grope in the dark for an organising principle. They went to the polls with tired faces and old slogans, as if unaware of the intense appeal of Hindutva hyper nationalism that has numbed the public to the economic situation. The leadership crisis in the Opposition, in the Congress and regional parties, was all too visible through the campaign. While Rahul Gandhi made an occasional appearance, his mother Sonia Gandhi who succeeded him as Congress president, could not campaign at all due to ill health. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah who campaigned hard, sought to turn these State elections into yet another referendum on their Hindutva national security agenda, breathing fire on illegal immigrants and Pakistan. These State elections were also the first test of public opinion after the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special constitutional status on August 5. Public opinion in the rest of India has shown little sympathy to the sentiments of Kashmiris. There was little in the battle field that suggested there could be some surprise in store when the votes are counted on October 24.

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Printable version | Mar 6, 2021 6:38:44 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/no-surprise-in-store/article29760740.ece

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