Much at stake for BJP in Maharashtra

NEW DELHI, OCT. 11. With the results of elections in Arunachal Pradesh out, the Bharatiya Janata Party's anxiety about Maharashtra is palpable. Party leaders feel that in the worst-case scenario of the BJP-Shiv Sena combine not being able to wrest power, the party could face a long electoral drought.

In the first half of next year, Bihar, Jharkhand and Haryana are scheduled to go to the polls, and in none of these States does the party rates its chances as good. "If the Congress were to lose Maharashtra it could still look forward to the elections next year, but in the BJP, a shock defeat in Maharashtra could be followed by aftershocks in other States next year," party sources said.

Possible alliances

Following reports that Bansi Lal's Haryana Vikas Party could merge with the Congress ahead of Haryana Assembly polls next year, the BJP may have "no option" but to try and patch up with Chautala's Indian National Lok Dal. "That patch-up cannot be ruled out," a party leader said, pointing out that going it alone in Haryana after the bad Lok Sabha results could mean certain defeat. However, he admitted that it would be difficult to "patch up" with the INLD as both the parties' cadre were totally opposed to each other. There is also the realisation that with a strong anti-incumbency factor working in Haryana even a joint front with the INLD might not save the day. The BJP's best bet is that there would be disharmony in the Congress-HVP with the Bansi Lals and the Bhajan Lals fighting it out despite the expected "merger."

It is being conceded privately that in Jharkhand, the ruling BJP is in a bad shape. The Lok Sabha election results that saw even a leader of the stature of the former External Affairs Minister, Yashwant Sinha, bite the dust in Hazaribagh, were seen a pointer of things to come. There is every indication that the Congress-led coalition in which the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and some of the smaller Left parties were partners would survive to the detriment of the BJP and the Janata Dal (United).

Advantage lost

Jharkhand and Bihar would be witnessing the first Assembly elections since the bifurcation of Bihar. The BJP has never been strong in what now remains of Bihar — most of its strength was confined to what is now Jharkhand where its State Government has frittered away the initial advantage. In Bihar, the BJP would depend heavily on the JD(U), which is, at best, a divided house. BJP sources said they expect the JD(U) leaders, George Fernandes, Nitish Kumar and Sharad Yadav to stay together only because they have "nowhere to go."

The BJP is aware that besides the electoral arithmetic of the caste factor in Bihar favouring a Rashtriya Janata Dal-led alliance, the RJD has now the advantage of Lalu Prasad Yadav being Railway Minister. The RJD not only running the State Government but also being a partner at the Centre was bound to work in favour of the RJD, party sources conceded.

The silver lining

But all is not lost for the BJP — its one hope in Bihar is that the ongoing battle between Mr. Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan, president of the Lok Janshakti and Minister for Fertilizer and Chemicals, will turn into a full-scale war. That could tilt the balance somewhat.

But for now, the BJP leaders are praying hard for a favourable result in Maharashtra. If, after that, some States are lost next year, the situation would not be as grim.

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