Maharashtra and Haryana polls: Modi impact, Gandhis' relevance, Sharad Pawar's resilience; key subplots of the election

  • BJP is not Modi and Modi is not BJP

  • Congress has a future, but Gandhis hardly affect the poll outcome anymore

  • Economic woes cannot continue for too much longer

The BJP's lackluster performance in Haryana and its inability to increase its seat tally in Maharashtra throws up some interesting lessons for the party.

Striking, however, was the fact that while during the Lok Sabha election in 2019, it had swept Haryana leaving not even a few crumbs for the Opposition, the saffron outfit is now struggling to cobble togther the numbers as it falls short of getting a majority. Although its performance in Maharashtra was far better and actually stands out in the light of its relatively poor performance in Haryana, a careful analysis of the trends and results show that the party has actually given up the gains it made during the 2019 General Election.

 Maharashtra and Haryana polls: Modi impact, Gandhis relevance, Sharad Pawars resilience; key subplots of the election

File image of NCP chief Sharad Pawar. PTI

In fact, the Opposition — particularly the Sharad Pawar-led NCP and to some extent the Congress — has been able to claw back some lost ground. One must remember that both the Congress and NCP were facing desertion and the Grand Old Party never even pretended to be a challenger. Home Minister Amit Shah had even famously remarked that if the BJP opens the door completely, no one with the exception of Pawar and Prithviraj Chavan would be left in their respective parties. Such was the drift of dissension in Maharashtra and yet the results paint a picture that shows that both the allies are still a force to reckon with. The decimation is far from over.

So what are the lessons voters taught us?

BJP is not Modi and Modi is not BJP

The prime minister is the star attraction and the biggest vote-catcher for the party besides being the only pan-India leader whose popularity can only be matched by an Indira Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and to some extent, Jayprakash Narayan. He can swing elections on his own, but only when it comes to Lok Sabha polls. The party needs strong local chieftains who can convince people to put faith in him.

In fact, had it not been for Modi doing those extra rallies in Haryana, things could have been much worse. Despite not being in power at the Centre for a decade since 2004, the BJP didn't lose Assembly elections in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh just because the party rode on the competent leadership of Modi, Shivraj Singh Chauhan and Raman Singh. With Delhi set to go to the polls early next year, the party needs to find a face who can take on the incumbent Arvind Kejriwal.

Congress has a future, but Gandhis hardly affect the poll outcome anymore

Despite looking like it was down and out, the Grand Old Party has clawed its way back. But the biggest worry for the party right now is the inability of the Gandhis to influence the outcome of polls — something they used to do earlier. In fact, a closer look at the results again throws up a curious but important point: It's the local leadership that is delivering victories for the Congress. It started in December last year with wins over the BJP in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, and continues with the Bhupinder Hooda-led Congress giving the BJP a run for its money.

It may be recalled that the Congress was nowhere in the picture during the Lok Sabha polls, where it lost every single seat to the BJP in Haryana. In Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, under Rahul Gandhi's stewardship, the party won only a single seat out of 54 that were up for grabs during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls — four to five months after trouncing the BJP in both the states. Moreover, another telling statistic during the Lok Sabha polls was that the BJP won more than 90 percent of the seats when it was locked in a direct contest with the Congress. The party has to take a long look at how it can use the Gandhis, who have held it together for decades.

Economic woes cannot continue for too much longer

It's the economy, stupid! The comment coined by former US president Bill Clinton's campaign strategist sums up one of the main problems for the incumbents in this election. The slowdown has definitely impacted the outcome of the polls in the two states and the electorate is not exactly happy.

The unemployment rate in Haryana is more than thrice that of the national average and was the highest in the country for the month of August according to Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE). While the national average was at 8.4 percent, it was 28.7 percent for Haryana. What is more worrying is that in August 2018, Haryana's unemployment rate 23.1 percent. The data shows that the situation has only worsened.

Maharashtra, one of the most industrialised states in India along with Tamil Nadu and Gujarat, contributed 14 percent to India's GDP in 2018-19. But the state had to bear the brunt of the slowdown particularly in the manufacturing and automobile sector. For Maharashtra though, the unemployment rate has marginally risen from four percent in August 2018 to 5.3 percent in August 2019, a protracted slowdown would push the number higher.

The rate of unemployment makes things even more complicated in the two states where the average per capita income at current prices is way above the national average. While Maharashtra’s per capital income stood at Rs 1.92 lakh, Haryana even bettered Maharashtra with a per capita income of Rs 2.26 lakh according to CSO data for 2018-19 while the national average was Rs 1.26 lakh — a relatively meagre sum.

Old Pawar-style politics has still retained its charm

There was a time when regional satraps knew every party worker by name, they had the blueprint of constituencies etched forever in their minds along with the caste equations, the peculiarities of a constituency and so on. This was long before computers made a foray into Indian politics which saw all the parties investing heavily in tech-savvy managers to collect data and enter it in a spreadsheet. But what managers missed was the personal touch and connect that the voters in India still value above everything else. This is done through rallies, mass contact and roadshows.

For a wily politician like Pawar, this isn't new, but that the Maratha strongman went out of his way and apologised to voters for campaigning for Udayanraje Bhosale who left the party to join the BJP speaks volumes about the need to reestablish the personal touch with voters and the importance it still plays in Indian politics. The NCP chief could have easily done it through a social media platform — whether through a tweet, a post or a video — but instead chose to brave the rains and issue the apology in front of a crowd. The results are there for all to see.

Not only did Bhosale lose Satara by a considerable margin, but this is the first time that Chhatrapati Shivaji's descendant is biting the dust. Moreover, the NCP has been able to hold onto its seats in its traditional strongholds, all because a 79-year-old veteran decided to take up the challenge and fight the elections in the way it was done in the old days when technology was yet to make a grand entry.

Opening the gates for turncoats or ‘dal-badlu’ doesn’t always help

The Indian voter is wise. This election has again reestablished the fact. Bereft of ideology or more importantly without spending time in one’s constituency, working for the electorate or standing beside the voters has its own downside. Jumping on the winning bandwagon to see one through doesn’t always help. The case in point being that of Bhosale, who, it was alleged, hardly worked for his voters in Satara and within a few months, joined the BJP from the NCP.

There was a heartbreak for not only Bhosale, but also Harshvardhan Patil and Ashok Tanwar. Patil lost his seat to the NCP while Tanwar’s huff and puff regarding irregularities in ticket distribution didn’t cut ice with the electorate. Although Tanwar didn't contest the Assembly polls, the performance of his former party, the Congress, showed that Tanwar might have erred on his part apart from raising questions about his political credibility. Ganesh Naik, another veteran politician, who joined the BJP, was however able to save some blushes by winning from Airoli. ​

Updated Date: Oct 25, 2019 14:08:16 IST