State, UT polls hold the key to stability at Centre - Hindustan Times
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State, UT polls hold the key to stability at Centre

Jun 16, 2024 08:22 PM IST

The BJP needs to address local issues in these states, but without leaders with statewide clout, it has to rely on Prime Minister Modi’s appeal

Despite initial obstacles, the Narendra Modi-led government is back in office for its third term. But will it be stable? There is no immediate threat to the government. However, over the next four months, it will face an agnipareeksha (trial by fire) as three states and one Union Territory (UT) — Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), Haryana, Maharashtra, and Jharkhand — go to polls. The outcomes of these elections could reshape the political landscape.

Security personnel stand guard as voters wait in long queues at a polling booth , in Baramulla district of north Kashmir on May 20, (PTI)
Security personnel stand guard as voters wait in long queues at a polling booth , in Baramulla district of north Kashmir on May 20, (PTI)

In J&K, the Supreme Court has ordered assembly elections — the first in the province since Article 370 was repealed on August 5, 2019 — to be held by September. These elections are critical for many reasons. For one, it will show whether voters support or reject the development projects, the division of the state into two UTs, and the abrogation of Article 370. The recent resurgence in terrorist attacks has prompted fresh questions, but the track record of our armed forces has been excellent, and it is inappropriate to doubt their efficacy in combating terror. So, the question is, will the government be able to handle the situation?

The Lok Sabha elections in J&K yielded noticeable results. The people defeated Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, ex-chief ministers (CMs) of undivided J&K. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) did not contest elections in the Valley, but it did win two seats in Jammu. An independent candidate won one of the remaining seats, while the National Conference won the rest.

The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) is collapsing, but the National Conference has emerged as the strongest party in the region, although Omar Abdullah lost. The BJP needs to expand its base to capture key seats. Will the saffron team accomplish its long-held dream of getting a foothold in the Valley? The Congress is in a terrible state. Will it look to cross the bridge with the help of an alliance?

The narrative of this UT will be shaped by the sentiment of the electorate. The world is watching.

Now, let’s discuss Haryana. In 2019, the BJP won 10 Lok Sabha seats here. This time, it had to settle for half that number, with the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party joining forces against it. This combination received 47.61% of the votes. The BJP received 46.11% of the votes, but its vote share increased by about 10% compared with the last assembly elections. The Congress has also performed significantly better, receiving 15.59% more votes than the last assembly elections.

The case of Maharashtra is even more interesting. It had more political actors fighting for their identity than any other state. Uddhav Thackeray has re-established his influence while Sharad Pawar has proved himself yet again with his party winning eight of the 10 seats it contested. The INDIA bloc won 30 of the 48 seats here. Before the election, Maharashtra was seen as a stronghold of the BJP and its allies.

People in Maharashtra, like those in Haryana and J&K, have rejected manipulative politics. Ajit Pawar, who tried to project himself as the leader of the Nationalist Congress Party, has been rejected, with his faction winning just one seat. CM Eknath Shinde saved face by winning seven seats but fell behind Uddhav’s state-wide appeal. This situation could pave the way for the spectacle of “aya ram-gaya ram” (party switching) politics before the assembly elections in Maharashtra.

Finally, Jharkhand. This state, since its inception, has been doomed to corruption and the imprisonment of its top leaders. Hemant Soren, its former CM, is behind bars on corruption charges, but the government has not fallen. Soren’s wife Kalpana has won the Gandey by-election and is now an MLA. However, his sister-in-law, Sita, who had contested the Lok Sabha election from Dumka on a BJP ticket, lost.

This election has brought to the fore not only the troubles in the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) but also in the Soren family. Nonetheless, the INDIA bloc, which includes the JMM, appears to be forming a powerful alliance of tribal, Christian, Dalit, and Muslim populations. Despite winning nine of 14 seats this time, the BJP has suffered a setback. Here, too, it has no leader with state-wide appeal.

The message is clear: The BJP needs to address local issues in these states, but without leaders with statewide clout, it has to rely on Prime Minister Modi’s appeal. If the results are below expectations, the NDA allies may become apprehensive. The INDIA bloc holds power only in Jharkhand, and if the election outcome turns against it, the limited momentum it gained on June 4 will be lost.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. The views expressed are personal

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